Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wallace, Schwarzer, Megs and an interview

The work of Messrs Montagnana-Wallace and Schwarzer have been highlighted here before. In March I reviewed the first Megs book, …The Vootball Kids and then last month just after its release I reviewed Scarves and Sombreros. Both books make great contributions to the world of football fiction and of course the shelves of childrens/young adult fiction in general. The focus here is on the first and I recently caught up with Neil Montagnana-Wallace to discuss Megs, Mark Schwarzer’s involvement and Neil’s own views on football fiction.

As he almost wistfully recounts ‘the old days’ and how much fun he had as a football playing youngster, Neil tells me the Megs stories are largely inspired by his own experiences. These memories were rather sharply brought into focus a couple of years ago with what was for Neil a bit of a nightmare experience in Rome. “I spent some time in Italy teaching English. It was really pretty difficult, but for one hour a day, we all played football. It was fantastic, the kids really had fun and it reminded me how much fun playing football is and, of course, of how international a game it is.”

From there he started developing the characters and storylines for the Megs books. “Planning the first Megs book,” he says, “was really the planning of the five of them. It seemed to take a long time, but it was probably the most fun part.”

The third book is due out in December this year, the fourth in June 2009 and the fifth and final book is scheduled for release in December 2009. I asked Neil if five books had always been his intention. He said, “We wanted to build momentum with the books. Rather than publish one and then try and sell it for two years, we figured we’d publish five over the same period. That way we keep things fresh, we keep the books current, we’ve always got something new to sell and we’ve got five products to sell rather than just one.”

“We did a promotional tour to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with the first book and then we had Mark for three days to help us promote Scarves and Sombreros in Perth and Adelaide. We took it to libraries and schools and we got a a pretty good reception but because we hadn’t been over there with the first one we were really selling two books.”

Neil’s response, when I asked how it had went, was “Great. Kids love it, parents love it too. We get emails from kids and parents all the time. The challenge for us is to communicate it. To get people to read the books.” At the moment there aren’t any tour plans for the third but big plans with Mark are afoot for the fourth.

Mark Schwarzer got involved, partly because he knew Neil through his authorship of, Our Socceroos, a book Neil and his partner at Bounce worked on for two years and partly because Mark had been considering a book of his own – a children’s picture book which Neil hinted we may still see in some shape or form in the not too distant future.
The lads met face to face for the first time in 2005 when Australia played Germany in Italy in the Confederation Cup. With both of them looking to write football fiction for kids and both having something valuable to contribute in terms of their own experience things simply grew from there. They’ve certainly produced a book of two halves. A series of books in fact.

One of the strongest aspects of the book is the very likeable central character. Megs isn’t a superstar, he has skills and he’s a good lad but in every other way he is an ordinary kid who simply loves his football. Neil says, “it was a conscious decision to make Megs an accessible character. I wanted him to be what I like to think I was like myself,” he says and laughs. “It’s obviously egocentric to write that way, but he is the best bits of what I really do think I was like. I see a lot of myself in him, but Mark says the same thing. He sees a lot of himself and what he contributed in Megs too. We also obviously see a lot of what I invented, but there are bits from other kids and people we know which bring the puzzle together. I think that’s part of Megs appeal.”

It’s true, Megs is an everyman kind of character, well at least an every lad. Footballers and fans the world over at any level will be able to see a bit of themselves or their hopes and aspirations in him. I imagine it’s what makes it fun for kids too.

As far as a defined football fiction market, Neil wasn’t sure why there are so few examples, but he did say he was, “glad there aren’t too many to be honest. There’s less competition and it means our work will get more attention hopefully.” Though he did add that Pan MacMillan have a football celebrity and a writer project in development for the UK market and that he’d picked up a couple of examples in the US market on a trip himself recently, so there are more examples out there and signs that, for kids at least, the market is expanding. I’ll hopefully bring them to you through this blog.

In the meantime TheSimplestGame would like to extend its gratitude to Mr Montagnana-Wallace for his time and for writing his football books. Thanks obviously go to Mr Schwarzer for his contribution and for using his status in the game to do more than make big wages. Good work both of you.

I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here.

The books are available through Pan MacMillan, Bounce Books or any good bookshop.

Fans can join the Penendale Wanderers (Megs team) on the the Megs Website, they can email Mark, Neil or Megs himself. There’s a shed-load of prizes up for grabs including signed jerseys and books and all.

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