Scott Monk presented a great workshop at the recent CYA conference in Brisbane, my daughter sat in and took notes and came back raving about how funny Scott was. So I thought we should invite him to our blog today to have a little chat and find out why this mild mannered guy is so popular with reluctant readers.
- My teen came straight home from the CYA conference and demanded that I get your latest book “Beyond the Knock-Knock Door”, can you tell me where on earth you got that great title?
Titles are incredibly hard. Sometimes they’re just as difficult as a novel’s first sentence. From the beginning, I wanted something catchy like some of the great titles of the 20th century including Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left, Where the Wild Things Are, and the Faraway Tree series. Each gave a sense of otherworldliness. When I first wrote my scene involving a gigantic door that needed a riddle to be unlocked specifically by children, the first reaction of my heroes was to knock. I wrote it twice, and suddenly I had my title.
- Now while it’s more a middle grade book than YA it seems a bit of a departure from your other books like “Boyz R Us” which deals with racial tension; “Raw” in which the main character gets sent to rehab; and “The Never Boys” which looks at identity. How did you come up with the plot?
Beyond the Knock-Knock Door was a story that I always intended to tell my own children. I had the idea of a pirate, a knight and a princess wandering through a forest and being chased by a monster that was almost impossible to kill. As I haven’t been blessed with children yet, I decided to start writing it eight years ago, but I could never connect the dots of the plot. It kept falling into a heap. Then, on my way to The Writers’ Centre in Adelaide, I passed a costume shop that looked kind of creepy. I later asked the writing class I was teaching to come up with a story idea about the costume shop. I had my own idea and that involved a somewhat sinister owner hiring out costumes that would turn real at the worst time imaginable. This later became the start of Beyond the Knock-Knock Door. I got rid of the princess and made her Samantha the pirate, who had ratty brothers and a love of burritos. It took several more failed attempts before I had that “prickly moment” – the moment of shivering clarity when I knew I was on the right track and my triplet heroes were running ahead of me, yelling over their shoulders for me to catch up.
- You’re known as a Monster Hunter, have you ever really hunted down monsters?
You have to remember, not all monsters have horns, sharp teeth and long tails. Some of them work in politics or are bullies at school. Some of them are in our nightmares. We all have to choose whether we fight for good or fight for evil.
- If you had to hunt them what would be your weapons of choice?
Probably a trap built from a wooden box set up on a twig, a length of string and chocolate as bait. Not good chocolate, of course. Some of that cheap, nasty chocolate that you buy at petrol stations. Failing that, a Gatling gun for particularly annoying monsters, a light sabre or Chewbacca’s bowcaster.
- The Bowman triplets fight, each other, monsters, everyone they come in contact with it seems, did you draw from your own childhood when creating these boys?
Absolutely! My sister and I fought like cats and dogs all the time when we were growing up in the country. She’d try to kidnap my Star Wars figures for tea parties and I’d rip off the heads of her Barbies. I’m amazed at how many books have siblings who love each other and are rosy-cheeked – that’s a work of fiction if I’ve ever seen one! Michael, Samantha and Luke are normal kids who go stir-crazy at school, at home and across the universe.
- You seem to be able to get reluctant readers to pick up your books, what’s your secret?
Treat teenagers as adults. Don’t look down to them – especially in storytelling. I think it’s also important that characters shouldn’t be superhuman. In fact, they should be flawed and vunerable and not sure of themselves. Another thing that annoys me is writers thinking that teenagers are only driven by sex. They’re meat. They’re a buzz of hormones. They’re walking movie cliches. However, many teenagers I talk to are creative, insightful, passionate, inspired and funny.
- What advice do you have for teens trying to write their first novel?
First, keep a diary. Both girls and guys. Your teenage years start to disappear from memory once you’re out of school, because you don’t want to remember all the embarrassing stuff. However, all the embarrassing stuff makes great fodder for stories. Second, get into the habit of listening to conversations on the bus, at school and at McDonald’s. Be a spy. You’ll hear the weirdest and funniest things. Third, and most importantly, grammar has little to do with it. Novelists are storytellers. Start collecting stories from your own life and those around you. Retell these stories to see what people enjoy or hate. Think of pranks, your worst day, your funniest moment, what’s the story behind your name, how did your parents meet etc. Be a bower bird.