Justin D’Ath writes about Banjo Tully, his new novel for middle readers for PaperbarkWords:
Banjo Tully is my lockdown novel. I wrote it in 2020 when I needed a project to put some structure into my days. It isn’t about the pandemic, but that’s what gave me the idea.
Remember how everything changed at the beginning of 2020. Suddenly there was only one news story: ‘Humans vs Coronavirus’. Everyone seemed to forget about our planet. It was as if climate change had magically disappeared. I decided to write a novel for young adults, set in pre-Covid times, about a boy named Banjo who (reluctantly at first) sets out on an 800 kilometre solo horse ride to deliver an environmental message to the Prime Minister.
The idea had legs, and I scored a contract from a major Australian publisher. But after reading an early draft, they decided I should make some changes. The editor wanted Banjo to be an Australian version of Greta Thunberg, a committed climate activist from the get-go, rather than an unremarkable (though surely more relatable to most YA readers) 15-year-old, who has barely given a thought to climate change until a series of events opens his eyes to the threat facing the planet. Which is the whole point of my novel. Sure, it’s about Banjo’s 800 kilometre horse ride, but it’s his inner journey that matters. Readers will share both journeys and, who knows, maybe it’ll open their eyes, too.
Needless to say, I stuck to my guns and refused to do the rewrite. My version of Banjo Tully was more important to me than a publishing contract. I was – and still am – proud of him.
Justin has also kindly written about his superb backlist of books:
About Justin D’Ath, children’s author:
It’s my kids’ fault. As soon as they started school, they began bringing home library books. My wife and I took turns reading to them at bedtime. One night there were no books to read so I made up a story instead.
‘That was better than a real book,’ my daughter told me afterwards.
Why not give it a try? I thought.
Infamous, a lightly humorous adventure for 7 to 10 year olds,was published by a small, independent publisher in 1996. Then came Humungous (1998) and Fantabulous (1999). With three novels to my name, the bigger publishers began to read my submissions. Allen & Unwin put out a string of interestingly named novels such as Sniwt, Why did the Chykkan Cross the Galaxy? Echidna Mania and Astrid Spark, Fixologist. A reviewer in Magpies suggested I was perhaps Australia’s zaniest contemporary children’s author (I think Andy Griffiths was still busy being a teacher).
It wasn’t funny books that did it for me, though. My big break came with the Extreme Adventures, a series of 12 seat-of-your-pants thrillers published by Penguin in the noughties. They’ve been translated into several languages, made into a TV series, and are still selling today. Thanks to them, I was able to give up my day job.
I have written another two dozen or so books since then, included several YA titles. My personal favourites are Shaedow Master, a fantasy novel now out of print; Dinosaur Dreaming, my only picture book; 47 Degrees, a YA novel set in the Black Saturday bushfires, in which I lost my own house; and Banjo Tully.
Semi-retired now thanks to Covid (no more school and library visits, literary festivals, overseas book tours), I thought Banjo was going to be my last book. But between lockdowns last year, I joined a local writers’ group and began what I thought was going to be a short story but has stretched to 25,000 words so far. It’s set during the first year of Covid; I think it’s going to be my actual lockdown novel.