TOBIAS MADDEN Interview:
Questions asked by Poppy Nwosu.
Tobias Madden is the editor behind the 2019 collection, Underdog: #LoveOzYA Short Stories, which features a diverse and exciting array of new and emerging Australian YA authors, with a foreword by award-winning Australian novelist Fleur Ferris (Risk, Wreck, Black and Found).
As well as the mastermind behind the Underdog project, Tobias is an author, with a short story appearing within the collection. I was excited to know more about what inspired him to undertake such an amazing and challenging project.
I get asked this question a lot, and, looking back, the whole idea seems kind of absurd. It could have amounted to absolutely nothing, but luckily, we ended up with a collection of stories that I am incredibly proud of!
The idea first came to me when I was in the audience of a YA panel discussion in Melbourne. The moderator asked how many writers there were in the audience, and almost everyone put up their hand. It was the same at every other event I’d been to, and it made me realise just how many people never have the chance to tell their stories.
Publishing is insanely competitive, and it can be virtually impossible for some people to get a foot in the door—rarely because they are untalented, simply because of timing and the whim of the powers that be. All creative pursuits are the same. With that in mind, I decided to start a project that would give aspiring writers a platform to have their voices heard.
A short story collection seemed like the most viable idea, as I’d be able to give a whole bunch of authors a chance at once. I’d recently read the first #LoveOzYA anthology, Begin, End Begin, edited by Danielle Binks, and thought that it would be wonderful if I could create something like that, but exclusively for unpublished authors.
For me, the whole project was challenging!
I didn’t study publishing or editing, and I had virtually no experience in the publishing industry, so working on Underdog was an enormous learning curve. I’d coordinated and edited a short story collection for an awesome Aussie website called Needle in the Hay, so I’d already developed some basic skills, but I had to learn something new at every single step of the Underdog project.
The thought of the challenge ahead excited me beyond belief (and scared me a little) but nothing wonderful ever comes from being safe! I can’t actually put in words how much I learned over the course of the past year and a half—I feel like I’ve earned an honorary degree in publishing!—and I can now confidently call myself an editor.
I think one surprising thing I learned was that people are just so willing to help. As aspiring authors, we tend to feel quite alone in our journey, and want to lock ourselves in a room and slave away until we have the perfect product. Sometimes, I think this can be incredibly counter-productive. At every step of the Underdog project, I had to ask for help or advice or guidance in some way.
Sometimes that was just me asking my husband if a photo looked nice enough for Instagram, other times it was asking the senior editors at Black Inc (our wonderful distributor) for advice on how best to proceed. The whole #LoveOzYA community was so supportive, including the wonderful booksellers who are putting Underdog into the hands of teens all around the country. I was blown away by the support and encouragement we received, and I think it was an important lesson for me to learn. We should all ask for help when we need it. We beat ourselves over the head for not having all the answers, but someone will always be willing to share their knowledge and experience with us. In the end, we all want the best for each other.
Gosh, this is a tough one!
One of the first stories I can remember being moved by was The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. I’m pretty sure my parents gave me the book for Easter one year when I was very young (books for Easter were a tradition of ours), and I was obsessed. There was something about the unconditional love in the story that really touched me, even at such a young age. It also made me terrified that I would die of scarlet fever, even though I had no idea what that actually was!
The story that has had the biggest impact on my life is Harry Potter. I know that’s so cliché, but it’s true, just as it is for so many of us. Those characters and story will be a part of my life forever. It was JK Rowling’s personal story that inspired me to get back into writing a few years ago, and if I ever feel like I’m getting nowhere with something I’m writing (or with trying to be a writer in general) I watch one of the many JK Rowling documentaries or interviews. They never fail to inspire me!
The weird thing about this is, I kind of forgot that I was a writer for a while!
I’ve spent most of my life as a performer, and that can be pretty all-consuming. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I started writing again after a very long hiatus. Since then, I’ve remembered the enormous role writing played in my childhood and adolescence. Clearing out my old cupboards at Mum and Dad’s place a couple of years ago, I found everything I’d ever written as a child (thanks, Mum, for being a hoarder!).
There were little stories I’d written when I was probably three years old, ‘books’ I wrote and illustrated all through primary school, and all of my HSC creative writing pieces. It seems so ridiculous that I could have forgotten that writing was such a big part of my life but, like I said, my whole existence became about performing. I have no regrets whatsoever, because my performing career took me literally around the world and gave me my husband, but if I could tell my younger self anything, it would be to never stop writing. Simply because I know how much joy it gives me, and I think it would have been really useful to help me process some of the harder experiences that come with being a performer, or just life in general for that matter!
I’m working on a couple of novels at the moment, though I haven’t had a lot of time to actually do any writing lately! I have one complete manuscript (a YA contemporary fantasy) which I’m hoping to get published, and I’m about half way through the first draft of another (a YA contemporary). I’m super excited about both of them—they are SO different—and I have several other ideas that I’m dying to flesh out into manuscripts when I have a little more time. I’m also hoping to build on what we created with Underdog, working towards my publishing and editing dreams.
Hopefully there will be lots of wonderful things to come!
Thank you so much for your thoughtful answers and your time Tobias! :)
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