Picture book and young adult author Susanne Gervay is perhaps best known for her I AM JACK series. She is a SCBWI regional advisor, has appeared on Oprah, and lives in Australia.
For what age audience do you write?
I write to reach audiences of all ages. It is about being authentic and about character and ideas. My writing is social realism ranging from picture books, children’s and young adult.
Tell us about your latest book.
Jack is inspired by my son. He’s an inventor, tells great jokes,plays soccer, annoys his sister, helps his Nanna, who wobbles and when she coughs too loudly her teeth can pop out. Nanna is the world’s best bargain hunter and her speciality is purple underpants for EVERYONE. Jack’s mix master family contain characters everyone seems to have met. Jack’s a great kid with lots of real feelings. He’s a good mate, good brother and his Mum (me) loves him heaps.
ALWAYS JACK is a standalone book that is also part of the I AM JACK series (Kane Miller) – for ages 9-12 years.
In I AM JACK, Jack battled bullies at his school and won. In SUPER JACK, Jack faced the trials of a newly blended family. Now, in ALWAYS JACK, our hero faces a challenge bigger than he’s ever faced before. Nanna is older and wobblier than ever. Jack is experiencing strange emotions whenever he sees his best friend Anna. Then there’s mum and Rob’s impending wedding, which seems to be taking over the world.
But everything pales into insignificance when mum delivers the news that she has breast cancer. Jack sums it up incredibly succinctly: ‘I look up at him. It’s hard to speak. ‘But it’s cancer Rob.’ I can’t live without mum. None of us can love without mum.’
But while mum’s illness makes Jack re-evaluate aspects of his life, it doesn’t dominate the narrative. It’s funny and real, yet still deal with big issues such as cancer. Death. Divorce, grandparents, sibling rivalry, friendships, refugees and the Vietnam War.
Part survival manual, part therapy, part autobiography, part fiction, ‘Always Jack’ is a part of life as kids and families navigates the challenges, with love and humour.
The 4th and final I AM JACK called BEING JACK will be published soon. It’s Jack turning 13 from the bullied kid to one who stand beside others. It’s the cycle of bullying from name calling and cyber bullying to becoming a great kid who knows himself.
The adaptation of I AM JACK by Monkey Baa Theatre will be touring US theaters again in October-November 2015 brought to the US by Holden Arts–
Henry: I look forward to a fifth book, perhaps titled PNEUMATIC JACK.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope ALWAYS JACK gives children and families a sense of the joy of life whatever the challenges, be it a sick parent, coming from a refugee or immigrant family, having aging grandparents. Endorsed by the Cancer Council, it offers pathways to understanding, being a friend to others as everyone is touched in some way by cancer.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
The search for strong images and words to convey the great passions I want to share with young readers and old. It is about going deep inside myself, and that is hard.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand. (Gaelic blessing)
“War is not brave, but men can be brave in war and in peace.” From THE CAVE by Susanne Gervay.
Henry: Hey, you quoted yourself! “War does not make one great.” — Yoda
Are there any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
It’s not very strange but I can’t write when there is mess around me.
Henry: On the contrary – that puts you in a very small minority of authors.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Charlotte Bronte because her JANE EYRE inspired courage and the power of love and ethics.
John Boyne who wrote the moving BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS to ask him how he created the simple fable that revealed the inhumanity of Nazism and the innocence of children.
George Orwell who understood the abuse of power and whose books 1984 and ANIMAL FARM shone light on totalitarianism.
Henry: “All animals are created equal. But some are more equal than others.”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Skellig by David Almond who is an angel who suffers with a spinal deformity, but has such wisdom.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I find touring all over the world speaking about my books, having new experiences that I translate into story, fascinating.
Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Susanne at the Los Angeles SCBWI conference.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Susanne Gervay wrote books so children would never be alone and be a little safer.
Loved mother of Jamie and Tory.
Where can readers find your work?
In Australia, my books are published by HarperCollins and my picture books by Ford Street Publishing. In the USA, my I AM JACK books and BUTTERFLIES are published by Kane Miller Books.
They are available through Barnes and Noble online and many online bookstores, as well as bookshops.
My website has information – www.sgervay.com
This interview is also on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.