Video transcript
NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2023 - SWF author interview (primary) - 05. Adrian Beck

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[intro music]

YANKAI: Hi. My name is Yankai, and I'm a student from Epping Public School. I'm here today at the Cammeraygal land at The Concourse in Chatswood as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival Primary Schools Day, and I'm so excited to be interviewing Adrian Beck for the Premier's Reading Challenge. Hi, Adrian. How are you today?

ADRIAN BECK: I'm good. How are you?

YANKAI: I'm very excited to be interviewing you today.

ADRIAN BECK: Fantastic. I can't wait to see all your awesome questions.

YANKAI: OK.

ADRIAN BECK: OK.

YANKAI: Should we start?

ADRIAN BECK: Let's do it, yeah.

YANKAI: OK. First, what made you decide to become an author?

ADRIAN BECK: Gee. That's a tough question from the word go. You've been thinking about this, haven't you?

YANKAI: Yes, very much.

ADRIAN BECK: I can tell. I wanted to be an author ever since I was a kid. Tell me this-- have you ever watched a movie, or watched a TV show, or read a book, or talked to your friends, and you get lost in what's going on in the story they're telling you?

YANKAI: Yes, because they're leading you to so much things.

ADRIAN BECK: That's right, and you just want to know what happens next. You forget where you are. You forget that you're in your bed reading your book, or you forget where you're next to your mate talking about whatever's happened to them, wild story that's happened to them. You know that feeling that you get when you're listening to a story, and you can't wait to work out what happens next? I love that feeling. I think everyone loves that feeling, when you get caught up in a story. Do you love that feeling?

YANKAI: Sure. It's like, 'Where am I?'

ADRIAN BECK: That's right. Where am I? Exactly. It's an awesome feeling, and I want to create that in other people. I want to create that feeling in other people, and so, that's really why I do what I do.

YANKAI: Interesting.

ADRIAN BECK: Thank you.

YANKAI: Second, I've noticed you like to add a lot of bad dad jokes in your stories.

ADRIAN BECK: What are you saying? Bad? They're awesome.

YANKAI: Well, they're titled bad dad jokes.

ADRIAN BECK: Good point. Yeah. OK.

YANKAI: Is that because you're a dad?

ADRIAN BECK: Yes, it is. I am a daggy, daggy, daggy dad, and I have 2 young daughters who I try and impress with really, really bad dad jokes. Like, really bad dad jokes.

YANKAI: Does it work?

ADRIAN BECK: Do you think it works?

YANKAI: No idea.

ADRIAN BECK: No, it doesn't work. Something happens when you become a dad, and you just think you're funnier than you are, and you just start telling really terrible, terrible jokes all the time. Like, what do you call cheese that's not your cheese?

YANKAI: Uh, nacho cheese.

ADRIAN BECK: Nacho cheese.

YANKAI: Yeah.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah.

[laughter]

See? They're not that good, but they're not that bad, are they?

YANKAI: I don't suppose-- no.

ADRIAN BECK: Oh, good. I've won you over. Yeah. No, I do like bad jokes. I do like bad dad jokes. Because I think dads and mums and everyone when they become an adult, they just like silly, silly jokes. So I throw a lot of them into my books, mainly to annoy my daughters.

YANKAI: OK. I couldn't help but notice Derek in 'Derek Dool', his pretty dorky personality. What made you think of that, and is it based on anyone particular?

ADRIAN BECK: Yes. It's based on someone who's quite near you right now. That's right. It's based on me. Because when I was a kid-- I know you're looking at me now and you're thinking, 'What a cool dude.' Yeah?

YANKAI: Sure.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah. But when I was a kid, I was a little bit dorky, and I used to do all sorts of things to try and impress people. In fact, there's a moment in 'Derek Dool' which I've used as inspiration for the story, which actually happened to me. Can I trust you with this moment?

YANKAI: Don't think so. But sure.

ADRIAN BECK: OK. I'll proceed with caution. [laughs] I went to the school disco. I went to the school disco, and I wanted to impress everyone, and the same thing happened in 'Derek Dool'. My grand plan to impress everyone was to put Christmas lights in my hair. I got them off the Christmas tree, and I got an electrician friend of the family to rewire them so they just fit in my pocket and worked off a couple of AA batteries.

And I went to the school disco. I went into the toilets, and then once they turned all the lights off and started the music, I came out of the toilets, and I flicked my little button on. And suddenly my head lit up like a disco ball in all different sorts of colours, and I pulled all sorts of strange moves, you know? And I thought, 'How cool am I?' Would you think that was a pretty cool thing to do?

YANKAI: (laughing) Not really.

ADRIAN BECK: [laughs] You're not alone. You are not alone. Because everyone that saw me, first of all, they moved back a bit, and you know how sometimes in those movies, where a circle forms around the excellent dancing? And I thought that's what was going on. So I was doing all sorts of crazy moves with my arms and my legs, and moving my head around like this, thinking I was super cool.

And then I opened my eyes again, because I actually got lost in the moment and closed my eyes a little bit. I opened my eyes again, and everyone, all my friends, they were all up against the 4 walls of the hall just looking at me. And that's when-- I had one leg in the air, almost like a dog was doing a little bit of a wee or something, and I had to pull that leg back down and stand there.

And I realised that maybe I'd messed this situation up just a touch, and so I did what any brave young person would do in that situation. I ran straight to the toilets, and I hid in there for quite some time.

YANKAI: You've got that 'What-am-I-doing?' feel.

ADRIAN BECK: I got that 'What-am-I-doing?' feeling. And so I took that moment and used it in a book, because that's what you can do when you're a writer. Take those things that happen to you. Use them as a jumping-off point. Use them as inspiration.

And so I took that moment that was pretty embarrassing from my life, and I turned that into a moment in Derek's life. I thought, 'What if there was a character that would do those sorts of strange things all the time, to try and impress people?,' and that's how I came up with the idea for Derek Dool.

YANKAI: Oh.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah.

YANKAI: That's pretty interesting.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah, pretty interesting.

YANKAI: OK. Fourth, I've noticed throughout the series, there are these 2 crows.

ADRIAN BECK: Yes.

YANKAI: Yes, Gilbert and Gertie or whatever.

ADRIAN BECK: That's right.

YANKAI: And in their appearances, they're trying to mock Derek and joke about what he's doing and how bad he's failing. They're so funny. But also, they're quite random. What made you think of that?

ADRIAN BECK: Do you think random is funny? Do you sometimes think random is funny?

YANKAI: Yes.

ADRIAN BECK: Yes. Well, that's what I think, too.

YANKAI: That's based off my humour.

ADRIAN BECK: It's based off your random humour. I can tell you're in a random humour sort of guy.

YANKAI: Thank you.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah. We got 2 crows that are around the school. They're hanging around the school, and whenever Derek does something silly, they have a little conversation about it. Because that's inspired by a show I used to watch when I was about your age. I don't know if you've even heard of it. It's called 'The Muppets'.

YANKAI: Oh, Muppets.

ADRIAN BECK: You know 'The Muppets'?

YANKAI: It's like Kermit the Frog.

ADRIAN BECK: That's right. Yes. They used to have a show where they had these 2 older Muppets right up in the stands, and they would comment on everything that happened, and they would, as you say, they would mock what was going on.

In Derek's world, I use that sort of-- because you can pull all these things from all these other different areas, these things that inspire you. I use that sort of idea. So whenever Derek does something wild and wacky at school, the 2 crows are up in the tree watching and they have a bit of a laugh about it. That's where that came from.

YANKAI: That's very interesting.

ADRIAN BECK: Thank you.

YANKAI: You co-author 'Little Legends', which is an AFL book. Do you have a favourite AFL team?

ADRIAN BECK: Oh, do I ever. I go for the mighty St Kilda Football Club.

YANKAI: St Kilda Football.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah. Sing it with me. (singing) Oh, when the saints--

YANKAI: Oh, I don't watch AFL.

ADRIAN BECK: Oh. That's disappointing.

YANKAI: (laughing) Sorry.

ADRIAN BECK: [laughs] Yeah, I go for St Kilda. They are-- they've won one premiership, back in 1966, and they're just giving everyone else a chance at the moment.

YANKAI: OK.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah.

YANKAI: Meaning that they're losing a lot.

ADRIAN BECK: Meaning that they're losing a lot, yeah.

YANKAI: Do you still watch AFL?

ADRIAN BECK: I still watch AFL, despite the fact they lose a lot. Yes, I still watch AFL, and I'm very excited about the Tassie team, because I grew up in Tasmania. They're going to come-- a Tassie team is coming in a few years' time. So I'm going to be split between St Kilda and Tassie. I'm going to have 2 teams to watch lose.

YANKAI: OK.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah.

YANKAI: [chuckles] OK. The 'Furball' series was both illustrated and written by you. How long did it take for you to write each book?

ADRIAN BECK: That's a really good question. I've never illustrated anything before, so it took a long-- much longer than I thought. I'd write what I call the script part, all the words, I'd write that, and I thought-- normally, I'd think to myself, 'I'm done, I'm finished,' and I put my feet up. I get a milkshake. I relax. I lie back on the couch, get some popcorn. But I couldn't do it this time. I had to do the illustrations as well.

I wrote the words, took about maybe a month, and then I had to do the whole illustration thing, and it took about 2 and a half months, maybe 3 months, because there's 160 pages of illustrations. You look at them sometimes-- at the end of the day, I'd look at them, and I'd maybe done 3, and there's just a few sketches here and there, nd I'd think to myself, 'how on Earth did that take all day?' But it just takes a long, long time. Maybe you can illustrate my next book. What do you reckon?

YANKAI: My drawing skills are morbid.

ADRIAN BECK: They're morbid?

YANKAI: Yeah. Do not trust me on becoming an illustrator.

ADRIAN BECK: Oh, good tip. OK. I won't trust you on that.

YANKAI: Good. Thank you. What do you think is the key to writing a successful book?

ADRIAN BECK: Oh, the key to writing a successful book. That's a tough question. I think the key to writing a successful book is making sure-- I'm going to get all deep and meaningful on you here. Is that OK?

YANKAI: Yeah, sure.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah. You look like you can handle it.

YANKAI: Thank you.

ADRIAN BECK: You need to make the audience feel something, OK? So that might be--

YANKAI: Like a connection with the book or something?

ADRIAN BECK: Connection with the book. But an emotion. So they might be excited, if it's an action book. Or if it's a sad, heartfelt book, they might even want to cry. Or it might be a funny book. You make them laugh. As long as you can make them feel something, then I think that's the key to writing a good book.

YANKAI: OK.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah.

YANKAI: Very interesting.

ADRIAN BECK: Thank you.

YANKAI: Do you think you'll ever try to write more of a serious book?

ADRIAN BECK: I have tried to write serious books, and then all my bad dad jokes just keep coming out. I can't help it.

YANKAI: Uh-oh.

ADRIAN BECK: But I think I will try and write-- I love action books just as much as I love comedy books. Hopefully I'll be able to write some fun action books in the future, And therefore-- would you class that as serious, do you think?

YANKAI: Action books? Maybe not.

ADRIAN BECK: OK. Well, maybe down the track, I'll try and impress you with a serious book.

YANKAI: OK.

ADRIAN BECK: What should I write about, do you reckon?

YANKAI: No idea. Self-help?

ADRIAN BECK: Self-help. Hmm. OK. Good thought.

YANKAI: What motivates you to write children's books, even though you're an adult?

ADRIAN BECK: Good question. Do you think I should be writing adult books?

YANKAI: No, I'm just asking why you chose to--

ADRIAN BECK: Fair enough. Yeah.

YANKAI: Yeah.

ADRIAN BECK: I write kids' books because when I was a kid, I loved reading Paul Jennings' books. Have you ever read a Paul Jennings book?

YANKAI: Oh, no. I don't think so.

ADRIAN BECK: Paul Jennings is a bit of an Australian icon, and he wrote a lot of short stories which were turned into a TV show called 'Round the Twist', which I loved. And so, I have really fond memories of reading books by Paul Jennings, and many other authors, when I was a youngster.

And I just really want to-- I really want to, again, coming back to that thing I was saying earlier, I want to create that same feeling in kids that I had when I was a kid. And also, don't you think kids' books are more fun? You can do wild and wacky things in kids' books that you can't get away with adults, because they're so boring, aren't they?

YANKAI: Sure.

ADRIAN BECK: Yeah.

YANKAI: Yeah.

ADRIAN BECK: I was a bit passionate about that. I apologise. But I think they are.

YANKAI: It's all right. Yeah.

ADRIAN BECK: OK. Cool.

YANKAI: Lastly, what words do you have for other aspiring authors out there?

ADRIAN BECK: For some young writers that might be watching?

YANKAI: Yes, maybe.

ADRIAN BECK: I would say, use those experiences that have happened to you. Use them as inspiration for a good story. Think of notable things, like the grossest thing that's ever happened to you, the weirdest thing that's happened to you, the messiest thing you've ever done, your greatest achievement. Use that as a jumping off point. Use that as inspiration. Because you know what it felt like, and you'll be passionate about it.

And it won't even feel like hard work. It'll feel like you're just blurting out something that happened to you. Put a little twist on it. Ramp it up a bit. Exaggerate a bit, and suddenly you'll have a story there, and it won't even feel like you had to do any hard work to get there. I think that's the way to do it.

YANKAI: OK. Very interesting.

ADRIAN BECK: What's the messiest thing that you've ever got up to?

YANKAI: I don't remember. I do messy things all the time.

ADRIAN BECK: You do?

YANKAI: Yeah.

ADRIAN BECK: You could use that as inspiration for a story.

YANKAI: [chuckles]

I hope everyone watching out there enjoys your incredible novels as much as I did, as they work to complete the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge.

ADRIAN BECK: Well, thank you, and it was wonderful to talk to you about all the books you're reading and reading in general, today, and I hope all the kids that get involved in the Premier's Reading Challenge enjoy it and devour lots of awesome books.


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