Ep 246 AWC graduates score book deals and win awards! And meet Tim Harris, author of ‘Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables’

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

In Episode 246 of So you want to be a writer: You’ll meet Tim Harris, author of Mr Bambuckle’s RemarkablesShout-out to Allison Rushby for winning the Davitt Award for Children’s fiction for The Turnkey. Mandy Foot lands children’s book deal as writer and illustrator and Catherine Pelosi celebrates her second children’s book published this year! Plus, we have double passes to ‘Book Club’ to giveaway.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Links Mentioned

Shout-out to Allison Rushby for winning the Davitt Award for Children’s fiction for ‘The Turnkey’

Mandy Foot lands children’s book deal as writer and illustrator

Catherine celebrates her second children’s book published this year

Writer in Residence

Tim Harris

Tim Harris is one of the most exciting children’s authors in Australia. His first series of books, Exploding Endings, will have primary-aged readers both captivated and laughing out loud. The first book in the series, Painted Dogs & Doom Cakes, was awarded Honour Book at the 2017 KOALAs. His second series, Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables, contains his trademark quirkiness, mixed with a touch of poignancy. The lead book was awarded a CBCA Notable in 2018 and has been shortlisted for the 2018 REAL Awards (as voted by children in NSW, Victoria and NT).

Tim lives in Sydney with his wife and three young children.

Follow Tim Harris on Twitter

Follow Penguin Teachers on Twitter

(If you click through the links above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

Competition

WIN double passes to “Book Club”

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Connect with Valerie, Allison and listeners in the podcast community on Facebook

So you want to be a writer Facebook group

Share the love!

Interview Transcript

Allison

Tim Harris is a former primary school teacher and now an author. His first series of books, Exploding Endings, is hugely popular. And the first book in the series, Painted Dogs & Doom Cakes, was awarded Honour Book at the 2017 KOALAs.

But it’s his second series, Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables, which has really taken off. The first book was awarded a CBCA Notable in 2018 and has been shortlisted for the 2018 REAL Awards. He’s in hot demand in schools for author visits and workshops and worked in more than a hundred schools over the last year. So welcome to the program, Tim.

Tim

Thank you so much for having me Allison.

Allison

Always a pleasure. Now, we’re going to go all the way back to the beginning. How did the first Exploding Endings come to be published?

Tim

Right back to the beginning. Well, as a primary school teacher, I spent a lot of time reading stories to my classes, and in particular Paul Jennings who is a very well loved Australian author of short stories.

And it got to a point, later in my teaching career of about ten years into the teaching career, that I could almost recite some of his stories word for word. And I think I was getting a bit familiar with the structure of the short story. So I decided to write a story for a class I was teaching. And the most incredible thing happened. I’ll never forget it because I was so nervous reading this story. It was a bunch of year one boys. And I even folded up the story and put it inside a Paul Jennings, so they wouldn’t know that I wrote it.

And anyway, I read the story, and the book was shaking, and my voice was very quivery, but I got through it. And I had fun. But then I received an email from one of the parents of the boys in the class. And she said, “Dear Mr Harris. What was the name of the story that you read the class today? Because my son can’t stop talking about it.”

And I was pretty chuffed with that, so I wrote back to her and said, “Thank you for your feedback. I wrote the story.” And she said, “do you mind if you send it through so he can read it again?” So I shot it off in email.

Then I received an email from her again a week or two later and she said, “Dear Mr Harris. I’m not sure if you’re aware of what I do, but I’ve got a master’s in children’s literature and I’m involved in the Children’s Book Council of Australia. And this is a very good short story.”

Allison

Oh, you’re kidding.

Tim

It was just the most amazing thing. So her name was Rachel and she was so supportive. And she actually came in after school and helped me workshop some story ideas to kind of get me started. But it gave me a taste of writing and I haven’t looked back since then.

Allison

That’s amazing! That’s just one of those stories, that doesn’t happen, right? But there it is, it’s happened.

Tim

It absolutely doesn’t. And with the third Exploding Endings I actually decided to dedicate it to Rachel. Because I always say to her, without that one email, I don’t think it ever would have happened. Because it was a one-off exercise at the time.

Allison

Okay, that was a question I was going to ask you later, but we’ll go there now. So you weren’t writing at the time? It was like just, oh, I’m going to have a go and see if I can do this? You hadn’t been faffing about with story ideas or anything up until that point?

Tim

No, not at all. In fact, my writing had been purely song writing and that was a creative outlet. But just before our first child was born I had to give that music scene away, because the late nights would have killed me with a new born.

So that first story was experimented on the class. After that, I actually had a go at writing a much more serious book, a young adult science fiction book. And I got 40,000 words in and it was doing my head in. So I actually ripped it up and threw it away and went back to writing humorous short stories for the primary age.

When I say ‘ripped it up’ it’s deleted in the inbox. I’m sure it’s there somewhere. I could probably dig it out one day but I’m a bit too scared to.

Allison

To see what happened. But you had been writing songs, though, up until that point of the first story?

Tim

That’s right. Yeah.

Allison

Given that you write short stories for the most part, do you think that the song writing craft assisted with any of that?

Tim

I think it potentially gave me the discipline to see a story through. Because with songs, I was always a music first type of guy and then the lyrics came second. And I struggled often with lyrics and ended up sort of learning that discipline to at least finish it so then there’s a complete song. And that skill was definitely used for short stories as well, that seeing it through to the end, that self-discipline. This has to get finished.

So that’s probably all I took from it. Because my songs weren’t narrative-based, they were more conceptual. And so I don’t think there was much of a story influence that went through to when I started writing for kids.

Allison

Okay. So when you started putting the short stories together for that first Exploding Endings book, you were working fulltime as a teacher, you have a young family of three kids. How did you fit the writing in for those first books? When you were producing a whole bunch of short stories at a time?

Tim

You know, it’s amazing, and I’ve heard some authors say this on your podcast before, that if you give up television, it’s amazing what you can get done.

Allison

That’s so true.

Tim

And I do, I love a bit of television, and I’m a bit of a sucker for live sport. That’s sort of my downfall. But I did. I gave up television to free up a bit of extra time when I was first going.

Because school teaching, it can be a very intensive job after hours. There’s a lot of paperwork. And so I just, that passion and drive to see stories finished, I thought, well, something has to give. And obviously I can’t drop the ball with teaching. So, reality television. Well, actually I haven’t looked back since reality television was dropped because there is some rubbish on TV, Allison.

Allison

Oh no, really? Oh, you don’t say!

Okay, so did you put together a whole book of short stories and then submit that to a publisher as a concept? Or did you sell the idea before you wrote it? How did the actual publishing of those books come together?

Because they’re an unusual format. The short story format of kids’ books – there’s obviously quite a few of them out there – but I think a lot of people would struggle with the idea of how to actually present that to a publisher. Like, this is what I’m going to do.

Tim

Yeah, definitely, and it was hard. Because I was listening to your podcast and another podcast and hearing that short stories, there wasn’t a huge demand for them. And I was checking on publishers’ websites and they’d say things like, this month we’re accepting young adult or whatever. But they would often have a little clause that said ‘strictly no short stories’.

So the idea of packaging them to publish was quite daunting. And I did send off a snippet of one story to Penguin Random House and I didn’t hear back from them. And ironically now they actually publish Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables, so it’s kind of cool that I ended up being able to publish something with them.

But I decided to self-publish. And that was based on some of the students at school were really encouraging of me, and Rachel was as well. And she kept saying, “where are you up to with these stories? And have you thought about putting them together in that Paul Jennings style?” Because in the 80s and 90s, his books were so popular, and they were the exact format that I was going for, those self-contained short stories. So in the end I decided to self-publish and bypass traditional.

Until – and Facebook can be a great thing – until my stepmum tagged… I think she might have tagged me in a post with a smaller publisher based on the south coast. And I thought, oh, okay, I hadn’t sort of really done too much research with the smaller publishers, just the big ones.

So I clicked on the website and it was Harbour Publishing. And it just looked like a really well-run publishing business. It was family owned. Looked like great people were involved.

And it was a very inspired submission, actually. Because I think it was about 10 o’clock at night when I was going through Facebook and looking on their website. And I should have been in bed, but I actually stayed up quite late until about, I think, 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning writing this very inspired cover letter and editing a snippet to send off to them.

Anyway, so I sent it off that night and then a few months later received a phone call and they said, “we like the story and we’d like to publish a collection of short stories with exploding endings.” And that’s how that series was published.

Allison

How exciting. And so of course you were at that point dancing in your pyjamas, weren’t you?

Tim

Absolutely. Yeah, it was funny, it was New Year’s Eve when I found out, about 5pm. And so you know, you’re in good spirits anyway. But that was such a great way to bring in the new year, knowing that the following year I’d have a book on the shelf. It was very exciting.

Allison

That’s exciting. That’s the one New Year’s Eve that’s not a letdown, right? That’s not anti-climactic.

Tim

That’s right, yeah. I don’t even think I lasted until midnight. You know, you stay up with the kids and watch the 9 o’clock fireworks and then you’re just shattered.

Allison

Yeah and go to bed. That’s pretty much how mine roll, as well.

So Exploding Endings are very popular and remain very popular. There’s box sets of them out there and all sorts of things going on. But I think it’s probably fair to say that it’s Mr Bambuckle and his Remarkables that really made your career explode last year. Because you really just all of a sudden there you were. So when did you have the idea for Mr Bambuckle?

Tim

It was very much in collaboration with my publisher Zoe Walton at Penguin Random House. After Exploding Endings 3 came out, she got in touch to see if I had any other ideas for stories, which was another very exciting email to receive. Because Penguin Random House were very much my dream publisher.

So I took my ideas book in and had a big chat with Zoe and she said, “have you ever thought about using your stories to create a character based series as opposed to having them as self-contained short stories?” And I hadn’t really thought of that. So I remember driving home and thinking, yeah, look, I spend a lot of time in schools and a lot of kids’ books are set in schools. And it’s almost, it’s a very safe way to frame a story. But could I think of a different angle?

And then I suppose I wanted to write a very happy positive school story with a teacher who saw the best in all of his students and the uniqueness. And that way, the short stories could get involved. Because there were all these unique little short stories that could be completely separate or self-contained. But if you suddenly put them into this classroom with this one teacher, then there was the chance for an overarching storyline as well.

So after a bit more brainstorming, I then pitched the idea of having Mr Bambuckle, the teacher. I think he was called a different name back then. Mr Slick, I think.

Allison

Oh. Hard to imagine.

Tim

Just on a side note, it took a whole month to name him. Because we just weren’t happy with any of the names that I was coming up with. And in the end I literally flicked through the dictionary – you can see I got up to B. Got up to ‘buckle’. So anyway, his name was manufactured at a later point.

But I pitched the idea and Zoe really liked it. And so then we went from there.

Allison

So at what point – because you are essentially fulltime as an author now, is that right?

Tim

Yeah, that’s right. I do… I think with the teaching background it was very helpful. Because it freed up my days doing after hours tutoring. And that was a nice thing that worked out well because when I resigned from teaching I wanted to be able to say ‘yes’ to any school who asked me to visit. I didn’t want to say ‘no’ to anything. And the only way to do that was to adjust working hours to after school.

So I still do a little bit of workshopping with students and their creative writing. But otherwise very much fulltime with it.

Allison

Okay. So one of the questions I was going to ask you about that is because, as you said, the Mr Bambuckle series is quite classroom based. And all of your short stories are kid-based and stuff. I wonder if you miss, now that you’re fulltime, do you kind of miss that day-to-day immersion in kid culture?

Because it is strangely, when you’re part of it, you’re hearing the talk all the time, you’re seeing what they’re talking about, you’re seeing what makes them laugh. All of that kind of stuff. Do you miss that at all?

Tim

I do. I miss the relationship part of that. Because when you get to hang out with the same group of kids, it’s really fun. And those conversations can be built on over a long period of time.

But as opposed to that, I do not miss the administration and the paperwork and the emails and the meetings. And that definitely makes up for it!

Yeah, I do miss that interaction which is why I think enjoy visiting schools so much. I guess it’s like that coal face, isn’t it? That coal front of chatting to the children about ideas or test running ideas.

And I know Tristan Bancks is amazing at testing brand spanking new ideas out with kids. And I’ve started trying it just a little bit to see what it’s like and I think there’s a great deal that can be learned from discussing potential ideas with your audience. Because you don’t get that opportunity many times. By going into schools, it gives you that chance.

Allison

I know Andy Griffiths, when we interviewed him 1000 years ago, because this podcast is about 1000 years old now, I’m pretty sure he talked about the same thing. That it was something that he did. I think it takes an enormous amount of courage to take a brand spanking new idea out into the light and just see if kids think it’s funny. I think it takes a huge amount of courage to do that.

Tim

Yeah, it does. Because some things you can be so certain of it in your mind, and then either it could be your execution or the way you frame it to the kids, but it can fall flat. And it’s very demoralising. It’s only happened once where a brand new idea kind of fell flat. But usually, kids are pretty encouraging. Maybe they’re just too polite. I don’t know.

Allison

I was going to say. But can you tell the difference? Like if they’re humouring you as opposed to finding it actually funny?

Tim

Yeah, look, I think deep down you certainly can.

Allison

Look at that old guy trying to be amusing. Let’s just laugh politely, shall we?

Tim

That idea sucks. That’s never going to be a story. Maybe there should be kids working in the slush pile in publishers.

Allison

Oh, I actually think there should. Because that’s the thing with them, isn’t it? You really know. I don’t tend to test ideas, but every once in a while I’ll pull out a joke. And it will be something that works really well as part of the presentation at 98% of schools, and then you’ll stand in front of one group that just looks at you as if you’ve grown two heads. And you’re like, okay, moving right along.

Tim

That’s right. And then you get a bit anxious for the next school, but of course they all go back to being the majority and make you feel better about it.

Allison

Yeah. I think so. So clearly it was them, not you.

Now, you mentioned your ideas book, and I’ve seen it, because you brought it along to the Shoalhaven Readers and Writers Festival. And it’s kind of a work of art. You’ve got photos and images and notes. It’s very comprehensive. Is that something that you’ve always done as a writer? or has that evolved over time?

Tim

It is something that I’ve done. Oh, I think it was… Oh no, I can’t remember the name. But an illustrator came and visited one of the schools I was teaching at quite early on. And it’s something that just stuck with me, even though the illustrator’s name hasn’t. But he had an ideas book, and it was this beautifully presented… Of course, it was filled with illustrations and things. But I love that idea of having a neat and tidy well-kept notebook with your treasures inside, or your best ideas inside.

And so very early on I started keeping that. And because I can’t draw and I’m not at all artistic, I thought the best way around that is to print photos, concept photos for stories, and stick them in and do my best to make it look nice and put a bit of value on those ideas.

Early on, almost every idea went in. But now I’ve got more of a post-it note system, where I’ll jot down a new idea on a post-it note. And if I still think it has legs a week or a month later, then I’ll give it a proper page with some concept photos and more notes.

Allison

So it becomes page worthy?

Tim

Yeah, that’s right. Page worthy. And it becomes a very trusted source of ideas. So if ever I’m looking for something, then I’ll go to that book knowing that that’s where the best ideas are, instead of flicking through pages and pages and pages and not sure what I’ll find.

So I haven’t used it for a little while because I’m working on a new series at the moment. But I’ve decided to give the new series its own ideas book. So every idea that I think could be used in this series goes into that separate ideas book. But it’s very messy at the moment, Allison. I wouldn’t want to show anyone.

Allison

You might have to rewrite the whole ideas book at the end just to make it look nice, right?

Tim

That’s right.

Allison

So the promotion side of being an author is something that can come as a bit of a shock to authors. Does it come naturally to you? Are you happy to be out there hustling your books, so to speak?

Tim

Yeah, I’m very happy to be out there. And that’s because having that background in teaching made the number one place to promote books, which is schools, not too daunting. And it’s still, if there’s a big festival or something, I’ll still get a little bit of nervous energy and excitement beforehand. But generally for a typical school visit, I absolutely love it and it’s not too intimidating.

I think something that I do find a bit intimidating, certainly since Mr Bambuckle was released, is the very small intimate bookshop gathering. I’d actually prefer to have 3 or 400 kids there instead of 10 or 12. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a claustrophobia thing. I’m not sure.

Allison

I think it’s the intensity.

Tim

I find those really small… Yeah, maybe that’s it, that intensity. And everything’s so close and it’s so, I don’t know, you feel like you’re being watched.

Allison

You are.

Tim

I find those ones a lot harder than the big ones. Yeah, look, you are, you are. That’s right.

I think another thing, like most things in life, with practice it does become a lot easier. And I think the more I’ve done different events in schools or festivals or these little bookshop events, you feel more and more confident in the way you can approach them.

And like you were saying, dipping into those tool bags or those go-to jokes or lines or things you can talk about, because the more you do it, of course, then the more you can draw on.

Allison

Different things. Do you just do the same presentation at every school? Or do you have a range of presentations and workshops that you do?

Tim

I definitely have a range. Because one thing that I think, and this would be a bit of advice I’d give to authors who are just beginning to promote, is check to see what each school wants. I think it might have been Deb Abela that said that in an interview with you as well. Just to make sure that you’re going to cover their expected outcomes.

So if a school says, we’re happy for you just to present, then it’s like a little greatest hits. The Tim Harris Greatest Hits comes out and it’s all those go-to things that we were talking about. And that’s a very comfortable presentation.

But if a school wants a workshop and they’re working on dialogue with their students, then I’ll either have to go through all the workshops I’ve done and pull those bits out, or create something from scratch to tailor it.

And it can be a lot of hard work beforehand. I think people often think it’s just those three times one-hour sessions or whatever it is that you’re doing. They think that’s the only work involved. But of course, there is a lot of preparation and research that goes into it beforehand.

And so I think early on, my first probably 15 to 20 school visits, I spent hours and hours and hours creating all these different PowerPoints. But now, that hard work has paid off, because I can dip back into them when I need. And creating things from scratch isn’t as time consuming.

Allison

And that’s the interesting thing too. Because I remember when I was starting out and I had a presentation that I did, and that was fine. And then I got a regular booking where I was going back to the same school once a year, basically, and every time I went back we discussed what they were doing and I would create a new workshop.

And so I ended up with these three or four terrific workshops that I’d created from scratch for this one school for this one day’s visit. But then I’ve been able to wheel those out at countless other schools ever since.

So I think it’s sometimes worth really thinking about what kinds of things schools are going to ask for over and over and have a workshop on plotting, have a workshop on this, have a workshop on that that’s then tailored back to your books as well. And then you’re kind of ready to go no matter what. You can say to them, well, I have these five workshops, this is what I do, which one do you want? Do you agree with that?

Tim

I do definitely agree with that. And I know some agencies as well, on their website they’ll have what you do, three or four different workshops that have been pre-discussed or pre-arranged with the author. And so that makes it very easy as well. Otherwise you’re just running around in circles trying to create things from scratch every single time.

Allison

Yeah, that’s right. Do you spend much time online as far as doing social media promotion and that sort of thing?

Tim

Look, I probably spend a bit too much time online. It’s such a time killer. But I’m getting a little bit better at managing it. Because I also enjoy seeing what other people are doing. And that’s where I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration for how I’ve done my school visits, is through watching other people’s photos or videos and picking up things here and there.

So I spend probably about 40% of the time would be on Instagram, I think. Oh, actually, probably 40 on Facebook as well. Twitter is the least I use, just because I’m not a confident Twitter user.

And it might be taking a photo at a school visit. Or if I’m working in the office, just a little update or tip or retweeting someone else’s tip or article or blog. So that’s probably how I would spend most of my time online.

And then of course there are cat videos and fail videos and cricket, how chocolate is made, and all these things that you suddenly go, oh I could have written 600 words in that time. Now I’ve got to go and write those words.

Allison

But you just put it in the ideas book, right? Call it inspiration.

Tim

That’s right.

Allison

Now, let’s talk about your hat. It’s really funny, because I was at the Nowra library the other day, before the Shoalhaven Readers and Writers Festival, and I said, “has anyone seen Tim Harris?” And they said, “is he the guy in the hat?”

And I suddenly realised that I’ve never seen you without your hat. So is your signature hat a deliberate move? Or do you just simply never travel without a hat, ever?

Tim

It actually was a deliberate move. Back in the music days, I kind of had not long, long hair, but a little bit over the eyes and a little bit long at the back type look. And that was the music look. And in the album photos and all that kind of thing.

And then on our honeymoon, my wife bought me this really great black hat, and it was so comfortable. And because it was a very sentimental thing, you know, bought on the honeymoon, I kind of wore it in my last few gigs as a musician.

And then when I first started visiting schools, and also because at the same time when I was first visiting schools I was doing a lot of research about what other authors are doing, how can you set yourself apart, I suppose.

To be frank, there’s a lot of branding involved, because you kind of have to brand yourself. And so I did make a very conscious decision, I’m going to wear a hat.

Allison

That’s hilarious.

Tim

And so then suddenly next thing, getting these author photos taken and I think, oh, actually, well I better wear the hat.

So I’ve been thinking about for my next series, which will come out about this time next year, I’m thinking about potentially a bit of a rebranding for the Tim Harris look.

Allison

Ooh!

Tim

But I don’t know. I’ve got no idea what that involves.

Allison

Will it be a new hat?

Tim

But yeah, but maybe not with a hat.

Allison

That’s so funny.

Tim

And there’s another children’s author in Australia and she wears red every time she does a public appearance. An article of her clothing will be red. There are other authors that have different hats as well. Some have the same style of shirt that they wear. So it’s very interesting seeing what people do. But it gives them a recognisable look. What’s yours?

Allison

That’s hilarious. I think I just wear my hair. I think that’s what I do. I’m just thinking about it and I’m like, what would my branding thing be? And I think I’m basically just that red haired one. But then Jen Storer also has the frizzy red hair. So I don’t know. Maybe I need to reassess. Maybe I need a look! I need a hat.

Tim

Maybe you don’t. Maybe there’s a collaboration calling. Allison and Jen.

Allison

Maybe there is. Crazy red heads. It could be good, actually.

Now you mentioned a new series. I know you have a new Mr Bambuckle book out any minute now. Is that two weeks? Three weeks? September?

Tim

Yeah, about two and a half weeks away.

Allison

So September. It’s the third book in the series, am I right? What’s it called?

Tim

Yes. It’s called Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Go Wild. And in this episode in the series, the classroom is no longer the setting, and it’s the campsite. So it opened up a whole lot of opportunities for different stories and I’m really looking forward to getting it into the hands of readers.

Allison

Fantastic. And so what’s next year’s series? Are you able to talk about that yet? Or is that under wraps?

Tim

No, I think I can. So Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables number four is almost completely finished. I’m working on the copyedit at the moment, the back end of the copyedit. So those pages will be ready to proof read in a couple of months. So that’s almost finished and that will be out early next year.

And then I’ve just signed a new three book deal with Penguin Random House for the next series. Which without giving too much away, it’s a bit of a nod to all the dreamers. On the back of my year 12 jersey in high school I had ‘dreamer’ written across in big white letters. You know how everyone chooses the nickname or whatever. And that was because I was kept looking out the window thinking. And also it’s a great song by Supertramp, my favourite artists. So that fitted nicely.

And so it’s a nod to all these dreamers. It’s about this ten year old boy, his name is Chegwin Toffle. And he’s an absolute daydreamer who is always unfortunately getting himself into trouble because he’s lost in his thoughts. And people don’t think very highly of him. They think he’s not clever or whatnot, but he’s actually quite clever.

Anyway, out of the blue, he inherits a hotel. And the clause in the inheritance is that whoever takes this on has to live onsite and run the hotel. And so suddenly you’ve got this ten year old dreamer in charge of this massive hotel. And any problem that comes along, he’ll solve it in his very unique dreamy outside the box kind of way.

So I’m super excited about this series and into the first draft of the first book at the moment.

Allison

What fun. Well, thank you so much for talking to us today. If you’d like to see more about Tim’s books or his journey or see what he’s got coming up next year, visit timharrisbooks.com.au. You’ll find the link in the show notes. And best of luck with the new Mr Bambuckle.

Tim

Thank you very much for having me.

 


Comments