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Authors get asked a lot of questions. Sometimes I throw caution to the wind and answer them...

How old are you?
I was born in 1953 which makes me... oh dear, maths was my worst subject at school... um... 37?
Where do you write your books?
In my office at home. Though it's a bit more complicated than that because I've got a place in Brisbane and a place in Sydney. There’s an office in each with identical pen jars and I write each book partly at one place and partly at the other. I think the Sydney pen jar is better at endings.
Have you won any awards?
Quite a few, but I try not to let my head swell too much. Most awards are given by small groups of people who are just expressing their very personal preferences. The awards I really like getting are the ones voted for by actual readers, like the Yabba Award in Victoria and the Koala Award in NSW and all the other state awards voted for by young people. Awards are a bit like pimples – if you get some it’s best not to think about them or squeeze them too much.
Do people ever recognise you in public?
Only when I'm wearing a name-tag. I try to make sure that all photos of me in the media are a few years old. This is partly because I'm vain and partly because it means that I've always got more wrinkles than any of the photos. Which means people don't recognise me when I'm out and I'm free to go into bookshops and put my books in front of Wimpy Kid books anonymously.
What other skills do you have besides writing books?
I'm not bad at cooking, tidying up a house and playing table tennis. I'm very good at making lists and finding bargains at the shops.
Do you get nervous speaking to large groups of people?
I used to. And I still do if they’re neighbours complaining about me making too much noise with my pencil sharpener. It's a shock when you first realise that being an author isn't sitting in a room on your own all day – it's also going out and showing off in public. I've gradually got used to it and now I mostly enjoy it. I prefer having an audience ask me questions so I can give spontaneous honest answers rather than writing a talk beforehand and trying to learn it.
Do you ever get bored?
Not really. That's one of the good things about having a very active imagination and several hundred books at my place that I haven’t read yet. If I ever start feeling bored while I’m writing, that’s a very useful warning sign. Usually that I’ve lost contact with what the characters are feeling. I do get scared sometimes that the book I’m writing won’t be as good as the last one. And I get frustrated on the days when I don’t feel I’m telling a character's story properly. And now and then sitting at my desk I crave the company of people who aren't inside my head. But mostly it’s fine, thanks for asking.
How do you pronounce your last name?
Gleit rhymes with light, white and bite, which makes me sound more like a dairy product than I really am.
What inspires you as a writer?
Lots of things. The knowledge that somebody I've never met somewhere I've never been can read one of my stories and laugh and cry at the same things as me. And end up making friends with a character I care about. The experience of being inside a character who can be braver, funnier, wiser, sillier, naughtier and more determined than I'm usually able to be. The hope that after I'm dead people will still enjoy my stories. Stationery.
What influences have your parents had on your life?
My mother taught me to be neat and my father taught me how to be funny. They both taught me to care about people and stories. They also demonstrated to me, in great detail, how love works.
Do you like going to schools?
I like it more as an author than I did as a student. These days I could happily spend all my time going to schools. But if I did I wouldn't write any books and then the teachers would wonder who this bloke was visiting the school who hadn't written any books for years and ... well, you get the picture. Sometimes schools write to my publishers or my agents asking me to visit and sometimes I'm able to. And sometimes, sadly, not.
If you had to give up writing, what would you do?
Depends why I had to stop. If it was because I'd been jailed for using too many adverbs, I'd spend the rest of my life reading. And tunnelling.
How would you describe yourself?
An ageing bloke with no hair and a bit too much tummy who tries to explore every aspect of being human using only a notebook, a computer, his imagination and lots of nouns, verbs, prepositions, pronouns and articles. Plus a few adjectives and adverbs. And the odd metaphor, simile and subordinate clause. And lots of tea.
What was your most embarrassing moment ever and have you ever had to leave a party early cause you got a new idea for a book or a chapter?
My most embarrassing moment involved a door that slammed shut in the wind, an author at the washing line with only a towel around him, and a neighbour who wouldn't give him the spare key to get back into the house. I'd rather not go into more details. I often get ideas at parties. I don't have to leave early because I've learned how to make notes with cheese dip on Jatz biscuits.
Would you have enjoyed your own books when you were young?
I enjoyed reading everything when I was young, even knitting patterns. Richmal Crompton's William books were my favourite and I still love them. I don't read much fiction these days because I can't read other people's stories while I'm writing my own. The voices and rhythms get all mixed up. So I read mostly non-fiction. I love biographies and books about things I slept through at school.
When you were in primary school, were you the class clown?
This is incredible. How did you know? Is your class teacher called Mr Williams? Is he 123 years old? I hated it when Mr Williams called me the class clown. I told him I much preferred the phrase ‘future Prime Minister’ but he wouldn’t listen.
Are your stories based on your own life?
The things that happen in my books are almost all made up. For me, imagination makes much better stories than memory. Specially as my memory isn't very good. I can't remember many of the adventures of my childhood, so it's easier for me to make them up. Occasionally, though, a bit of my real life creeps in. I emigrated from England with my folks when I was 16, and that experience helped me write Misery Guts, and Boy Overboard, and Toad Away, and Maybe.

I make all my characters up too. Or I think I do. I've never been any good at following friends and family and complete strangers around with a notebook and jotting down things about them and putting them into my stories. My characters come from somewhere inside me and a big part of each of them is me. Perhaps without me knowing it, though, small parts of them come from people I've known and cared about in my life.

The parts of my stories that do come entirely from my life are the emotions the characters feel. I don't think you can make emotions up, no matter how good your imagination is. I've never met a writer who knows how to invent new emotions. All we can do is use the emotions we all feel every day. Love, hate, hope, fear, excitement, jealousy, sadness, guilt, joy, anxiety etc. The characters in our stories may be feeling them for different reasons to us, but they're the same emotions.
How long do you take to write a book?
It varies a lot. Two Weeks With The Queen took four weeks. Once took ten years, though most of that was thinking about it and doing research. I'm always thinking about my future books (which is why I walk into things quite a lot) so it's hard to put a time frame on that part of the process. At least a year, I’d say. Once I start working on a story in earnest, I usually take about nine months. Two months of planning, two months of writing and two months of re-writing and editing. With gaps in between so I can take a breather and get some perspective on where I’m up to and rearrange all my tea into nice matching tins.
How do you plan a book?
When I know who my main character is and what their problems are and what they might be able to do about them, I start planning the story into chapters. I write a few sentences about each chapter – notes to myself about what happens in each chapter and how the main character is feeling. I usually do more drafts of the plan that I do of the book itself. Ten drafts of the plan sometimes, and usually only three or four of the actual book. I need to know how the story will end before I can start writing the chapters. Sometimes, though, the ending changes as I'm writing. I revise the plan a bit while I'm writing the chapters.
How do you come up with funny things to say about sad things?
I guess it's the way I see the world. Or the way my characters do. It's not a case of just trying to make sad things seem funny. In a mysterious way that I don't understand, putting humour next to sad things can make us even more aware of just how sad they are.
Can you give some hints on how to write a story?
Read lots of stories. Ask yourself questions while you read. Why are the characters feeling what they're feeling? What could you change in the story to make them feel different? How would that affect the ending of the story? In your imagination, find a character who will let you write about their feelings. Ask the character questions. Find out what they want most in the world. A pet. A Dad. An illness to go away. A trip to see someone. Love. A friend. Find out what’s stopping them getting it. Write about how they feel about that, and what they do to try and get the thing they want. While you’re doing it, see if you can make yourself laugh and cry.
What advice would you give to developing writers?
Welcome to the club. We're all developing. A good start is to use language you feel comfortable with. Some people think that using big words makes them look more like real writers. Usually it doesn’t. When you're writing stories, try not to let your characters spend too much time thinking and feeling things without doing things, or doing things without thinking and feeling things. Read lots. Write lots. Read even more.
What steps are involved from the very start of a book to publishing it?
1. A strong desire to write a story. 2. Writing a story. 3. Re-writing it to make it as good as you can. 4. Showing it to a publisher. 5. Re-writing it some more. 6. Going through it with an editor. 7. Re-writing it some more. 8. Going through it with the editor again. 9. And again. 10. And again. 11. Setting the book into page proofs. 12. Correcting the proofs. 13. And again. 14. And again. 15. Designing the cover. 16. Writing the blurb. 17. Printing the book. 18. Warehousing the book. 19. Distributing the book to shops. 20. Doing Q and A’s so the book will be read by keen readers from ... where are you from again?
What’s it like being a writer?
I could write a whole book about it and perhaps I will one day. For now, here are some of main things about being a writer.
  1. You get to go to work in your pyjamas. I'm wearing mine as I write this.
  2. It feels very nice seeing your name on books in bookshops and libraries. Sometimes just through the window if they won’t let you in because you’re wearing pyjamas.
  3. Writing on your own for months can get a bit lonely, but it’s not too bad because the characters keep you company.
  4. After doing it for 25 years you get a bad back.
  5. You get to travel to different parts of the world and meet readers from different countries.
  6. You earn money from doing something you'd do even if you didn't get paid. Pretty lucky, eh?
What's it like being famous?
It's a heady whirl of red carpets, limos, paparazzi, servants and private jets. But sadly only in my imagination. The bloke in the fruit shop recognises me sometimes, but he thinks I'm Mem Fox.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Not when I was very young. I wrote a lot of stories in my head when I was a kid, but I wanted to be a professional soccer player. Unfortunately the school I went to only played rugby, so most of my soccer experience was in the playground kicking around a tennis ball. I couldn't find a Premier Division club that used tennis balls. I've wanted to be a writer since I was 17.
What time do you go to bed when you’re writing one of your stories?
I used to write all night. My imagination works better in the dark. But when we had kids I had to fit in with family life so I trained myself to write in the day. I like to read before I go to bed so I don't usually turn the light out until about midnight. Please don't try this at home.
Can my name be in your next book?
I should warn you that some of my books are about nose germs and stomach worms. How would you feel about a character with your name emerging from a human bottom? Better check with your lawyer first.
As a new author, how many publishers should you send your story to?
There are two schools of thought. The first is that you send your manuscript to every publisher you think would be interested. The other is that you only send your manuscript to the one publisher you think would be most interested. Then bombard them with phone calls, sleep in their foyer, date as many of their employees as possible, and pray a lot. If that doesn't work, move on to the next one.
When was your first date?
In year 5 a stunningly beautiful girl called Margaret agreed to accompany me to the local milkbar where we spent an intensely romantic hour pricing lollies.
What car do you drive?
An Audi. I can also drive a Lamborghini if your teacher’s got one I can borrow.
If you could have any pet in the world what would it be?
Hmmm, not sure. Are there any animals that are good at research and computer maintenance?
Do you ever plan to retire?
I hope that’s not a request. Because I don’t. I plan to write books until I die, and hopefully for a while afterwards.