Welcome to the last in the current series of Open House Sunday Interview. In the next week or so I will be letting you know about the next theme for the interviews.
To end this series with a creative flourish, Australian writer Gregg Savage shares the background to his popular daily stories that has now reached the staggering 176 (by my count by today). That is true commitment and an amazing achievement. Gregg will also share is writing influences and his favourite movie and music. I am sure you will enjoy and as always… please let our guest have your questions and comments.
The Daily Tales by Gregg Savage
My name is Gregg Savage and, every day for the next year, I write and publish a free children’s story for everyone to enjoy.
The stories are finished only minutes before being shared with you. There are no ‘backup’ stories, with the narrative being inspired by something interesting I have thought about or experienced that day. Each story is designed to entertain and encourage acceptance while providing a fresh perspective to children on their daily experiences.
I have ended up here, because I managed to earn myself a bonus year of life.
Somewhere between October 13, 2016, and October 13, 2017, I convinced myself that I was 37, and not 36, years old. During a trivia game with some friends, I was asked my age. Having never been one to shy away from repeating the figure, I confidently replied that I was 37, to which my astutely mathematical friend responded that, since I was born in 1981, this was incorrect. In line with modern customs, I promptly asked my smartphone assistant to tell me my age. “You are 36 years old, Gregg,” the assistant responded in a slightly unsettling, motherly tone.
OK. So, I was never going to be a late-blooming mathematician, but, I did score a bonus year and that was pretty neat. It was August 2017, so I had up until October to figure out how to spend the additional 365 days that had been gifted to me. Although I jog and ride my bike regularly, I’m not an adrenaline junkie by any measure, so all the usual suspects such as bungee jumping or skydiving were out. I do love to hike, though, so maybe I could tick a few overseas hiking trails off the wish list; Iceland, the U.S.A, Japan? Although an enticing idea, hiking didn’t fit with the whole ‘bonus year’ theme, since it was an activity I might only commit to for a month or so. Also, working full time as a teacher of students with disabilities meant taking time off work, which I wasn’t willing to organise at that stage, either. Then came the camping trip.
My step-daughter, Ruby, usually sends herself to sleep with frightening ease following a story reading each night, so, while camping near our house in Tropical North Queensland one night, she asked me to read to her before going to bed. We’d neglected to pack any of her picture books and it was therefore left to me to tell her a story. The plotline my mind conjured up was about a young girl who, “Lived in the most beautiful castle in the world. Her name was Princess Ruby and her castle was so large that, one morning, she woke up and didn’t know where she was!” This story would later become The Tale of Princess Ruby and would be the first tale uploaded to my website: The Tale of Princess Ruby
Read more on Gregg’s Facebook: Facebook About Gregg
Tell us about your chosen genre of books and why you chose to write in that genre.
150 days ago, I decided to write a unique story every day and, once complete, upload it to my webpage, Daily Tales. Aside from simultaneously being rewarding and challenging, I also viewed this project as an opportunity to share the process of a writer trying to find his voice in a meaningful and engaging way. One of the lessons I’ve learned over the past three months is that I enjoy writing stories that emulate the styles and themes of the authors I learned about while studying to be a teacher at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. One author’s work I passionately share with my students is Margaret Wild.
I was introduced to the mesmerising stories of children’s picture book author, Margaret Wild, by my English lecturer in my first year at university. As a group of students in our late teens and early twenties, we thought we weren’t too unreasonable when we let out a collective groan after the lecturer informed us she was going to read a children’s storybook before each of her presentations.
Without hesitation, the lecturer projected a copy Margaret Wild’s, Woolvs in the Sitee, on the screen at the front of the auditorium and proceeded to read an illustrated children’s storybook focusing on the struggles a young boy attempting to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The boy had never been to school, and, since the boy’s perspective informs the story, Margaret Wild deliberately littered the text with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. This approach, we were told, not only produced a narrative that is intensely captivating while exploring themes of loss and materialism but also provided the perfect opportunity for students to practice some spelling skills without the process feeling too much like a chore.
The teacher in me admired the links to developing the students’ core skills, but the human side of me was deeply impressed that this story explored themes otherwise reserved for young adults. Before hearing of Margaret Wild, I had considered these themes to be out of bounds and, therefore, out of reach for younger readers. Since then, I’ve tried to discover other children’s authors whose work extends beyond the more familiar narratives which, while important, tend to make quick work of the overarching feelings and morals they are exploring. I find myself regularly drawing on their styles while attempting to craft my own voice.
Which author would you have to dinner, why and what questions would you ask them?
Without question, Australian children’s author and illustrator, Shaun Tan Amazon.
Shaun’s unorthodox storytelling is what initially got me hooked on wanting to write children’s stories. I am in awe of his ability to craft narratives that border on poetry while telling an alternative, yet parallel story with the accompanying pictures. Although hope is a recurring theme in his stories, I also admire the courage Shaun has to explore some darker topics such as grief (Tales from Outer Suburbia), depression (The Red Tree) and displaced people (The Rabbits (illustrator) & Eric), subjects not usually associated with your typical children’s picture books. As a teacher, it’s refreshing to delve into these relatable and often ignored themes through Shaun’s compelling storytelling. Shaun’s style involves using words and phrases that can be taken both literally and metaphorically, so it’s a great feeling watching the students have a lightbulb moment when they figure out the “actual” plot to the story.
One of my regrets in life is missing Shaun’s exhibition hosted at the various modern art galleries in Australia’s major cities in 2016. I was teaching in western Queensland at the time and couldn’t make it back to Brisbane while the exhibition was on, so having him over for dinner would more than compensate for the jealousy I felt while listening to my friends and the media boast about how fantastic the exhibition was.
During the dinner, I would ask the following questions:
Q1. What’s a memorable response a reader has had to one of your stories?
Q2. What were the most significant hurdles you had to overcome to become a successful children’s author and illustrator?
Q3. Aside from children’s stories, what are some other projects you’ve enjoyed working on as an artist?
Q4. And, lastly, would you like to collaborate on a picture book? Seriously, though…
You can learn more about Shaun (and the TWO new books being released in 2018!) by visiting his website: http://www.shauntan.net
Do you have a favourite quote? What does it mean to you as an individual?
A young monk asks his master what life’s purpose is both before and after enlightenment. His master responded:
“Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.”
Like most people, I find that I get the most satisfaction out of an activity when I know how it aligns with one of my life’s priorities. At the moment, my priorities are my relationships, my health, my job and my creativity. I am a thirty-six-year-old man in a long-term relationship with my partner, Rachel, and I am a step-father to her three amazing children. I hold a leadership position in a career I am genuinely passionate about, and I enjoy running and riding as a way to stay healthy and to clear my mind. Rachel and I love traveling and hiking whenever we can and, just because I don’t believe the decorations on your cake need to stop at the icing, I have also committed to writing a children’s story every day for a year.
It wouldn’t be possible for me to enjoy as much success in any of these areas without having my priorities in order, so this quote resonated with me from the moment I heard it. Although I’m not 100% sure I am interpreting the quote correctly, I find myself drawing on it for energy whenever my priorities demand it. At first, I used it as inspiration to make sure I was always willing to put in the hard yards, interpreting the quote as saying that ‘no matter how many projects you finish or goals you reach, the hard work is never done’. However, after enduring some trials and tribulations over the past five months while attempting to stay true to my goals and commitments (including a particularly tragic week where Rachel was admitted to hospital), I now draw on the quote to remind myself to dig deep in times where it would be easy to give up. That life itself doesn’t care whether or not I reach my goals, but that they are important to me and important to my family. The saying has become a humorous family motto we vocalise whenever someone is making excuses for why they shouldn’t live up to their commitments.
If we don’t chop the wood and carry the water, then our bodies can’t survive. If I don’t prioritise my life and work on my goals, then my character suffers.
What is your favourite movie and why?
Movie Review: Donnie Darko (2001)
Written and Directed by Richard Kelly
Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne
The atmospheres portrayed in my favourite films heavily influence the stories I write. It’s an inspirational feat when all of the elements of a movie come together, leaving you with an often inexpressible emotion long after the credits have finished rolling. Richard Kelly’s 2011 debut film, Donnie Darko, was the first movie I watched that showed me the power of a well-designed film while teaching me that I tend to gravitate towards narratives exploring the less illuminated aspects of our existence.
The opening scene establishes that the thought-provoking events about to unfold will take place in the leafy neighbourhood of Middlesex County, Virginia. The film’s central character, Donald ‘Donnie’ Darko, wakes up after a night of sleepwalking next to his bike in the middle of a winding road, chuckling as he overlooks the ominous mountains and valleys below. An eighties timestamp is masterfully imprinted onto the film when Echo & The Bunnymen’s, The Killing Moon, becomes the soundtrack to which Donnie calmly rides his way back home. A series of beautifully directed slow-motion interactions introduces us to Donnie’s stable, nuclear family consisting of his mother, father an older sister and a younger sister.
The intense elements of human relationships are explored throughout the film, constantly making it difficult for the interdependent narratives to fit neatly into the “science-fiction psychological thriller” genre under which the movie is often filed. The writing comes into its own when events that would typically be the focus of any other Hollywood production of the same genre fade away into the background, guiding your curiosity towards the enigmatic relationships transpiring between the characters. Events such as the giant, talking bunny rabbit that visits Donnie in the middle of the night to inform him the world is going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, become mere catalysts for the fact that every character is about to find themselves in an alternate, parallel reality, where their desires and dreams are eventually exposed and poetically shattered.
Despite his resistance to the evidence (narrowly missing death after a stray jet engine crashes into his bedroom), Donnie comes to accept his inevitable fate as the one who must make things right again by building a time machine powered by the cognitive dissonance of others. This revelation occurs without a single special effect distracting you from the undercurrent of distress flowing between the characters. To sow this discontent, Donnie is encouraged to commit some otherwise grave crimes while exploring both his demons and his romantic side in an all-too-relatable high-school romance with his new classmate, Gretchen Ross. All the while, Donnie is supported by a loving family and surrounded by a group of committed friends. This break away from the stereotypical “woe is me” hero makes the pain Donnie feels in uncovering the darker nature of the universe all the more relatable.
The film recklessly hovers over the edge of self-indulgence, but, thanks to the skilful editing of Sam Bauer and Eric Strand, it never makes the leap over this dreaded cliff (a fact reinforced when die-hard fans excitedly watched the Director’s Cut, only to be faced with an unrecognisable butchering of the carefully constructed and subtle plot lines of the original film). There are also several anecdotes that much of the cast had a very surface-level understanding of the movie’s plot even following the film’s initial screenings. Despite this, over the past seventeen years, I have kept returning to Donnie Darko, drawing on its tone to help me develop my own creative projects while taking pleasure in introducing the film to a newer viewership whenever the opportunity presents itself. The climactic ending alone is worth the investment of patience demanded by the film.
I rate Donnie Darko 8 out of 10 talking bunny rabbits.
Work in progress & plans for your blog in the next year
My current project is to remain focused on writing a story that I’m proud of every day. I’m also working with an extremely talented artist, Alisha Towers, who has contributed beautifully hand-drawn illustrations to over twenty-five of my stories. Alisha continues to amaze me with her dedication and talent. You can read about Alisha and her motivations by reading her guest post here: Meet My Illustrator – Alisha Towers
I haven’t been able to resist the temptation to ‘branch out’ and attempt sub-projects such as uploading a YouTube reading of the stories, but I learned very quickly that fitting any more on to my plate that what is already there is a challenge to say the least. Having said that, however, I’ve found myself subconsciously decking out my writing space in preparation for recording audio of the tales and making them available for download either directly or as a podcast. I’m hoping that if I keep telling myself that it’s going to be easy then that will make it true!
Until then, I have more than enough to keep me busy and to hopefully keep you entertained.
What is your favourite piece of music?
When all else fails, I can draw on the following song for inspiration. I’d wager that even I’d be surprised by the percentage of my tales written to or at least inspired by the following song:
Starálfur by Sigur Ros: Amazon
©Images Gregg Savage
A taste of the tales..
About the collection.
First Everything, Now This is a collection of the 10 most popular short stories taken from The Daily Children’s Tales of Gregg Savage. Combining humour, philosophy and imagination, the tales are designed to entertain you while encouraging a fresh perspective on your daily experiences. Each story takes place in a world where things may not work out for the best and where the mundane can become the extraordinary in a matter of minutes.
A new tale is written daily and posted on greggsavage.net to allow the audience to interact with a story that was written only moments ago. Immerse yourself in the world every day by visiting the website and joining in the conversation.
Head over and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/First-Everything-Now-This-October-ebook/dp/B078GTXZX9
Connect to Gregg
Website – dailytales.com.au
Email Subscription [Have a tale delivered every day]: eepurl.com/djHdK1
Facebook – facebook.com/greggsavagedailytales
Twitter – twitter.com/greggsavage
Amazon – amazon.com/author/greggsavage
Medium – medium.com/@greggsavage
Reddit – reddit.com/r/DailyTales/
My thanks to Gregg for such an interesting glimpse into his writing background and influences and his future plans. Thanks to you for dropping in today and I know Gregg would love to answer your questions. Sally