Tuesday, February 7, 2012


THEN by Morris Gleitzman recently won a Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Teen Reader category. 
Today, I have the joy of  interviewing Morris Gleitzman as part of the Sydney Taylor Book Award blog tour.  Chatting with him about the writing of THEN has been pure pleasure. Feel free to eavesdrop!
Author, Morris Gleitzman
Morris, while reading THEN, I had this feeling that you were right there inhabiting the heart and mind of 10 year old Felix.  Is writing this age an at-home/automatic thing for you?  Can you talk about how you decided on Felix's age and how it feels to write from the 10 year old perspective?

The main characters in all my books are 10 or 11 years old. It’s not a choice and I don’t question or analyse this – it’s just the way it is. So I can’t really answer the last part of your question because I’ve never known it any other way. I am however glad to find that people of that age are usually free from the distractions of the hormonal surge that comes a little later, and so are able to focus entirely on their wonderfully expanding personal moral landscape.

I loved Felix' optimism.  Even in the midst of one of history's most horrendous times he believed in solutions and went after them.  I assume that, in your research, you uncovered stories of real children with great spirit and stamina.  In what ways did kids from history inspire you? Any stories you want to share?

My approach with fiction is to imagine experiences in certain contexts. These Felix stories are partly about how we use our imaginations to sustain ourselves in tough times – the power of stories to keep optimism alive when rational analysis invites despair. I particularly wanted to explore how the telling of such stories can be an act of love rather than foolish delusion. Naturally I did a huge amount of research before and during the writing of these books. Including immersion in the words of many young people who lived and died in those terrible times. There were many examples of optimism and many of despair. I’d prefer not to cite examples of the former because I don’t want to imply that the latter is a less admirable or praiseworthy response.

You know those one sentence summaries authors have to create for their books?  Have you done this for the series, ONCE, THEN, NOW, and AFTER?  I know you prefer not to call them Holocaust stories. How do you briefly describe the series?

Stories that explore the power of love and friendship in the midst of the most unfriendly human behaviour.

Your research has taken you into some dark places and of course that pain is what makes your stories so powerful. Your character helps the reader to bear the pain just by being so darn funny.  But while you're immersed in that world, how do you mitigate the pain you put yourself through?

Not very successfully. I experienced shingles while writing ONCE, and what the doctors described as a minor stroke while writing AFTER. Happily neither has left me with any long-term problems. Apart from my body acting out, my primary pain-mitigating technique is to focus on the fact that, despite these stories’ terrible context of loss and suffering, I’m writing about love.

And did you know when you wrote ONCE that there would be a sequel? When did you have the "series" figured out?  And do you expect more volumes in addition to NOW, and AFTER?

I thought ONCE would be it. Later, when I realised I needed to write THEN, and I realised what would happen at the end of that book, I knew I would want to go on to explore how that experience affected Felix’s whole life. Hence NOW. AFTER is the result of wanting to explore another important emotional area of Felix’s childhood. I have no firm plans for a fifth book, but I’m thinking about one that would follow on from NOW, to bring Felix’s life full-circle.

Well, that makes my heart skip a beat!  Thanks so much, Morris for taking time to chat and especially for making time to write. Congratulations on yet another literary honor!

Blog reader, you can hear Morris' thoughts on awards and other writing topics in this YouTube clip.  For my reflections on THEN, see my previous post.

I should confess to you that THEN is the only Morris Gleitzman book I've read.  But this, my friends, is a situation I'm about to remedy.  The books, ONCE, THEN, NOW and AFTER all belong on my shelf.  

And as for Gleitzman's shelf of published books,  - have a look and you'll see that I've some catching up to do!  

The Sydney Taylor Blog Tour continues all week with this schedule.  All aboard!


  1. Such a perceptive interview, Joyce. Thanks for such great questions -- and Morris, thanks for the honest answers. When I first realized I wanted to write for young people, I started out reading middle-grade novels but have since gravitated toward YA. Still, this book sounds like it belongs on ANY shelf. Adding it to my to-read list right now. Thanks Joyce, for spreading the word about these treasures.


  2. Congratulations Morris on winning the Sydney Taylor Honor Award! How exciting! And thank you both, Morris and Joyce, for an interesting interview. I loved hearing about Morris' book writing process.
    I have not read the books, but like you Joyce, I will soon remedy that!

  3. Congratulations to Morris for winning the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

    Thank you, Joyce, for sharing this author and his books with your readers. I'll have to check them out now.

  4. Great interview, Joyce and Morris. Felix never ceases to bring tears to my eyes.

  5. Thanks for this interview. I enjoyed it very much and am anxious to read the books. The neat thing about discovering a series after they are already out is I don't have to wait for the next book! I've ordered up Once and am looking forward to reading all of the books.

  6. Oh, Joyce. What an amazing interview. I've just put Once on hold. It's so hard for me to read books that take place during the Holocaust, which I know is a cop-out, but I still avoid it. You and Mr. Gleitzman have convinced me, though, to try this series...maybe it's the talk of humor, or of love and hope. Thanks, to both of you.

  7. Wonderful interview. Since the time I was 12 I was interested in all things Jewish and that fascination of stories about great bravery, sacrifice and love still tug at my heart. I'm looking forward to reading his work and sharing it with my children. Thank you.

  8. Thanks for the interview! This series is definitely going on my "to read" list. Can't wait to explore them for myself!

  9. Joyce - I'm glad I was able to introduce you to Morris and his books. He is a master of his craft! Thanks to both of you for a great interview and Morris, mazel tov on your achievement!
    Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee

  10. Joyce,
    Thanks for introducing me to another great author with powerful stories. I watched the YouTube interview and imagined it was you asking the questions. :)

  11. Just added "Then" and "Once" to my to-read list. Thanks for the interview, Joyce, and for asking Morris how he would describe his books. Very pithy answer. AM looking forward to reading them.

  12. I've just now had a chance to read this interview. Thanks, Joyce, for such wonderful questions. And thanks, Morris, for your answers - particularly your vulnerability in talking about the physical effects of writing on such difficult subject matter. Wow! And yet you do it anyway. Thank you. I'm looking forward to reading Once and Then and more!