Morris Gleitzman (1953-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
First syllable of surname rhymes with "light"; born 1953, in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England; immigrated to Australia, 1969; Education: Canberra College of Advanced Education, B.A. (professional writing), 1974. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, reading, making lists.
Agent—Anthony Williams, 50 Oxford St., Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales 2021, Australia.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney, New South Wales, television promotions director, 1973-75, television entertainment script editor and producer, 1975-76, and writer for The Norman Gunston Show, 1976-78; Seven Network, Sydney, writer for The Norman Gunston Show, 1978-81; freelance writer, 1981—.
Awgie Award, Australian Writers Guild, 1985, for television film The Other Facts of Life; Family Award, 1990, for Two Weeks with the Queen; Book of the Year Younger Honour, Children's Book Council of Australia, 1992, for Misery Guts, and 1993, for Blabber Mouth; COOL Award (Australia Capital Territory), BILBY Award (Queensland), YABBA Award (Victoria), and KOALA Award shortlist (New South Wales), and Guardian Children's Fiction Award shortlist, all 1999, all for Bumface; Dymocks Booksellers Children's Choice Awards Favorite Australian Author designation, 1999.
NOVELS; FOR CHILDREN
The Other Facts of Life (adapted from author's television screenplay of the same title; also see below), Penguin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1985, reprinted, 2004.
Second Childhood (adapted from author's television screenplay), Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1990.
Misery Guts, Piper (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1991, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1993.
Worry Warts, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1992, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1993.
Puppy Fat, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1992, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Blabber Mouth, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1992, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Sticky Beak, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1993, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Belly Flop, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1996.
Water Wings, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1996.
Bumface, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1998.
Gift of the Gab, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1999.
Toad Rage, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1999, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
Adults Only, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2001.
Toad Heaven, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2001, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.
Boy Overboard, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2002.
Teachers's Pet, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2003.
Toad Away, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2003.
Girl Underground, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2004.
Worm Story, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2004.
Gleitzman's books have been translated into French, Japanese, German, Italian, and Spanish.
"WICKED!" SERIES; NOVELS
(With Paul Jennings) The Slobberers, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1997.
(With Paul Jennings) Battering Rams, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1997.
(With Paul Jennings) Croaked, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1997.
(With Paul Jennings) Dead Ringer, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1997.
(With Paul Jennings) The Creeper, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1997.
(With Paul Jennings) Till Death Us Do Part, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1997.
(With Paul Jennings) Wicked! (includes six volumes), Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1998.
"DEADLY!" SERIES; NOVELS
(With Paul Jennings) Nude, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2000.
(With Paul Jennings) Brats, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2000.
(With Paul Jennings) Stiff, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2000.
(With Paul Jennings) Hunt, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2001.
(With Paul Jennings) Grope, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2001.
(With Paul Jennings) Pluck, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2001.
(With Paul Jennings) Deadly! (includes all six volumes), Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2002.
Doctors and Nurses (screenplay), Universal Entertainment, 1981.
Melvin Son of Alvin (screenplay), Roadshow, 1984.
The Other Facts of Life (television film), Ten Network, 1985.
Skin Free (two-act play), produced in Sydney, New South Wales, 1986.
(With Trevor Farrant) Not a Papal Tour (stage show), produced in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, at Canberra Theatre, 1987.
Two Weeks with the Queen (adult novel), Blackie & Son, 1989, Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.
Harbour Beat (screenplay), Palm Beach Pictures/Zenith Productions, 1990.
Just Looking: Gleitzman on Television (collected columns), Sun Books (Chippendale, New South Wales, Australia), 1992.
Gleitzman on Saturday (collected columns), Macmillan, 1993.
SelfHelpLess: Fifty-seven Pieces of Crucial Advice for People Who Need a Bit More Time to Get It Right, Penguin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2000.
Writer of scripts for television series, including Second Childhood, Crossroads, Bust, Instant TV, and The Daryl Somers Show. Author of weekly television column in Sydney Morning Herald, 1987-92; columnist for Good Weekend (magazine supplement to Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age), beginning 1990.
Gleitzman's novel Two Weeks with the Queen was adapted as a play by Mary Morris, Piper, 1994.
Although he started out his writing career as a television scriptwriter, Morris Gleitzman has earned a reputation in his adopted home of Australia for creating humorous, evocative young-adult novels as well as penning entertaining novel series such as Wicked! and Deadly! with fellow writer Paul Jennings. The "cheeky brand of humor" and "sensible, tolerant attitude" toward family life that a Publishers Weekly reviewer noticed in Gleitzman's early novels, has continued to be honed by the author, and his dry humor continues to find an appreciative audience with children and critics alike. "One looks forward to a Gleitzman title," wrote Trevor Carey in Magpies; and according to Horn Book critic Karen Jameyson, the award-winning writer's name "has been steadily edging its way into cult territory." By 1999 Gleitzman was considered one of the most popular children's writers in Australia, and the majority of his books have been translated into several languages.
The secret of Gleitzman's success, according to some critics, is his ability to couch highly sensitive topics and conflicts in chaotic situations peppered with amusing dialogues. Readers may find themselves laughing through stories about divorce, alienation, and physical challenges as these crises are encountered by the author's young protagonists. In his book Boy Overboard he addresses a broader concern facing young people while still employing his trademark humor, creating a likeable protagonist who lives in Afghanistan with his family and must face intolerance and the problems faced by refugees when his family is forced to flee to Australia. Gleitzman once explained that, when writing for a young audience, he uses "humor to explore the big subjects. I like characters who find themselves face to face with The Biggies unequipped with the adult armory of evasion, rationalization, and red wine."
Born and raised in the south of London, Gleitzman immigrated to Australia at age sixteen and quickly decided to become a writer. "I thought I'd better do some of those colorful jobs writers always seem to have done," he once commented. "I worked for a bit as a frozen chicken-thawer, a department store Santa Claus, an assistant to a fashion designer, and a rolling-stock un-hooker in a sugar mill. I applied for whaling, but they rejected me because I said I'd only do it if I could throw the whales back." After enrolling in a college program in professional writing, Gleitzman established himself as a writer in the film and television industry in Australia. He worked as a promotions director and script editor and producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and wrote for The Norman Gunston Show for several years before becoming a freelance writer.
Gleitzman's first two books were adapted from his screenplays, and these projects gave him the confidence to make the career move from playwright to novelist. His most widely known novel, the award-winning Two Weeks with the Queen, was conceived as a novel "in a flash," as the writer once explained. "As I was writing it, I realized it was, in part, a story about the tendency of loving parents to overprotect their kids from difficult realities, both domestic and global. I was pleased to discover this, as I do it all the time myself."
"The things that happen in my books are almost all made up," Gleitzman admitted in a question-and-answer on his Web site. "For me, imagination makes much better stories than memory. Specially as my memory isn't very good. I can't remember many of the adventures of my childhood, so it's easier for me to make them up. Occasionally, though, a bit of my real life creeps into a story. I emigrated from England with my folks when I was 16, and that experience helped me write Misery Guts."
Misery Guts and its sequel, Worry Warts, Gleitzman's two novels about nervous teen Keith Shipley, describe the effects of parents' attempts to protect their children, and also of children's efforts to protect their parents. Keith is troubled by his worried parents, a couple of "misery guts." His attempt to pick up their business—as well as their spirits—by painting their shop in the south of London a glossy mango color fails. Keith's parents show no interest in his plans for a tropical vacation or a move to Australia. When Keith finally persuades them to take a day trip to the beach, he forgets to turn the fryer at the fish and chips shop off. As a result, the shop burns down, and the family's business is ruined. To Keith's delight, his parents decide to begin another business in sunny Australia. As Misery Guts closes, readers find Keith content and the misery guts hopeful.
The Shipley family drama continues in Worry Warts, as money problems keep Keith's parents quarreling. Keith paints their car to cheer them up but it doesn't help; they announce that they want to divorce. Thinking that money will keep his parents together, Keith runs away to the opal fields. Although he manages to find an opal, he becomes trapped in a mine and his parents are forced into a costly rescue effort to bring their son home safely. While Keith eventually convinces his parents to stay together for him, he eventually puts his own desires aside for the good of all. While Ilene Cooper noted in Booklist that the conclusion of Worry Warts may be "unsatisfying" for those who applauded the boy's "efforts to keep his family together," a Kirkus Reviews critic found the same conclusion "surprising but appropriate."
Keith and his family return in several more novels by Gleitzman, including Puppy Fat, which finds Keith still at work solving his separated and now-single parents' problems for them. Worried that, in their mid-thirties, they have both become overweight and doddery and need to find new partners, he channels his artistic talents into finding ways to advertise their availability for dating. However, painting them in skimpy bathing suits on a wall in his South London neighborhood proves unsuccessful, so he calls in help, with predictably humorous results. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Gleitzman's "punchy narrative, droll characters, and original plot" make Puppy Fat a "real page-turner," while in Booklist Ilene Cooper noted that the author characteristically "turns everyday situations upside down with his humor and off-the-wall take on life." Blabber Mouth, Sticky Beak, and Gift of the Gab all feature Rowena Batts, a girl who was born without the ability to speak. Although she is dumb, Rowena manages to express her opinion with signs, written words, and actions. While in Blabber Mouth the central problems revolve around Rowena's relationship with her flamboyant father, his decision to remarry causes new problems in Sticky Beak, In this novel Rowena expands her communication tools, throwing a Jelly Custard Surprise during a party for her teacher, who has married Rowena's father and is pregnant with Rowena's half-sibling. Despite Rowena's speech problem and sometimes-outlandish behavior, she is a resilient protagonist. By the end of Sticky Beak, for example, she has learned new ways of coping with her outrageous yet loving father, her new stepmother, the new baby, and even the class bully. Gift of the Gab finds her reconciling with her father while attempting to uncover the reason for her speech problem, which takes the family to France in search of answers. According to Magpies contributor Cathryn Crowe, Gleitzman "wraps" themes involving rejection and insecurity into "a tight bundle with plenty of zany humour."
In an unusual step for Gleitzman, he takes on an animal protagonist in Toad Rage and its sequels, Toad Heaven and Toad Away. In Toad Rage readers meet Australian cane toad Limpy, who is angered over the number of relatives who have ended up as road kill. In an effort to end the needless slaughter of amphibians, Limpy begins a public relations campaign, trying to sell humans on the notion that cane toads are truly man's best friend and ultimately hoping to become the next Olympic mascot. Toad Away finds Limpy still searching for a safe haven for cane toads, and joining with two friends to travel to the mythical Amazon, which is rumored to be such a place. Praising Toad Rage as a "hilarous dark comedy," a Publishers Weekly writer noted that Gleitzman originally wrote the novel for the 2000 Sydney Olympics as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the country's animal-mascot selection process. Whatever its origins, the novel works on its own merits; as Ed Sullivan wrote in Booklist, Gleitzman's saga of "one toad's bold quest to reach out to another species will give readers plenty of laughs." "This toad's-eye view of human society provides both solid entertainment and a barbed commentary on the importance of looks," added a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, July, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of Worry Warts, p. 1958; May 1, 1995, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Blabber Mouth, p. 1561; June 1, 1995, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Sticky Beak, p. 1770; June 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of Puppy Fat, p. 171; March 1, 2004, Ed Sullivan, review of Toad Rage, p. 1188.
Horn Book, July, 1993, Karen Jameyson, "News from down Under," pp. 496-498; July-August, 1995, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Blabber Mouth, p. 458.
Junior Bookshelf, November, 1993, review of Sticky Beak, pp. 65-66.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1993, review of Misery Guts, p. 146; April 1, 2004, review of Toad Rage, p. 329.
Magpies, November, 1991, p. 29; November, 1992, Trevor Carey, review of Blabber Mouth, p. 30; November, 1993, Cathryn Crowe, review of Sticky Beak, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, January 11, 1991, review of Two Weeks with the Queen, p. 105; February 8, 1993, review of Misery Guts and Worry Warts, p. 87; May 6, 1996, review of Puppy Fat, p. 8; March 22, 2004, review of Toad Rage, p. 86.
School Library Journal, May, 1993, pp. 104-105.
Morris Gleitzman Web site, http://www.morrisgleitzman.com/ (January 17, 2005).*
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