Q&A with Geoff Parton

At TasWriters we are always on the lookout for new writing by authors based in Tasmania. Geoff Parton is one such writer, and Arianne recently interviewed him on his children’s series, Ugo and Jack.

Book one introduces Jack, a boy doing his best to cope living with his alcoholic father and bullying older brother on the family farm. One day Jack escapes to the beautiful wooded valley near his home, only to have a freak accident which renders him unconscious and draws him into a strange but wonderful spirit world. There he meets Ugo, a loveable guide who shows him a hidden world of vast possibilities.

You can read more about Geoff and his books here – https://olympiapublishers.com/books/ugo-and-jack
Did you enjoy reading as a child? What were some of your favourite books?
To tell you the truth, as a child I didn’t read any books, the only book I can remember that my mother used to read to us when we were very young, was a book called, Sailing to Freedom. I think it was about some refugees after the Second World War. There wasn’t much spare time as living on a farm meant there was lots of chores. In saying that, any free time I did have, I would head into the bush to be with nature.
Was there a particular experience, or series of experiences, that made you want to be a writer, or is it something you always dreamt of doing?
When I was at primary school we had a subject called dictation, I hated it. I couldn’t spell and my handwriting was atrocious. Although years later my mum sometimes said I was good at writing and expressing myself in letters. It never occurred to me until I was in my late 60s to write. With the advent of technology i.e. spellcheck and punctuation programs, I was able to have a go. I wrote an autobiography and self-published it. I was surprised at how little interest I got from my family. It was a bit of an eye-opener, because I always thought the family might be interested in the numerous unusual things that have happened to me in my life.


Where did the idea of Ugo and Jack come from?
There are five books in this series, Ugo and Jack. Along the way I had to develop characters. I used the names of my three grandchildren throughout the series. The main character named Ugo is made up. When I went to school there was a boy called Hugo, the kids used to tease him about his name. They made up a little rhyme that goes like this,…. you go- where go- I go- you go. That rhyme stuck with me for some reason. I wanted the book to be simply named but I also wanted a name that children would remember easily and so, Ugo was born. For Ugo I wanted a nice friendly or loveable character from the spirit world that kids would feel comfortable with and look up to. I also wanted him to be different. He has no legs because he doesn’t need any, he has no arms again because he doesn’t need any, nor a mouth because he doesn’t eat. He needed to be big and so, Ugo looks like a large bottle with beautiful friendly eyes, he is always chuckling as he knows all. He has what I call a bubble, or a large aura if you like, when he comes close he envelopes you with love.


Were you influenced by any particular folklore when writing Ugo’s character? He reminded me of the Native American spirit animal guides.
Although I have been to the USA many times, if Ugo’s character resembles any spiritual guide it is by chance only, in saying that, Ugo is from the spirit world.


What have been your favourite and most challenging parts of the writing process for this series?
For me it was having enough belief in myself to have a go, I think this probably is the case for most first-time writers. Trying to find a story that is different, and yet children can still relate to, is very difficult without touching too many nerves. I think there are too many children’s books out there that are unrealistic. After all, children are only small adults. I had heard about agents for publishing but, I went directly to only a handful of publishers and book 1 was accepted within six weeks by Olympia publishers. I would say that has to be the most exciting period of writing the books, getting them accepted. Suddenly you feel all your efforts haven’t been wasted. Writing the books for me actually came fairly easily, as I can relate to almost everything that I have written about, of course it is a children’s story but the events run very close to my heart. Without a doubt the most difficult part, once your book has been published, is to get it publicised.


How did you go about writing scenes of domestic violence for a young audience?
I didn’t intend for the book to be seen in that way, but I am of the opinion that writing about reality is something children understand. If kids come from a family that has no violence whatsoever, be it verbal or physical they are very fortunate. Throughout the series of Ugo and Jack there are many unpleasant situations that could have been avoided, but, Ugo is always there showing a better way. In many ways the whole series is written to teach children what not to do. When I grew up I lived on a farm, I saw lots of natural things such as, fowls picking each other, dogs fighting, horses kicking each other, it’s life. If children aren’t exposed to reality, and kept wrapped in cotton wool, they will find it difficult to cope in the real world.


Would you say you’re more of a plotter or a pantser?
Many many hours have been spent writing and re-reading and then altering. To answer your question, definitely a plotter.


Where do you write? Describe your space.
I am fortunate to have my own space, I believe it’s very important to be away from everybody for a certain amount of time, so that you aren’t influenced by any other presence. For me I have a large shed. In one corner I have a wood heater and a couple of comfortable reclining chairs, there is a table, a computer, and a few other bits and pieces. The most important thing is, it’s my space.


What do you think are the key ingredients for a children’s book?
I think writing a book for anybody needs to be realistic and believable, children are no different. The series Ugo and Jack are full of good examples of how we should live our lives. The word positive comes to mind.


What do you hope children will take away from this book?
Whilst I am not religious in any way, I have a strong belief that our life here in the physical world is like a play in a sense. When we are born or arrive, we step onto the stage, when our part in the play is over, we die or step off the stage. Imagine for a moment a glove on the table. The glove represents the body. Now imagine the hand, it represents the spirit. When the hand enters the glove, the glove becomes alive and is able to move around. When the hand is removed, the glove becomes lifeless again. I believe that this material world we exist in is only a tiny part of the big picture, which makes this a temporary place. The series Ugo and Jack, shows the reader that there is much more than our physical world we currently live in. Children that are critically ill or have lost someone very close to them, need to know that there is more. Throughout the series, Ugo points out that there is no end to life, just a transition of sorts. I hope the kids enjoy the Ugo and Jack book series. I am sure they will take with them a more positive view of life.
TasWriters thanks Geoff for taking the time to answer our questions. The next book in the Ugo and Jack five book series is due to be released on the 24th June