Me and Jaye used
to go around
at each other and
Icelandic children’s fiction journalist
Ronja Helguson chats to Gary Mold
about inspiration, sense of place and
why he’ll never leave Australia.
So Gary, a lot of your work hones in on a sense of belonging and characteristics of the laidback Aussie lifestyle- is it fair to say you’re obsessed with writing about Australia?
Yeah nah yeah (laughs). Look, you can’t avoid it. Even if you try to get away from it, but it’s all around you. And why not? It’s the best topic there is. Inspiration is everywhere. Go to the shops, drive past the fish and chips shop and there’s an old VK outside, a junk food wrapper rolling across the road and a seagull on the pavement cawing its head off. That’s all you need mate. All the colors we have here, the space. You can’t deny it. And maybe there should be more Australian kid’s books. It’s boring to read about somewhere else all the time.
You’ve known collaborator Jaye Licks for a while. What’s the relationship between you both like?
Look, I’ve known Jaye for ages. We used to hang around in Rockingham together as kids. He was always a very talented artist. The local high school is full of his early work, particularly the boy’s toilets. Not stuff you’d put in a kid’s book though, but yeah, Jaye was always going to be an artist, but we thought it was going to be tattooing instead.
I already noticed he has quite an interesting tattoo on his left arm…
Yeah amazing isn’t it, he did that one by himself, all with his right arm. I won’t tell you the other ways he was compromised, though…
So what’s it like working with him?
Jaye’s a character. He has a bit of a temper, you know. Sometimes you can’t look him in the eye. But yeah, basically we’ll email each other stuff and then do a bit of work and get back to each other to sort it out. Often if we end up meeting up to work together nothing gets done…
That’s what I want to know- it seems to take you two a long time to put anything out…why is that?
Look, Jaye and me, we’re both perfectionists, we have lives, you know. Sometimes they’ll be something not quite right and we just don’t want to release that with our name on it. So yeah, we take our time…
So what is in the pipeline, then?
Well, I have more than a few projects, so does Jaye, it’s just getting them together and produced that is the thing. But yeah, I have a few. Glowboys is about a bunch of nocturnal insects working in the mining industry. It’s not the happiest story, but maybe it’s worth telling this kind of stuff. Especially to the young lads.
That’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about…All your stories are male centric, it’s as though women and girls don’t exist- why is that?
Look it’s not intentional, I just write what feels most Australian to me, you know…I mean, for sure, we could have a few more chick’s stories, but when you look at kid’s books today, there aren’t a lot of really interesting ones for boys. We already know girls read, but boys like beating each other up more or having fun outside. It’s about getting an even ratio of both genders hunched over pages in the classroom.
We heard you and Jaye had a spat with some of the female Puddle authors, in particular Margot Docking and Alice Jam. What was that about?
Look, I don’t want to go too much into it, but we had disagreements about the direction of the Press and where we were going. I mean, Margot was pushing for a whole bunch of pony stories, and Alice Jam only wanted to write about fluffy cats. Look, you have to stand up for what you think is the right direction to take, and we’ve already had a million of those stories. The focus wasn’t on our home grown, Australian literature enough. A lot of those pony stories were set in England. Okay, maybe Jaye and I shouldn’t have taken it outside of work and followed them back to their houses and made our feelings about the matter clear, but still. I mean they dropped the charges, and the Press is still going to deal in cat and pony stories, so I don’t see what the big deal is.
You still sound a bit bitter about it….
They got what they wanted. They got to stay…
It is as though no subject is too small or everyday for you…
I could write a story about mold under the kitchen sink and get a kick out of it. And you know, why not explore everything? Kids are curious about everything. They think about stuff adults no longer have on their radar. It’s their willingness to be interested in stuff and question every detail about the world….that’s so fresh, you know...You lose that when you get older. As a children’s artist, you have to make sure you never lose your sense of play. I think that’s why Jaye and I suit this business so well…
So Gary, what kind of kid were you?
I was a bit of a ****head to be honest. Me and Jaye used to go around throwing gumnuts at each other and everyone else. We’d tease anyone weaker than us and kick them in the shins. But that’s what being a kid in Australia is all about. You need to have the space and freedom to explore and express who you really are. I think we’re really privileged in that respect.
So Gary, if you were a child today, where would be another place you would like to grow up?
That’s a hard one. Maybe somewhere with mountains or desert or a jungle. But who says childhood ends? It can last your whole life I reckon. I mean, I’m not finished yet…
So you are still enjoying your childhood in Australia…
For sure. It’s the only place I want to be forever.