Tristan Bancks: Children’s author of the Mac Slater series

image-tristanbancks200Tristan Bancks is the author of many children and teen books, and has been an actor and filmmaker.

After two years on iconic Australian TV series Home and Away, and various television and film gigs, he entered the world of writing full-time in 1999.

His latest book, Mac Slater Coolhunter 1: The Rules of Cool (2008), launched at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, and will be followed up by Mac Slater Coolhunter 2: I Heart NY (2009).

Tristan has also written two series of books called Dream Racers, about go-kart racing, and Hollywood or Bust, about making movies to inspire and influence young teens.

Tristan is married and has two school-age boys.

For more information about Tristan and his books:
www.macslater.com.au
www.tristanbancks.com

Click play to listen. Running time: 24:13

 

Mac Slater, Coolhunter 2 Mac Slater, Coolhunter My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up Two Wolves

 

Transcript

* Please note that these transcripts have been edited for readability

Valerie:
Tristan, thanks for talking to us today.

Tristan:
No worries.

Valerie:
You’ve been writing for quite some time now. Tell us, when did you start writing and what inspired you to do that in the first place?

Tristan:
I can’t really remember when I began, but I don’t have any memory of not writing. I think when I was sort of six or seven I remember sort of jotting to-do lists for myself on this whiteboard thing I had in my room – I liked to organize myself that way. And I sort of wrote plays and skits and things for school when I was quite young.

I’ve got a pretty bad short-term memory so I think it always made sense to me. I’d always lose ideas if I didn’t jot them down. So when I was a teenager, I used to write scenes for horror movies. We were obsessed with Stephen King and lots of horror movies, so we’d write horror movies and shoot them on a video camera that we bought, me and a couple of friends.

Valerie:
Lovely.

Tristan:
Yeah, but we never actually finished anything because it was sort of, you know, video camera to VHS buyer in those days so you didn’t quite have the same facilities you do now. But, yeah, I’ve just always written. I wrote a lot of magazine articles, once I was out of school, on TV and film industry stuff. And then I’ve written short films and now novels.

Valerie:
So was it ever a choice, because a lot of people know you from your acting on shows like Home and Away. Did you have to make a choice between writing and acting?

Tristan:
Not really. I think they’re a really good complement. I don’t think I ever necessarily aspired to be a writer. It was always just a thing I did alongside everything else, if I was acting or presenting stuff or making films. The writing always just seemed to be a thing that happened alongside it. And it’s only over time that it’s emerged as the thing that I do everyday.

Valerie:
So what gave you the idea for your latest book?

Tristan:
I had read a book. I had read an article online called The Coolhunt by a guy called Malcolm Gladwell. I’d heard about Cool Hunting and I was led to the site somehow. And it just sounded like a really cool job, hunting ‘cool’ and basically finding stuff that you love and sharing it with other people. Finding little emerging trends that are happening in society that other people might not have put their finger on yet and then, sharing it with people.

So, yeah, it was just quite inspiring and I thought well there seems to be lots of potential drama and action in that for a sort of young adult kind of audience. So I explored it a little bit more. There’s a great PBS documentary, that’s online as well, called The Merchants of Cool, about cool hunting. And it seemed like there’s a bit of a dark side to cool hunting, too. You know, getting teenagers basically to help marketing companies to market stuff back to kids. So I sort of liked that dark side of it as well.

Valerie:
And it’s called Mac Slater Coolhunter. Where did the name Mac Slater come from?

Tristan:
Mac Slater. I think Mac I stole from another story I had been working on. I sort of feel sorry for the stories that I’ve sort of half-written because I get cannibalised by whatever I’m writing next. Mac and then Slater; I actually have a friend called Mark Slater as well, so I think I always liked his last name and gave it a bit of a twist.

Valerie:
Now you’ve written two series of short books called Hollywood or Bust and Dream Racers, one about making movies and the other about go-kart racing. Now you say on your website that when you watch sports on TV, you want to get involved and you hope these books would have the same kind of effect on readers. Have you received any feedback from your readers whether this has actually happened?

Tristan:
Yeah, one thing that I hear is that the books read really quickly, they make you turn the pages quite quickly, which is something that I sort of actively work towards. And also there are a bunch of people, on the Mac Slater books anyway, that have said that they want a flying bike. On a few of the teen reviews that I’ve read, they’ve said they really want this flying bike. Mac’s an inventor and he’s creating stuff. So I’m really hoping that that’ll then inspire people who are reading the books to go out and do their own stuff, to create their own stuff.

Valerie:
You’ve got a pretty varied career at the moment so can you describe your typical working day?

Tristan:
Like most people say, it does vary a lot depending on what I’m working on, but this is what I try to do anyway. I wake up around six or so and by eight I’m sitting down with a cup of green tea in my Bud Light beer mug. And it sort of takes a little while to settle down. I sort of need to write from a bit of a calm place and then find the energy from within that. So I sort of might read a little bit, for 15 minutes or something, or I try not to do any email. But sometimes I sort of get sucked into that vortex just because I can’t get my head calm enough to start writing. Or sometimes I’ll just start free writing and write a bunch of stuff down.

But I’ll usually write from eight till 12 then I’ll have lunch for about half an hour. And then I can’t really work in the middle of the day so I do email and any sort of book publicity stuff until about two. And I might have a film project on the go, too, so I might do a bit of work on that and then, from two till four, I’ll get back to that main book project that I’ve been working on. So, probably, I try to write sort of six hours a day and then the other couple of hours doing the other bits.

Valerie:
That’s very disciplined.

Tristan:
Well, yeah, but I figure I don’t ever get anything done if I sort of wait for inspiration to strike, you know? And, I don’t know, I like that discipline. I like that thing of showing up and seeing what happens and pushing through, you know, all the anguish of not knowing what to write.

Valerie:
And it’s essential really as a writer, isn’t it, if you don’t have that discipline then basically stuff isn’t going to come out.

Tristan:
Yeah. And I think it’d be really hard to try and make a living as a writer too unless you just show up like everyone else does at their job. And some people, you know, a builder might build something inspired one day and then do something dodgy the next day but they’re still showing up every day. They don’t only build on the days that they feel inspired to do so.

Valerie:
Sure, good analogy. Now you’re working on the next book in your Coolhunter series where Mac goes to New York. Why have you picked New York?

Tristan:
I just love New York. For some reason, I’m just really obsessed with the place. I love any movies set in New York. I’ve only been to New York once for about 10 days, but I just have such good memories of the city. And I figured for cool hunting, I was thinking should I pick an emerging cool city to set the next book in. But I just reckon New York’s just that perennially cool city; I just don’t think it’s every going to lose its cool. ’ve got lots of books on New York, too, and I’m often looking through these books. Just looking at images of New York gets me excited. I knew that I was going to be able to stay with this idea and you know hopefully write an inspired story.

Valerie:
And also it gives you an excuse to go to New York on a regular basis, good research.

Tristan:
Yeah.

Valerie:
What do you enjoy most about writing for young adults?

Tristan:
I think it’s fun. I like showing up at the laptop and writing stuff that really excites me. It’s a fun audience to write for. I like being in that playful head space and I have really good memories of being in primary-early high school; in terms of childhood, I have great memories of that. You have a bit of freedom, you’re on the edge of something but you’re not an adult, yet you’re not quite a child.

And I’ve always made stuff for a young audience. I’ve presented shows in the UK for a young audience and I find that you can explore a lot of stuff that you’d explore in an adult book but you just change the slant and the way that you explore it. So you probably make it more active, less talky, less without internal thoughts and more about an action-oriented storytelling mode. That’s how I approach it anyways.

Valerie:
Obviously you’re an adult, so how do you get yourself into the head space of a young adult?

Tristan:
I guess I try to – the web is a great thing, so I try to read as much as I can, I try to stay up on as much technology as I can, talk to kids; I’ve got next-door neighbors who are sort of around the age of people that I have in mind when I’m writing. I go to schools and talk and little fragments of conversation might end up being nabbed for a scene in the book. So yeah, I do spend time trying to hang out in that head space and not only draw on my own ideas of what it was like being that age or being a teenager, but also what it’s like now and what the differences are.

Valerie:
I understand that you’re also developing teachers’ notes to go along with Mac Slater Coolhunter. So what kind of issues are you hoping to get across through these books?

Tristan:
I think ideas on consumerism and how you approach consumerism. I think there’s so much stimulation from so many places for teenagers and kids and adults, that you’ve got to sort it out in your head, how you’re going to maintain a sense of yourself while having all this stuff thrown at you. So I think that’s an ongoing thing. I read somewhere, I’m not too sure where, it was the definition of marketing; that it was feeding the poop back to the diners so fast that they can’t recognize that it’s not real food. Something like that. So the machine is just churning stuff back in and you’re consuming it so fast that you don’t realise that this isn’t kind of good for you and it’s not nourishing, the stuff that you’re being fed.

So I kind of like exploring those kind of issues within the books. And Mac comes from a total non-consumer background, too. His parents were fire-twirler and lightning farmer, so these coolhunter guys see that he has something original to say and, in a way, they want to exploit what he has to say. So I guess it’s him trying to negotiate that ground all the time and stay true to who he actually is.

I also think another big issue in it for me is creativity and innovation. Sometimes, I think as you get older, you can lose all that creative play and it can suck all the innovation out of you. I’ve been reading stuff about the idea that creativity and originality is going to be the most valuable currency in the workplace in coming decades. That in order to stand out, that ability to find your own way through and not just be in the heat of what’s fed to you. Yeah, it’s going to be hugely valuable.

Valerie:
Apart from writing for young adults, what other age groups are you writing in that you enjoy?

Tristan:
At the moment I’m mainly writing for young adults. I have written for adults, short film stuff and short film adaptations, but predominantly that age group at the moment. I’m sort of spending time enjoying doing that.

Valerie:
It’s certainly keeping you busy.

Tristan:
Yeah, yeah it is. There seems to be lots of action. Every day there’s some new development and interesting thing that happens and I’m just really happy to be writing for that age group at the moment.

Valerie:
So tell us a little about the school project you’re involved in, Change the World Every Day in Five Minutes. What’s that all about and how did it start?

Tristan:
I got a book for Christmas called Change the World for Ten Bucks and it was 50 really simple, really doable ideas on world-changing stuff. I think lots of people have been in that position of thinking, ‘Well, I want to do something active and like I’m contributing, but I don’t really know what to do’ and ‘The problem seems big’ and all that sort of stuff. So this book just has small doable actions so that you feel empowered that you are actually making some kind of difference to other peoples’ lives.

And it’s not just environmental stuff. It’s about being a good human, you know, taking care of the people around you, thanking people, reaching out to people to let them know that they’ve helped you in some way. So I made them – We Are What We Do, the organization that brings out this book – a sponsor for the go-kart team in the Dreamracers books that I was writing, just to bring some kind of awareness to what we’re doing. And I did this course on activism and work and how you can know your beliefs and your work. And then this film project came along and I applied and got some of the money from SBS to make the film. It’s basically the first five minutes of school every day, spending those five minutes doing something positive for the world.

Valerie:
And where’s that film at? Is it being distributed, what’s the situation with it?

Tristan:
It’s on the web. It’s SBS dipping its toe into web stuff and distributing things on the web. So it’s actually on my YouTube channel. But it’s also at SBS if you Google: SBS Change the World in Five Minutes. The other films are on there, too. There’s a whole community around where other people are contributing films as well.

Valerie:
Great. You’ve obviously got your toes dipped in all sorts of new media. Apart from that tell us a bit about the work you’re doing in the film industry these days.

Tristan:
Well, I’ve sort of been trying to push the filmmaking stuff that I’m doing towards the audience that I’m writing my books for. There’s another series that I’m writing that looks like it might be an animation. There’s a producer that I’m developing that with where I’ll write and she’ll produce. And also a book based on a story by a writer David Metzenthen called The Really, Really High Diving Tower. We’ve been working that up into a script the last year or so. So I’m just trying to meld my filmmaking stuff with my writing as much as I can so the two worlds collide.

Valerie:
Mac Slater Coolhunter was launched at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival in July 2008. I know it’s early days but what’s been the response to the book so far?

Tristan:
It’s been really good. I know it’s my job to say that, but it has been. You get scared, especially by all the more literary establishment publications like Magpie, which is a literary journal for schools and things; they actually gave it a really good review, which was good. And because it’s popular fiction, I feared that they wouldn’t. Just across the board, I’ve been really happy with the response and I’ve had lots of support from the publisher and I’ve been really happy. I mean, I hope we can get it out there. There’s always that fear that people might like it but no one might hear that it even exists, so yit’ll be great if we can get it out there in the world and hopefully lots of people will enjoy it and get inspired by it.

Valerie:
I’m sure lots of people are going to hear it exists. Now that that’s been launched and you’ve got this hurdle out of the way, basically you must be thinking, ‘Well what am I concentrating all my time on?’ because  you’ve been spending all this time writing it and editing it and getting it ready for launch. Now that it’s been launched, what’s your next big thing that you’re sinking your teeth into?

Tristan:
Well, I’m just editing the second book now [Mac Slater Coolhunter 2: I Heart NY] and I’m playing around with the ending of the second book. And then there’s a young adult novel that’s being picked up that I’ve been writing with a writer in LA, and she writes a chapter and then I write a chapter and she writes a chapter and I write a chapter – so yeah, that’s been good.

Valerie:
What’s that process been like? I mean, because you would have potentially different voices and different ideas. How has that worked?

Tristan:
Well, it’s really good on the first draft because it’s really spontaneous and it’s basically these characters writing to one another. And when you receive a response overnight, because they’re on a different time to us, I then could write in a really ‘gut’ way and respond to that email and send it off and then she responds really quickly and gets it back to me. So on that first draft it’s just total free-written, exciting, you know, discovery. And it’s just tough when you’re rewriting it because you can’t just make a decision because every decision that you make impacts on what the next person responds to you with.

Valerie:
Of course.

Tristan:
So it’s a bit of a dance trying to work out how to – especially when you’re on opposite sides of the world – how to negotiate the rewriting process. But fun, yeah.

Valerie:
How did the idea come about?

Tristan:
It was Tempany, the other writer. I worked with her on Home and Away.

Valerie:
Tempany Deckert?

Tristan:
Yeah, and she’d been writing for teens as well and children and she just said, ‘Look, wouldn’t it be fun if we wrote something together?’ And we said, ‘Okay you choose a character and I’ll choose a character and maybe they’ll be writing to each other as part of their school assignment.’ And yeah, we went from there. It just evolved and it’s a really interesting thing. And again, it touches on kind of new media stuff and it uses aspects of the web and video and photos and all that sort of stuff, too.

Valerie:
Speaking of new media, how important do you think it is, as an author these days, to integrate with other bits of new media as opposed to just having a traditional paper book?

Tristan:
I think it’s really important. I’m not sure, because there’s no concrete evidence of how much difference it makes in terms of getting it out to people. I don’t know that everyone is totally convinced, but I think it’s worth diving into. I really reckon, considering how much time everybody – but particularly teens and people are spending on the Web – how much time they’re reading each day. It would be fantastic to be able to tap the power of the web to bring people to reading in new ways. So yeah, I get excited about the possibilities of what could be so I’m definitely going to be exploring it in the coming year and trying to push boundaries and get a publisher. I know that they’re really excited about it, about doing new stuff as well.

Valerie:
Are you ever concerned that, in fact, it’s competition to the written word or do you think it complements it?

Tristan:
Well at the moment, I don’t think there’s that. I certainly don’t feel like reading a novel on a computer screen and I don’t think there’s that many people that would, but on the things like Amazon Kindle and other devices that are coming out that are going to make the screen a bit more bookish. So I think that’s when it’ll become more of a threat, and things like file sharing will become more of an issue. But I think, ‘No, we’ve got to go forth’. I think we’ve got to embrace it and wrestle with it just like the music industry is and find out the new ways that we can get books to people.

Valerie:
Finally, what advice would you give other writers to help make the writing process easier for them?

Tristan:
I think that waking up and writing, even when you don’t feel like it, is really important.

Valerie:
Definitely.

Tristan:
There was a quote, I think from Stephen King, who said when you read back your work there’s often no difference in the quality of the writing on a day when you felt terrible about writing, and the day when you really felt like you wrote genius stuff. I think that’s true. I think you just force yourself through it. You might be feeling different within yourself, but actually the writing can come out just as sparkling as when you’re feeling totally juiced and inspired. So I’m from that school of not waiting for inspiration to strike, but just getting in there and doing it. So, that would be my key advice.

Valerie:
Okay. Well, thanks for talking to us today, Tristan, and best of luck with the book.

Tristan:
Thanks a lot.

 


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