Carnegie Medal nominee Morris Gleitzman talks to Tom Collins about the authors and books that inspired him to write and how his heroes in Once got their names.

1.He wasn’t born in Australia. He was brought up in Sleaford and is the town’s second most famous resident after… Jennifer Saunders

I was actually born and brought up in Sleaford, Lincolnshire. When I was 16, my parents developed a taste for adventure and decided to move to Australia.” Despite developing an Aussie twang, he was asked some years later to be Lincolnshire’s writing patron. “They’d already asked Jennifer Saunders, and she’d said no!”

2. His biggest influence is Just William creator Richmal Crompton

I’ve never lost my love for Richmal Crompton, the author of the Just William series. The books were my favourites from the age of seven. I think I owe more to her than any other author I’ve read because the character of William Brown is so anarchic. He’s prepared to break all the rules and boundaries when he’s trying to solve the problems that are the centre of his world. Yet he’s got this absolute good human heart. That combination of a loving heart and a very naughty nature struck a chord in me.”

3. He was almost lost to a clothing factory before one book changed his life

After finishing school, he abandoned dreams of being a writer and began work in a clothing factory, helping cut and tailor garments. A chance encounter with a colleague changed his life forever. “He placed the book in my hands after work, and said he thought I’d like it. By about halfway down the second page, I realised I’d taken a wrong turn. The book was by an [Irish] novelist called Joyce Cary, called The Horse’s Mouth.”

4. He found himself in a boring city and learnt to write

“I spent my university years in the most boring city in Australia. When we’re afraid, we procrastinate, it is fear avoidance. But I was in Canberra, so all I had to do was sit at my desk and face my fears, and that proved to be an invaluable learning experience for me as a developing writer.”

5. Felix and Zelda [the protagonists from his Once novel] are actually the names he wanted to call his own children

“When my daughter was born, 33 years ago, so some time before I thought of Once, I loved the idea of calling her Zelda. However my wife at the time, gathered up other members of the family and formed a veto committee and made it clear to me that under no circumstances was this beautiful baby to be called Zelda.” He ran into the same difficulties when naming his son, so when it came to writing about two young children building a friendship in war-time Poland, he realised he’d finally found the right homes for his much-loved names.


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