I wolfed these Paul Jennings’ stories down when I was about nine years-old. Unreal was so different to anything that I had read before.
My grandmother used to take my cousins and I on trips into Sydney in the school holidays where we’d spend hours in the big Dymocks on George St. She bought Unreal for my cousin and I to share and we would each take custody of it for a school term before ‘fessing it up to the other. It was the first book that I remember being outrageously proud to have been in possession of. Like Harry Potter or Wimpy Kid now, Unreal was a badge of honour, a book that you had to read. I still love these stories. I read Strap Box Flyer and Without a Shirt to kids now and they love it as much as I did.
As well as being funny with excellent characters and memorable twists, the stories had a darkness and melancholy that appealed to me. They felt authentic, with one foot in the real world and the other in a fantastical space. Being a young boy, I liked that the stories took little effort to read yet the stories weren’t simplistic. They were so good, you forgot that you were reading. Reading Jennings wasn’t a worthy pursuit to make your mother or librarian proud. It was a feeling of ‘flow’ as you passed through a portal into Jennings’ kooky, twisted, imperfect world which, strangely, felt like more of a reflection of the real world than most of the ‘realistic fiction’ available. Many other books (Dahl excluded) felt too ‘nice’.
The Jennings stories inspired me to write my own shorts for the book My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up. I have made short films, too, and I love the simplicity and unity of the short form. I would be happy to spend a lifetime trying to write stories that delight kids as much as those in Unreal.
Tristan’s most recent books are ‘My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up’ from Random House Australia, and ‘Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space’ from UQP. For more, visit Tristan’s website.