By Matt Zurbo
Hi. I’m Matt Zurbo. My first published book was a picture book; Blow Kid Blow, over two decades ago. It was about a kid who uses the soundscapes of music to take him places. I was working on about eight writing projects at once, including a comic about real life, for which I hit on Mambo artist Jeff Raglus to draw a page or two. He said; “No, but Penguin are interested in me, and they can’t find a good story.” I went home that night and wrote him three. I was sure the first was a winner. But the other two I did anyways, just to show off, I don’t know. He, and Penguin, hated the first story and loved the second one. So, now that I had an in with Penguin, I sent them three more storyboarded books every week, asking them just one, simple question each time; “What didn’t you like?”
By time I gave them story 14, I knew they would take it. My second book was signed before my first one was even officially accepted. That book, I Got A Rocket, a very simple idea I drew roughly on a mud-spattered pocket book while on my lunch break working in the bush, went on, years later, to become an Emmy winning cartoon.
Idiot Pride has been my most popular novel to date. It was for teenagers, raw and honest. Kids and adults, boys and girls, could relate to that. It was about teens going nowhere, and trying to find pride in that. A search for a place to breath in working class claustrophobia. For all it’s poetic language and observations, it was a short, hard book, that did not glorify the teen years. I sometimes wonder if it could be published today. It ended up being shortlisted for book of the year.
I’ve written all sorts of stuff from more kids books to YA fiction to Aussie Rules Football books, to stories on music and even done stand-up comedy, was brilliant and reckless and involved a lot of writing.
All the while I never gave up my day work. Partly because there is no money in writing, but mostly because I have liked writing whatever I want to write, and working in the bush. I’ve been a harvester, done 15 years of revegetation work, a wood cutter, built walking tracks in the tropics during cyclone season, and in the snow of Tasmania, I’ve worked on plantation crews that felt like prison gangs, and done much farm work.
Working hard jobs in raw, remote locations all over Australia has always supported my writing, and visa versa – the writing has helped my head!
I also have many unpublished books. I read about the perseverance of some authors when it comes to pushing their books, and marvel. Once it’s written, I pretty much lose interest. I’m always just too obsessed with the next one I’m working on!
Definitely, the outsider gets a good run in my stories. Honesty is key, too. I just don’t like to flower things up. The world is plenty beautiful if you look at things as they are. There is joy and hurt. You need both. As well as love.
As I said, I just love stories. Kids books are ideal. So is poetry. Footy is full of stories. Life is! There aren’t too many genres I have not had a crack at. Inspiration is easy. All you have to do is want to write. We live 50 stories each and every day, observe even more. All I do is notice and write them down.
I get personal satisfaction from nailing something just right. Both for me and the reader. Of course you are writing for someone, of course! You’re communicating when you write, so communicate well, no matter how far-out your topic is.
Make them feel!
Having an imagination helps, too, of course. But we all have one! Like any other muscle, it just needs to be used.
My most recent project was Cielo – an ode to my daughter of the same name. For it, I wrote 365 children’s books in 365 days, with art direction, and published them on the internet for free! (cielo365stories.com) With my bush work and making time for my daughter and wife, it was a year of 4-5 hours sleep a night! Work, family, then to the desk when everyone else is asleep, until about 1am, then repeat… for a year!
Each story comes with art direction, in case a kid wants to draw their own story, or an art or English teacher wants to them in class. Really, with poetic stories, and silly stories, and educational stories, and tween novellas, there is something for everyone. They are a perfect, free learning tool.
I just wanted to leave a legacy for my little girl. And to give something back to writing, which has been so good to me. No charge, no strings attached. To maybe inspire a love of stories in others. I believe imagination trumps violence and ignorance. 365 kids stories by a short listed author for free. Hopefully, Cielo, in some small way, will be a positive thing.
I find stubbornness a very handy tool for writing, I guess. Ideas are easy. It’s application that can be difficult.
Of course I get writer’s block. When I do, I usually write. It’s frustrating, and a chore, but not the coal mines, either. When it starts flowing again, the love returns.
Each person who writes will give advice about writing as if theirs is the only way. Yet each person is different. My advice, when asked, is; just write. Do not write to get published. Write because. Then try and get published. Write, write, write like you stole it! Always love the next story! The one you’re about to write. Write something beautiful. Published or not, make it good enough to fall into. Take pride in that, then write another.
For me, with my work and sport and music, I just think, live life and stories will follow. Say hello when we meet. Tell me a story, and I’ll tell you one. Stories lead to stories.