Video transcript
NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2021 - Author talks (secondary) - 01. Gary Lonesborough

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[intro music]

ANGIE: Hi. My name is Angie. And I'm a student from Galston High School. I'm here today on Darug land at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival Secondary Schools Day. And I'm so, excited to be interviewing Gary Lonesborough for the New South Wales Premier's Reading Challenge.

So, how are you today, Gary?

GARY LONESBOROUGH: Well, yeah, thanks for having me. I'm great.

ANGIE: That's fantastic. I'm so, excited to have been given the opportunity to interview you about your book, 'The boy from the Mish.' This is by far one of my favourite books so far. The story follows 17-year-old Jackson as he explores his identity, creating strong bonds and having new exciting experiences, a process made a bit more tricky because he is Aboriginal and starts developing feelings for a Koori boy.

In your story, Jackson has a big and lively family. Is this based off of your own? If so, are there any strong memories that have heavily inspired what the family does in the novel?

GARY LONESBOROUGH: So, none of the characters are really based off any one person. I definitely drew on my own family dynamics, like growing up in Bega, a very big Aboriginal community down there. So, I definitely drew on that community feeling, that sense that everyone in town knew everyone.

And yeah, a lot of the people. I grew up with were people I was very friendly with and very comfortable with. And I definitely wanted to create that sense of community in the book and, yeah, definitely inspired by my immediate family, as well.

But yeah, I grew up first of 5 siblings so, a very different family. But I drew on my mum for a lot of Jackson's mum's stuff. So yeah.

ANGIE: Is the area of Mish inspired by places you've grown up in or visited?

GARY LONESBOROUGH: So the Mish is, while it is a fictional place, I did very much take that inspiration from the Wallaga Lake mission, which is near Bega on the far south coast. I spent a lot of time there. I was doing a school-based traineeship in Aboriginal health when I was in Year 11 and 12.

So, I spent a bit of a time out there through that job and got to know a lot of the people there and the feeling of that community there. And it was just such a nice, really close-knit place. And it was a beautiful area, as well, surrounded by the bush. And the water was just a short walk down the hill.

But yeah, I definitely draw on that place. While it is a fictional location in the book, yeah, I definitely based a lot of the community and the family members in that place around the people in that village.

ANGIE: And in the About the Author section of your book, you mentioned that you liked to write a lot as a child. Was this story, 'The boy from the Mish,' inspired at all by your earlier stories?

GARY LONESBOROUGH: Yeah. So no. I think the closest thing to that is I'd written a short film script in my film school days. And that was 10 pages.

It was around these 2 Aboriginal boys who you had this secret relationship. And they lived in a country town. And it was just based around their last couple, well, their last night together before one of them was leaving. So, that was the only thing I really, I think I drew that story for 'The boy from the Mish' from that script.

I think that's probably the only connection that I had to my earlier work. But, I was writing stories all through high school. And I think practice makes perfect. So, I definitely learned a lot about writing characters and making them relatable and making them authentic through practicing during my high school years.

ANGIE: The character Thomas spent time in a juvenile detention centre, which sounds pretty tough. Is his experiences influenced at all by your time working in the youth justice system?

GARY LONESBOROUGH: Yes, it is. I did spend a lot of time working with Aboriginal kids in juvenile justice centres. I've had lunch with 10-year-old Aboriginal kids who have been locked up. Those stories aren't ones that you hear. Or those people's voices aren't really heard.

So, when I was really trying to figure out Thomas's character, I just sort of found myself leaning towards that side of my experiences. And so, yeah, I definitely drew on that experience of working with kids like Thomas and how they behave and how they think.

And what resulted was Thomas was a very sort of self-protective character who doesn't like to talk about his past all that much. And yeah, he's also very disconnected to his culture.

ANGIE: What I admire about your work is how you write about the relationships in your story. They're written in such a realistic and engaging way that leaves the reader fully invested in the story, especially through Jackson and Thomas's relationship. It felt real and unforced. Do you find inspiration for your characters in the relationships around you?

GARY LONESBOROUGH: Yeah, definitely. I like to think of everything in life as material that I could potentially use in my writing. So yeah. Jackson's friendship group is very much inspired by my friend group during high school. And we were always driving around somewhere or listening to music or going out underage drinking or partying.

We were always very supportive of each other. And we were always there for each other so, definitely inspired by my friends in high school. And yeah, there's a lot of experiences that I've definitely drawn on for the book, like Jackson's relationship with his mum. I probably wasn't as good to my mum when I was Jackson's age. But, I definitely felt that connection and wanted to show that Jackson had with his mum and really show that they love each other, even though sometimes they don't see eye to eye.

And yeah, there's a lot of characters in the book who are very much inspired by people I've grown up with. Or while not wholly based on one person, a lot of their character aspects are definitely prevalent in the novel.

ANGIE: And are there any authors or just stories that you think have strongly influenced your writing?

GARY LONESBOROUGH: I think I grew up on a lot of 'Captain Underpants.' Andy Griffiths was probably my favourite writer as a kid. So really, I know that I want to put a lot of humour into my stories.

I guess in terms of style, I was very much inspired by the way 'Jasper Jones' was written. It was the first book I'd read that was written in first-person present tense. And I didn't even know that was a thing until I read that book. And now, it's really hard for me to read third-person past tense.

So, I definitely was influenced by the storytelling and the use of that tool of first-person present tense to give that immediacy to the story and the characters. But yeah, I guess through high school, I really didn't like reading all that much for various reasons. But yeah, definitely, Andy Griffiths was my biggest influence to wanting to tell funny stories.

ANGIE: And you mentioned in your author's note that a reason you wrote this book was because you hadn't seen any representation in young adult stories about Aboriginal teens exploring their sexuality and accepting who they are. Is there any message or advice that you'd like to give to Aboriginal teens that are members of the LGBTQ+ community?

GARY LONESBOROUGH: You've done your research. Yeah, I guess the most difficult thing for me coming to accept who I was was that lack of representation in society and in books and film and TV. And I think it's really important that people of all aspects of life or all ranges of life can see themselves reflected in the pages.

So yeah, my advice would be it's very different today than it was when I graduated high school in 2013. So, the world's a lot better place. What I needed was I just needed the time to come to that acceptance in myself.

So yeah, just take your time. Don't rush it. When you're ready, there's a whole community out there who will accept you and love you. And while there are some people who don't have that really positive coming-out story or who do have a difficult time, it's really important to show that there is hope at the end of the tunnel, if that is the case.

But yeah, just learn to love who you are. Take your time. And yeah, you will be loved.

ANGIE: That's a really beautiful message. And I think that you're starting that representation. I think it's really cool that you did that. And I hope that it influences other people to write stories like that and create more representation for everyone.


ANGIE: Thank you so, much for letting me interview you today. It's been amazing talking with you and getting to know more about you and this wonderful novel. I hope everyone watching out there today enjoys reading it as much as I did while they work to complete the Premier's Reading Challenge.

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