Video transcript
NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2022 - SWF author interview (secondary) - 04. Tobias Madden

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SHAYEER: Hi. My name is Shayeer, and I'm a student from Girraween High School. I'm here today on Cammeraygal land at The Concourse in Chatswood as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival Secondary Schools' Day, and I'm so excited to be interviewing Tobias Madden for the New South Wales Premier's Reading Challenge. Hi, Tobias. How are you today?

TOBIAS MADDEN: Good, thank you. How are you?

SHAYEER: I'm great. Your first publication was a collection of short stories, and then you have written a couple of novels for young adult readers. What inspired you to pursue your career as an author?

TOBIAS MADDEN: I used to write a lot when I was a kid. Like, when I was in primary school, I wrote a lot of stories and books that I still have at home that I would illustrate, and mum stapled them together. And they're very ridiculous and not really very good stories. So, I did a lot of that when I was younger.

But then I started dancing when I was about 14 or 15, and then I kind of focused very much on performing arts and musicals for pretty much most of my life. So, I studied music theatre, and I did musicals for about 10 years in Australia. But then eventually, I sort of started finding it a bit harder to get jobs and was enjoying it a little bit less. That kind of lifestyle is quite all over the place, and a lot of touring and that sort of stuff.

And then I sort of wondered what else was out there and what else I might enjoy doing that was still creative. And I remembered that I liked writing, and so then I got back into that in about 2016, I think-- 2015, 2016-- and started writing a whole bunch of really terrible short stories and stuff like that. But I took it all very seriously. And then eventually, that sort of led me to the short story anthology because I was going to a lot of events and meeting a lot of other aspiring authors, and I thought it would be really nice to do something for unpublished authors to help them get their work out there into the world.

So, then, yeah, I worked on that project and then thought I should try my hand at writing a novel. And then I wrote one full-length manuscript before 'Anything but Fine', which was a fantasy manuscript that no one wanted and no one wanted to publish, but it was a really cool experience to learn how to write a book, I guess. And then by the time I got to writing 'Anything but Fine', I felt really confident in my skills and what I was doing. And then the rest is history, I guess, as they say.

SHAYEER: It must have been very interesting and dramatic at the same time.

TOBIAS MADDEN: Very, yeah. It really was. And quite stressful as well, if I'm honest, particularly in that sort of period where I didn't really know what I was doing with my life. Yeah, it was tough, but also really exciting. And writing is such a fun thing to do, and you can put so much of yourself into it and onto the page and explore your own experiences in a way that I don't think you can doing many other things. So, yeah, very rewarding as well.

SHAYEER: That's cool. My next question. You have a background in the performing arts, much like your main characters in both 'Anything but Fun' and 'Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell'. How much of your own experiences did you draw on when writing these characters?

TOBIAS MADDEN: A lot, I guess. A lot of people, when I first published 'Anything but Fine', thought it was autobiographical, which it's definitely not. But I think the great thing after having performed for 10 years in Australia is that I have so many experiences that I can draw on to make that really authentic on the page, which I think is-- they're the kind of books that I love the most when you can tell that the author has kind of lived some of those things and really knows what they're talking about.

And I feel like, especially writing for teen readers, teenagers are so smart and so switched on. And I feel like they can tell when something is not authentic as soon as they start reading it. So, I love that I can filter those experiences onto the page from my theatre background, which is really fun, probably particularly in 'Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell', which a lot of the story happens in rehearsal rooms of those kind of amateur theatre productions, which is what I spent all of my teenage years doing.

And that setting is based very closely on one of the rehearsal halls that I rehearsed in as a kid. So, I can instantly sort of like smell what that room smelled like walking in, which is such a weird thing to say. But smell is such a powerful thing for memory as well, and so I feel like it really helps to bring back all of those experiences and make it very fresh and real, which I think, again, for writing young adult fiction is so important because you want it to feel authentic for that age group as well, not just your kind of adult memories of that experience.

So, yeah, I think I'm really lucky that I was able to bring so much of myself to that. And it's kind of to all the characters as well. Even the really bad characters, the ones that everyone hates, there's a little bit of me in all of them, which I think helps make them feel real, which is really fun.

SHAYEER: Almost like you're making copies of yourself.

TOBIAS MADDEN: Kind of, yeah, like copies of little parts of yourself. Like, you take one bad attitude that you have and put that in a character, and then suddenly, they turn into the antagonist. But it feels real. And yeah, sort of splitting yourself up and putting them in-- spreading them around in all of the cast of characters, which maybe sounds really egotistical, but it does help to kind of bring reality to the piece, I think.

SHAYEER: That's quite interesting. What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

TOBIAS MADDEN: I think one thing that kind of-- one theme that flows through all of my work is kind of about identity. And I feel like there's a lot of pressure on teens and young adults to really know who they are and know what they want to do in life and to sort of have it all together, which I think is a really unrealistic expectation of anyone at any age.

And I think I would love people to sort of just take away that no one has it all together-- even adults, even everyone's parents and teachers and stuff. We all look like we have it together, but we definitely don't. We're all still just making it up as we go along and trying our best to be happy and to make others happy. And I think that illusion of people knowing really what's going on is kind of silly and not very productive.

And I also think that I'd love people to take away from the books that we are all so much more than what we do. For so long, I identified as a dancer, and that was kind of my whole identity. And when that was taken away from me when I stopped performing, I was like, well, what am I now? What do I say to someone if I meet them? I can't say, I'm Tobias, I'm a dancer. So, I'm just like, I'm Tobias? What is that? That's not enough.

But it is enough for all of us. We don't have to define ourselves by anything else. And we're all valid and worthy just by being ourselves regardless of what we do, which I think is really important as well.

SHAYEER: You are who you are.

TOBIAS MADDEN: Yeah, exactly. And that's enough.

SHAYEER: Yeah.

TOBIAS MADDEN: Yeah.

SHAYEER: The Premier's Reading Challenge encourages students to read for pleasure. Are there any books that you remember reading at school that really stood out to you?

TOBIAS MADDEN: Weirdly, I didn't actually read that much when I was at school because I was so focused on dancing and all of that, that I didn't have a lot of spare time for reading. But I do remember when I was at uni, I read the 'Twilight' series, which a lot of people make fun of as kind of like a trashy vampire novel, and it's not very well-written and all of that sort of stuff. But it brought me so much joy. And then I made my mum read it, and then we would have weekly debriefs about the books and all the characters. And we were so into it like it was real people that were talking about.

And so I think those kind of books can be really great, just those books that are sometimes looked at as guilty pleasures, but there should be nothing guilty about it because if you enjoy it, then that's kind of the main thing. And that kind of level of escapism is really important, I think, especially with the state of the world at the moment. It's really nice to be able to just pick up a book and forget about everything else for a little while, which I think is really special.

SHAYEER: Both your novels so far have been contemporary fiction. Do you like to read this genre, too? And what other kinds of books do you enjoy reading?

TOBIAS MADDEN: Yeah, I love reading contemporary fiction. I feel like when I was younger, I read a lot of fantasy, which I really loved. But I've moved sort of away from that into sort of more contemporary sort of more rom-com kind of stuff. I feel like there's something really comforting about those kind of stories. They're slightly predictable, and sometimes, people use that as a negative thing. But I think it can be really comforting to read when you know there's going to be a happy ending of some kind.

So, I love reading contemporary and romance and that sort of stuff. But yeah, I've always loved fantasy, and I have a big thing for sci-fi at the moment as well. I think maybe because it's something I don't think I'd ever be able to write because I don't know nearly enough about space to write a convincing sci-fi novel. So, yeah, I love reading those stories.

And I think sci-fi kind of asks some really big questions about humans and about our experience in the world in a way that makes it really kind of easy to digest and to process because it's not necessarily about us right now. But you get to kind of ask those big questions that you might not necessarily get to ask in a contemporary setting as well.

SHAYEER: I happen to really enjoy rom-com as well.

TOBIAS MADDEN: Yeah, they're super fun. And that is-- yeah, they get a bad name, and I really don't think they should. They're really entertaining, yeah.

SHAYEER: Your second novel, 'Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell', comes out in August this year. Are you already thinking about what you might be writing next?

TOBIAS MADDEN: Yeah. I'm already about 50,000 words into the first draft of what will hopefully be my third book. So, yeah, it's kind of just a constant thing. I feel like you finish writing one book, and then you already have so many other ideas ready to go that it's very hard not to just start writing something.

So, yeah, the next one is already in the works. And I haven't had a lot of time to work on it lately, but I think in the coming months, I'll have a bit more time. And it'll be really nice to return just to my study and to sort of immerse myself in that world again, which is very exciting. And that's another contemporary story, so yeah, I'm very excited to get back to those characters and sort of shape their story again 'cause, you know, that's the most fun part of the whole process, is that creating the story in the first instance is so much fun and so kind of exhilarating. So, I can't wait to get back to that.

SHAYEER: The big train of ideas.

TOBIAS MADDEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Never-- and I feel like every author has like a list in their notes on their phone of just, like, 9 million different ideas that pop into your head at any given time in the day and then praying that you'll have time to get back to them at some point. But there's never enough time.

SHAYEER: Thank you so much for letting me interview you today, Tobias. It's been amazing talking with you. I hope everyone watching out there today enjoys reading your incredible novels as much as I did while they work to complete the Premier's Reading Challenge.

TOBIAS MADDEN: Awesome, thank you so much.


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