One of the greatest challenges faced by writers and publishers is creating stories to appeal to ‘tweenage’ boys — those on the cusp of adolescence, who have the potential to abandon the immersive pleasure of reading books in favour of the fast-paced action and immediate gratification of electronic games. With his new novel Maximus, about an eleven-year-old boy and the problems he faces at home and at school, Perth-based writer Steve Heron OAM is capturing the interest and imagination of this demographic (along with the interest and imagination of tweenage girls). Published by my dear friends at Serenity Press, it is a story fuelled by hope — and written with a sense of understanding and empathy that Steve has honed over decades working directly with kids. It is a delight to welcome him as the latest Shelf Aware guest — although don’t expect to see any photos of his book shelves, as his treasured collection of books is temporarily in storage. Read on to find out more about this emerging talent in children’s fiction.
Q. Steve, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. After working in pastoral care with children for forty years in schools and in the community, I realised I had experienced over 15,000 hours of conversation with children talking about themselves, their journeys, their struggles, and their joys. I have a deep respect for the stories of these children and am exploring ways of sharing and honouring them through my writing. A colleague once described me as an Affirmative Vandal. I interpreted that to mean a hooligan of hope. I want to inspire and encourage children through my novels and picture books by seeding them with snippets of hope that I have harvested from children over the years.
Q. What can you tell us about your latest writing project/book release?
A. My recently released middle-grade novel Maximus is a tapestry using threads of stories of many of the children I have known. It is realistic fiction about Mitch, a regular eleven-year-old struggling with home and school problems. Mitch says, ‘Stuff sucks.’ An encounter with a bedraggled magpie who he befriends becomes a catalyst to Mitch regaining his mojo. I recently received feedback from a parent who shared that her ten-year-old son was reading Maximus. She told me that he said he loves how Mitch started out with problems and by this stage of the book he managed to bring about the changes.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. Currently, my bookcases are in storage in a shed, inside a farm shed waiting for my new home to be built. I am planning two bookcase areas – one in my living room with a potpourri of books I have collected over the years, the other will be in my den/studio/office with books that will inspire me to write with finesse.
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. In boxes, lots of them. There is a possibility that I could be methodical when I unpack.
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. Picture books predominate my shelves. I am an avid collector of picture books that instil hope, entertain, bring a smile and help children with the tough stuff. I also have collected a multitude of books that have helped me be a better listener, carer, and supporter of children. Books on social and emotional well-being, friendships, anti-bullying, child development, etc.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. I don’t have a favourite reading place. I’ll have to amend that when my new home is finished.
Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. I have just finished Jenna’s Truth by Nadia L King (see her Shelf Aware guest post here). I chose it for a few reasons: I wanted to support a colleague, I am interested in the subject that her book deals with (bullying, cyber safety, and suicide), I am writing material myself that covers similar themes but for a younger age group.
Jenna’s Truth is a powerful story of a teenage girl who makes a mistake in the pursuit of personal identity. Her low self-respect makes her vulnerable, and she becomes a victim of heinous cyber-bullying. I can’t say I enjoyed the story as it disturbed me to a degree, but I do like Nadia’s writing style. I found the story engaging and believable, with hope rising from despair. Nadia has dealt with a volatile topic poignantly.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. I will mention two: My favourite book is The Sea-Thing Child by Russell Hoban, a picture storybook that is analogous of my own journey working with children and Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, a novel that inspired me to believe that I could write.
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
A. The Sea-Thing Child by Russell Hoban – I love this picture storybook of a bedraggled Puffin finding his wings and fulfilling his destiny, in the aftermath of a storm that washed him ashore.
One by Kathryn Otoshi – This story about bullying is so clever – it reminds me that every word counts – and that art can be so complexly simple.
King of the Playground by Phyllis Reynolds-Naylor – The father in this story is amazing, the way he helps his son figure out how to handle a playground bully and balance the power.
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. Barack Obama – (wrote one children’s book) – a honey ale, using honey from hives on the grounds of the White House, I would like to talk about what he is doing now, his ideas to make the world a better place, and just hang out with him.
Robert Connelly – Australian Director/Producer/Writer. (Paper Planes movie) – A good coffee. I would like to talk with him about making Maximus into a film here in WA and how much I loved Paper Planes.
Baymax – From Big Hero 6. Being a robot, I’m guessing he doesn’t eat or drink. I would give him a fist pump, ‘Bla la la la la.’ I would talk with him about his quote, ‘To be honest with you, I don’t have the words to make you feel better but I do have the arms to give you a hug, ears to listen to whatever you want to talk about, and I have a heart; a heart that’s aching to see you smile again.’
Find out more about Steve via these links: