The Smuggler’s Curse ISBN 9781925164190 Paperback fiction. Middle readers $17.00. 320 pages. (198 x 128 x 20mm) Fremantle Press Publisher. Year 2016

My Publishing Career. An Interview by Fremantle Press PR Dept.

Can you give a short overview of your publishing career?

Twenty years ago, while working at a specialist children’s bookshop, I wrote the text for the graphic novel Ashe of the Outback. It was written specifically for reluctant readers, who predominantly seemed to be boys, and increasing in numbers. The style was inspired by Asterix and Tintin, who were both incredibly popular with these readers.

Two picture books, In Flanders Fields and The Call of the Osprey, both illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever, were then selected by Fremantle Press. After that, I produced two semi-autobiographical comedy novels for teenagers, A Fine Mess and Another Fine Mess 002, about two boys in a county town getting into all sorts of trouble. I had loads of fun writing them.

In 2008 Jack’s Island, a historical novel set off the coast of Western Australia during World War II was released. Then in 2011 James Foley and I created the picture book The Last Viking and soon after The Last Viking Returns, the sequel. I also have several other picture book texts and I am working on number 3 in The Smuggler’s Curse, series.

Has it changed in the last few years? In what way/s? Do you think it has become harder to stay published? Or have more opportunities arisen?

I don’t think my actual writing career has changed that much. I get more work, though, talking to school kids because I’m better known now, but even with winning awards and reasonable sales, I still can’t afford to write full-time. Being from faraway Western Australia, I’m not that well-known to the publishers, so haven’t had too many approaches to write for them or to appear at east coast festivals.

What strategies for ‘staying published’ have you adopted—and how have these changed over the years?

Basically, I just keep writing. I have tried different styles, including graphic novels, picture books, comedy novels, serious historical novels, and the occasional article, mostly, I suspect, to see if I am capable of writing them. I think if I were to write only picture books I would go totally mental, always trying to keep to the discipline they require. Writing a story in so few words and then watching the carefully chosen words get slashed as the pictures develop is so difficult to handle.

I’m looking forward to being an ‘overnight success’ after twenty years slogging away at it. Perhaps that’s it, you just have to keep slogging away at it until you do the magical ten thousand hours? As Churchill said, “never, never, never give in.”

I have stayed with Fremantle Press for most of my career with only two editors, originally Ray Coffey, but mostly, and happily, Cate Sutherland, and because they have completely different tastes you would think I might choose subjects to write about to suit their preferences, knowing it might improve my chances of being accepted. In reality, I write to keep myself amused, hoping that there are some other twelve-year-old kids out there, just like me, who might just ‘get it.’ Being a forever twelve-year-old trapped in an aging writer’s body is not so bad.

I keep up my membership with ASA and SCBWI. I find it very valuable meeting with the members of SCBWI, who in WA are a really marvellous bunch of supportive creators. We are very encouraging of each other and we share industry news such as which publishers are looking for submissions, but also discuss each other’s plots and writing styles, as well help each other through the successes and inevitable heartaches.

What do you think are the main pitfalls today for writers aiming to maintain a long career?

Other than losing heart after too many rejections and giving up writing altogether, the obvious pitfall, other than a serious Facebook addiction, is not having a runaway success early in your career, otherwise, you have to work at something else to earn a living while trying to write. Even with the lack of time by having a full-time job, just being worn out at the end of a regular working day can kill creativity stone dead. Though many of the writers who are career authors also spend so much time on the road touring schools that they too have little time or energy left to create either. And creativity does not flow easily while you are all alone in a dingy county motel. You, somehow, have to maintain the passion in spite of the slings and arrows of the daily grind.

Do you have any advice for writers who have already started their publishing career—i.e. have had one or two books published—but are having trouble maintaining publisher interest?

Treat your writing as a business – as a way to make money, otherwise, you will need a regular job to support yourself.  The business is not just composing words, but just as importantly, promoting. Publishers like that. They want you to have as high a profile as possible. The more you are seen, the more likely people are to buy your books.  The way a great many children’s writers earn their real incomes is by school talks where you are spruiking your word to something like a thousand kids a week.

Even if a publisher thinks a particular story of yours is only okay, they might take a chance on it because you are seen as an excellent salesman for them.

My other two pieces of advice are firstly, not to take rejection personally. That is the hardest part of putting your soul on the page, but when a publisher says, ‘your work does not fit with our list’, they probably mean just that. It does not have to mean that your writing sucks and you should go back to flipping burgers. Maybe, too, the publisher has contracted to publish twelve books this year, and yours is the thirteenth to come along. It could just be luck.

My second piece of advice is that quote from Churchill that I mentioned earlier, never give in, ever. The publishing world is full of long delays and endless waiting for things to happen, so learning patience is recommended. When I am rejected I immediately think of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury Publishers and the fifteen other publishers who rejected Harry Potter, to their collective horror, I suspect. Can you imagine being one of those editors and sitting at your desk knowing what you had done, while watching as the sales figures over at Bloomsbury went completely ballistic?

Wearing your prophet’s hat—how do you see the publishing industry in the future?

I see fiction continuing to be published both as print and e-books for quite some time, but Google is hurting non-fiction. Children’s and young adult books are still selling remarkably well, with no slowdown in sales at all and, in fact, have helped maintain many publisher’s profits during an economic downturn. That market seems likely to be encouraged and will grow, though I don’t know what will be replacing wizards, vampires and angels. I did notice in my local Dymocks that YA fiction now takes up over a third of the fiction shelves, whereas, for most of publishing history, it was shoved away in the back corner. What stands out in the YA section, though, is that nearly every book cover is dramatically coloured black. I do hope YA will lighten up a little in the future. I’m well over angst.


School Visits I Have Made. Part 1.

“Dear Mr Norman, Thank you for coming to visit our school. I know you told us you don’t make much money from each book sale, but let me tell you, be rest assured, you are bringing great joy to millions and millions of children around the world.”  :)

School visits really are the second best part of my job.  The best is actually me sitting in a darkened room with my imaginary characters while they push me around and force me to arrange more and more unlikely and hair-raising adventures for them to narrowly survive.  But that way leads to madness and self loathing and probably coffee addiction.

I have done a load of talks to school kids in recent years in places ranging from the wealthiest private schools with million dollar views over the Swan River to one school where the school teaches Equestrian Studies and has a class set of horses and stables. In contrast, a week later, I was cramped in the front seat of a small Cessna flying across an endless outback desert to reach an Aboriginal school with a dozen kids.

Flying in small Cessnas is not part of the school visit scene I particular enjoy. Once, when crossing Shark Bay to visit the school at Useless Loop (an unfortunate name for a good school), the plane engine started coughing, which immediately concentrated the mind, I can tell you, and tightened every muscle, as Shark Bay was named that by explorer and pirate, William Dampier, for a very good reason. You can see the big scary creatures swimming below you.  Obviously, I survived and went on to spent several enjoyable hours with the kids there.

Another memorable visit was to Geraldton where James Foley and I were to talk to kids in Geraldton and  Mullawa schools as well as at the Big Sky Writers’ Festival.  Before the festival opened, the authors, including Juliet Marillier, James and I, were flown out to spend the night at the Abrolhos Islands, the bleak and haunted location of the infamous  Batavia shipwreck and subsequent slaughter of many of the crew and passengers.  The island where we stayed is said to be haunted by the spirits of long-dead shipwrecked Dutch sailors, and not just Johnny Walker spirits.  What a memorable experience, and, I must confess, we did experience a spirit or two. 

Another visit, and one of my favourites, was to Cocos Island School right out in the Indian Ocean, south of Indonesia. The place is everything you could imagine a tropical island should look like, with balmy breezes and crystal clear warm water, and the kids, many from Cocos-Malay families who live on Home Island without cars and the mess of the modern world, are warm, friendly and gentle. They made Jan and me so welcome that we never wanted to leave .



A lovely school visit that sticks in my mind was to Poynter Primary School in Duncraig where every year the Grade 6 students, without any help from their teachers,  organise a dawn Anzac Service followed by Gunfire Breakfast and Gallipoli Games on the oval, recreating the sports the diggers played on the beaches back in 1915. They also invite old diggers and serving military members, as well as me, probably because  I wrote In Flanders Fields, which is about WWI, and they have studied it.

One added bonus of interacting with students like this is that I get to try out new and unpublished stories on my usually eager audiences. I quickly get a feel for scenes and passages that are flagging or not working at all. I know I’ve got it right, though,  when all noise stops, and the kids stop breathing because they are listening so hard.

But most of all, I love their enthusiasm. It is so infectious. They flock to me after sessions wanting to share their stories and s discuss their favourite books with me, and often to get my signature on their workbooks or hats or arms.

When older people tell me that the kids of today are... whatever - lazy, sullen, disrespectful, something bad - I just laugh, knowing first hand that the Australia of tomorrow is in safe hands.




The Last Viking Returns ISBN 9781925161151 Picture Book (235 x 295 x 10mm) (Hardback) $25.00 Illustrated by James Foley 32 Pages Fremantle Press 2014

Coming Up with a Decent Title, Eventually.

Deciding on the title for the sequel to The Last Viking took some effort.  A good title has to give a hint at what the book is about, but at the same time, be obscure enough to have a little mystery about it. That was my theory anyway.  Originally, I had wanted to call it Son of  The Last Viking, like the Saturday matinee movies I used to watch back in Narrogin when I was a kid. Son of Zorro, Son of Captain Blood and  Son of Frankenstein all came to mind, but, obviously, that couldn’t work, as the story takes place two years later, not a whole generation into the future.


Next, I thought of Knut Rides Again, again after the Saturday flicks, as in Destry Rides Again  (an early James  Stewart western),  The Lone Ranger Rides Again (1955), Jesse James Rides Again or Hopalong Rides Again.  Unfortunately, James Foley and I hadn’t included any horses in the manuscript, so that option had to go. I didn’t bother asking him to fit a herd of horses in Viking World somewhere, the main location of the story,  as I knew space would be tight, and I could guess his reaction. It would have been a single Viking word.


Below are some of the 100 odd titles we considered for the sequel to the The Last Viking. As you can see, we plundered and pillaged movies and other folks’ books, for inspiration. James and I  could have saved ourselves hours, though, and gone with very first cand most obvious suggestion at the time, ‘The Last Viking Returns’.
It took a long time to think that one up, whereas, in reality, it was there all the time, but ‘reality’ is not a word commonly found anywhere near us, especially me.

Along with Cate Sutherland, our editor, we decided on The Last Viking Returns, and here’s hoping it continues to return successfully, and enjoys a nice long sea voyage off to foreign lands to plunder foreign rights, and become well-beloved by all young Vikings. Judging by the first couple of years of sales, we may have got the title right. Onward to glory!

As you can see, there was a bit of late-night brainstorming going on here. And what a waste of time.  "It's about the last Viking returning. Let's just call it The Last Viking Returns and get on with another story,"  said neither of us, unfortunately.

Knut! The Last Viking II
Little Knut
Knut the Legend
Legend of Knut
The Return of the Vikings
The Return of Knut
Knut and Wolverine
Knut, Prince of the Vikings
The Wrath of the Gods
The Wrath of the Dragon
The Viking Code
Odin’s Hero
The Saga of Knut
The Saga of Little Knut
The Knut Chronicles
The Knut Manifesto
The Confessions of Knut
The Return of Knut
Knut the Brave
Knut the Fearless
Viking World
Knut and the Gods
We Were Vikings
Knut’s Quest
The Best Viking
Big Trouble for Little Knut
Onward to Glory
Where’s Knut
A Dragon’s Tale
A Dragon’s Tail
Viking Warrior of Pure Heart
The Last Viking II
The Last Viking Rides Again
The Last Viking Strikes Back
The Last Viking Returns
Son of the Last Viking
The Son of Thunder
The Hammer of Thor
Thor’s Big Day Out
Odin’s Ravens
Knut’s Progress
In the Name of Odin
In the Name of the Viking
The Little Viking Prince
Viking Trek
Viking Wars
Citizen Knut
The Treasure of Asgard
Dances with Vikings
Midnight Viking
Viking Dawn
The Treasure of the Gods
Knut of Green Gables
To Kill a Raven
The Very Hungry Vikings
Where the Wilder Things Are
Fifty Shades of Knut
Magic Faraway Viking World
Knut Unchained
The Wrath of the Gods
The Taming of the Dragon
Go the Knut to Sleep
I’ve Got a Thor Head
Fate of the Vikings
Cry Viking!
The Gods Strikes Back
Knut and the Burning Longship
The Twins Vanish