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Thursday, August 15, 2013

'Extra Time' by Morris Gleitzman - an interview and a review

 
Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

When 13-year-old Matt is discovered impressing the livestock in an Aussie country town with his remarkable soccer skills, he's offered the chance of a lifetime – a try-out at one of Europe's biggest and most glamorous soccer clubs. His younger sister Bridie goes with him as his manager and tells us their story – warts, goals and all.

The funny and moving story of a sister's love for her brother, and how it survives everything fate throws at it, including the millions of pounds and mountains of pressure at the top of the world's most popular sport.

Matt is the soccer star, and his sister Bridie his manager. Matt doesn’t let a busted leg or bullies interfere in his game, same way that Bridie doesn’t let her asthma stop her from looking out for her big brother. This family knows to stick together, after a tragedy pulled them tight and has their mum always fretting, and Uncle Cliff keeping a watchful eye on things.

Bridie and Matt are due some good luck in their lives … but when it comes their way and dreams come true, both are surprised at the many and varied ways that things aren’t made better.

‘Extra Time’ is the new novel from superb Australian children’s author, Morris Gleitzman.

I was lucky enough to have a phone interview with Mr Gleitzman recently, for an upcoming Kill Your Darlings blog. And in-between asking him some very serious questions about a very important topic, I was also able to fan-girl and throw in some Qs about ‘Extra Time’ and his next book … so this is a review/interview of sorts.

There’s a moment in ‘Extra Time’ when Bridie dreams of her and Matt being suffocated by safety;

I have the bad dream again. 
The one I have a lot. 
Me playing for Australia in a World Cup soccer final. Nil-nil with two minutes to go. I've got the ball. Matt wants me to pass to him. 
But I can’t kick. 
There’s bubble wrap round my legs. And my arms. And my chest. 
Matt’s not much better off. His soccer shirt and shorts are made of cotton wool. Which is growing like fungus. 
It’s over his head and feet now. He’s being smothered in cotton wool. The more I struggle to kick the ball, the tighter the bubble wrap gets.

It’s a prescient dream for the many ways that Matt and Bridie have been made overly cautious in their lives, after a family tragedy … but also revealing of Morris Gleitzman as a successful children’s author, who often writes the sort of tough and admirably daring characters that kids love, and parents would prefer came bubble-wrapped.

‘Extra Time’ is about soccer and realizing dreams are not always as easy you’d imagine them to be. At the back of the book, Gleitzman acknowledges the Premier League families for sharing their experience and friendship. I asked him about their involvement as part of his research, and discovered the level of detail that went into writing ‘Extra Time’;

I was over in the UK last year, doing some research for the book. And though it’s not easy – because it’s quite a closed and self-protected world – I finally was able to meet three families who have boys training in different Premier League clubs in their academy system. And they weren’t able to go on the record with me . . .  because they had a sense from our conversation that I was interested in some of the aspects of this whole process that maybe the official football authorities wouldn’t necessarily want to have broadcast. And you can probably pick up from the book what some of those things are. 
So; it formed the core of my research because I got a lot of information, and not only did they take me along with their family to training matches, but I also had a sense of how aspects affected other areas. The impact it had on their families, how important it was to them. And most importantly, I got the sense that for the boys involved (they ranged in age from about 12 to 16) just what a huge focus in their life it is. 
I learnt, for example, that some families were approached by a big club when their son was four-years-old. Even the notion that kids play organized sport at four, I find that a little bit gobsmacking, but certainly the experts and scouts are trained to be able to spot that one-in-a-thousand sort of ability even in a four-year-old. And the clubs aren’t officially allowed to make any formal deal until the boy’s about nine, but such is the competition now to find the world’s best players very young. Because of course it’s not just a question of getting the best players for your team, it’s also big money. 

This is a gorgeous book (as a Morris Gleitzman books always tends to be); easily 5/5 that kids (sports fanatics and couch potatoes) will love, as will boys and girls (young and old). 


It always happens that after reading the latest Morris Gleitzman book, I’m always desperate for the next one. So I asked Mr Gleitzman about his current work-in-progress, and the bad news is; we’ll have to wait until June 2014. The good news is; ‘Loyal Creatures’ sounds heartbreaking and amazing; 

It’s a book I’m developing from a performance piece I wrote last year. I did some work with the National Theatre in London. I wrote a piece that they’ve been using in some workshops, as part of their ‘Warhorse’ stage production. They approached me because they wanted a piece that would look at some aspect of horses in WWI, from an Australian point of view. And I did some research, and hit upon something that absolutely fascinated me which was to discover that we sent about 150,000 horses over in WWI, basically to Egypt and Palestine in the Australian light horse. Many of them were the personal horses owned by the young men who volunteered. And of those, only one horse came back. 
Many were sold to the Egyptian army, British army. Many were sold to local horse dealers, but that was very unpopular amongst the troopers because they saw that the horse dealers didn’t treat the horses very well in most cases. And the rest were shot. And the thing that grabbed me, as the ‘story hook’, was that although the army denies this, quite a number of the troopers who had formed an incredibly close bond with their horse over those four years, in many cases were absolutely convinced that they owed their life to their horse. Rather than have the horse shot in the head, in an anonymous way, in an army bureaucratic shooting, they took their individual horses out to the desert, said goodbye, and shot them themselves. My story is called ‘Loyal Creatures’, and it’s about a sixteen-year-old volunteer, and he and his horse go off to war.



Extra Time is now available, and Morris Gleitzman will be appearing at the Melbourne Writers Festival later this month –
be sure to check out his sure-to-be-wonderful sessions! 

2 comments:

  1. I think I've been living under a rock, because I've not heard of this author before! While soccer isn't a subject I'd normally be drawn to, this book sounds like it has strong story and characters to carry it through. Nicely reviewed!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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    1. HUGE in Australia and UK. Huge. Like, everybody would have one of his books on their shelf kinda huge.
      His 'Once' series is my absolutely favourite, favourite, favourite thing ever.

      Thank you

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