French, Simon 1957-
FRENCH, Simon 1957-
PERSONAL: Born November 26, 1957, in Sydney, Australia; son of Reginald (an electronics design drafter) and Janette (a school librarian; maiden name, Frederick) French. Education: Mitchell College, teacher's diploma, 1979.
ADDRESSES: Home—395 Bull Ridge Rd., East Kurrajong, New South Wales 2758, Australia.
CAREER: Infants' teacher at schools in New South Wales, Australia, 1980-84; youth worker, 1984-87; teacher at a small school near Sydney, Australia, 1988—. Also worked as a library clerical assistant, a fruit picker, and in preschool child care.
AWARDS, HONORS: Australian Children's Book of the Year Awards, special mention, 1976, for Hey, Phantom Singlet, and winner, 1987, for All We Know; Australian Children's Book Award competition, commendation, 1982, for Cannily, Cannily, and Honour Book award, 1992, for Change the Locks; Family Award, 1991, and Children's Book of the Year, Bank Street School of Education, 1993, both for Change the Locks; Patricia Wrightson Prize, 2003, for Where in the World.
Hey, Phantom Singlet, illustrated by Alex Nicholas, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1975.
Cannily, Cannily, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1981.
All We Know, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1986.
Change the Locks, Scholastic (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1991, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
Guess the Baby, ABC Books (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), Clarion (New York, NY), 2002.
Where in the World, Little Hare Australia (Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia), 2002, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 2003.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel for ten- to fourteen-year-olds.
SIDELIGHTS: Simon French once remarked: "The suggestion to write a book came rather jokingly from my sixth-grade teacher. As I was someone who enjoyed reading books anyway, the suggestion didn't seem all that ludicrous; and so I set to work. After a few false starts, I became enthused about recording my day-to-day school life and so began putting together a no-holds-barred account of the high school I was attending. All the kids in my class found themselves depicted as characters in their own type of environment—rough and ready, merciless but honest. Almost the entire book was written at school—in notepads concealed inside textbooks, scribbled paragraphs at the back of exercise books. These devious methods worked incredibly well, except for the day my math teacher confiscated two whole chapters and I had to try to remember later what it was I had written.
"Thus, daily classroom humor and drama provided much live footage for the story that evolved. My suburban origins lent me a new cast of characters in addition to those at school, and chapter by chapter I pieced together the story of Matthew, whose dad is in jail, and whose mum has to work to support the family. Trying for publication was really an afterthought and of course did not prove easy. After quite a few rejections, I was lucky, and Hey, Phantom Singlet was published just before my seventeenth birthday. Shortly afterwards, I finished high school. Being able to write away from the audience who had inspired me so much seemed very difficult for a while. With these sorts of upheavals, a second book was not an easy task.
"The politics in Cannily, Cannily are those of adult and peer pressure. The options open to Trevor—the child of two seasonal workers always on the move—are whether to bend to these attendant pressures and 'belong,' or to remain aloof and different, and so endure isolation and torment from the children of a conservative country town. Having been on the receiving end of peer politics, I looked at it as a significant set of experiences and ideas to put across.
"All it seems to take is a single strand of fiction to hold my ideas together, concerned as I am with reporting on real life. The challenge to me, of course, is to translate the realism and honesty to an audience, balancing the language and structure between the economical and the descriptive. My actual method of writing is not altogether studious or methodical; I do not sit down and write for an appointed time each day. Rather it is a single character or situation encountered at any time that causes me to sit with typewriter and paper, and write. I cannot offer any stunning or academic rationale as to how or why I write. My books have been written because I find it enjoyable and because I perceive a need for the type of story that children can relate to their everyday existence. My writing is about coping, interacting, and sometimes personal hardship; but it is more so about succeeding and surviving—that is the essence of growing."
French once added: "In my recent work, I've tried to break down what I saw as a barrier between myself, my characters, and my audience—by writing in the first person, exclusively in the voice of the story's main character. My latest novel, Where in the World, is related by a child who has traveled and emigrated, who has a profound gift for music. I've never felt more immersed in the depiction of a character and the telling of a story—it was a challenging and very uplifting experience."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Times Literary Supplement, November 20, 1981.*