QWS PODCAST S1E5 – Tobias Madden

Picture of author Tobias Madden and logo of Queer Writes Sessions with Words and Nerds Podcast and Blarney Books and Art in Port Fairy
QWS Podcast S1E5 Tobias Madden

QWS Podcast S1E5 – To listen to the podcast click on this link from Words and Nerds.

In this episode Rob interviews Tobias Madden about his new book, Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell. Rob also talks books with Grace @BlarneyBooks & Art; Slipping the Noose by Meg Caddy and We Who Hunt the Hollow by Kate Murray.

Tobias Madden’s Instagram @tobias_madden

Tobias Madden’s website https://www.tobiasmadden.net/

Tobias Madden’s Shout Outs

YA Authors

Gary Lonesborough

Holden Sheppard

Alice Boyle

QWS Podcast S1E5 – Tobias Madden interview transcript

Please note: this interview transcript has been modified slightly for ease of reading.

Rob: Tobias Madden is an author and editor from Sydney, Australia. His debut young adult fiction novel, the ABIA Award-shortlisted Anything But Fine, is out now in Australia and New Zealand and in the US. His second YA novel, Take A Bow, Noah Mitchell, is out now August 2022 and in the US Jan 3, 2023.

​Originally from Ballarat, Tobias worked for ten years as a performer, touring Australia and New Zealand with musicals such as Mary Poppins, CATS, Singin’ in the Rain, and Guys and Dolls. In 2019, he edited and published UNDERDOG, the first #LoveOzYA short story anthology for previously unpublished Aussie young adult fiction writers. Also in 2019, he wrote the cabaret show Siblingship, which played to sold out audiences in Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra. Tobias is a passionate member of the #LoveOzYA and LGBTIQA+ communities, and currently works part-time in theatre marketing.

Welcome Tobias.

Tobias: Thank you so much for having me.

Rob: Absolutely pleasure. Thank you, thrilled. And just before we start, I absolutely loved Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell, so we’ll be asking you some more questions about that for sure. But congratulations.

Tobias: Thank you.

Rob: So, we start at a QWS Podcast with an opening question we ask all our guests, which is “How has your work influenced your identity?”

Tobias: Gosh, that’s a big question, isn’t it? I guess like, you know, it’s also interconnected, and I think for me, I always learn a lot about myself and my identity through my writing, and also the other way around. I think my identity informs my writing a lot as well. And you know, I guess that’s ever changing, which is a really interesting thing because I feel like whatever you are going through in your life, and where you’re at as a person, really affects what you’re writing at the time. And often what I love about that is that you don’t necessarily know that that’s happening at the time. You just think you’re writing this, this fun book about whatever, and then you read the first draft and you’re like, “Oh, I see <laugh>, I can definitely recognize that kind of year of my life in this story,” which I find really interesting.

And you know, on top of that, obviously I love writing queer stories. And it’s really amazing to be able to explore queer teenage stories. You know, for me as someone who didn’t sort of get to live out their gay romance dreams as a teenager, ‘cause I didn’t come out until I was sort of well into my university days. I kind of missed that boat, so it’s really quite special to be able to go back in time – even though my books are set now – to go back in time for myself and kind of almost rewrite that history a little bit, which is really cool.

Rob: That’s awesome. Yeah, I totally relate to that. <Laugh> so I just wanted to introduce the book to our listeners. So I will read from the blurb.

Noah is in love with his online best friend, which is a huge problem for the following reasons. One, his crush has no idea. Two, Noah only knows him as his gaming avatar. Three there’s zero chance they’ll ever meet in real life. So, when Noah sees an opportunity to secretly meet his crush, he takes it even though he’ll have to join the cast of a local production of Chicago with his self-obsessed mother, even though he’ll need to lie to his best, and only, friend. And even though he’ll have to sing and dance in front of actual people, because love is worth the risk and really what could possibly go wrong?

<laugh> It’s so good. So, congratulations again. Take A Bow, Noah Mitchell was so much fun and so well written and throughout it all, it felt very authentic. And I’m obsessed with Noah’s mum, Rose <laugh> like a lot of people in Noah’s orbit seemed to be, I think she was absolutely fabulous <laugh> and with her it really did feel like spending time with a celebrity as she’s just brilliant.

I felt you captured the world of gaming and theatre incredibly well. As per bio, theatre’s a world you’ve spent a lot of time in, so was this a world you wanted to share? Like particularly with your readers?

Tobias: Yeah, I think so. I mean my first book is about a dancer, but he’s a ballet dancer, which is, you know, I’ve done a lot of ballet in my life and I love ballet and I have so much respect for ballet dancers, but it’s still not quite the world that I have lived in and different to my professional career. And I think yeah, it was just really nice to be able to dive into that world. Especially through Noah’s eyes. You know, these fresh eyes of someone who is not a part of that world, because it really allows you to kind of shine a light on all of the silly things about the theatre world, but also the beautiful things, and to have them go on that journey of thinking that it’s this whole kind of ridiculous thing and that everyone who is there is ridiculous and obsessed with themselves and then learning that maybe that’s not quite the case.

It’s really special. And I spent my teenage years in those exact rehearsal rooms for amateur musicals in Ballarat. And so I’m a big fan of writing what you know, and this one really sort of took me deep into that much more than my first book did even I think.

But I also spent a lot of time as a team playing games with my brother, they weren’t as much online back then because the internet <laugh> had only just sort of been brought into our homes at that point. But we played endless hours of games together, my brother and I and some of his friends and stuff. So it was really fun to combine those two things, which is kind of my experience as a teenager. And I didn’t realise at the time that it was so many other people’s experiences, there are, I thought that intersection of gaming and theatre would be quite niche, but it’s apparently no one near as niche as I thought it was.

Rob: Yeah. Right. And so, what came first? Because I love – obviously no spoilers – but I loved the parallels that were going on between your worlds. Did you… was it something that you were sort of thinking of mashing up together, or did the gaming (world) come later?

Tobias: I basically like, I started drafting this at the end of 2020 when we were very much mid pandemic. And I just really wanted to write about something that would make me happy and kind of distract me from everything. So initially I did think, what other things that I loved the most as a teenager and came up with those two things, gaming and theatre, and then just tried to find a plot to kind of mash them together, which you know, has led us to Noah’s kind of hair brain scheme <laugh> But you know, that I’m a big planner, so I like to plot everything in advance. And so I tried to make some pretty clear parallels between sort of what was going on in the game for the two boys. And what was happening in, in Noah’s life just to kind of yeah. Make that interesting for the reader and, and sort of keep the whole thing moving along a little bit.

Rob: Oh, yeah it absolutely did. And it was it was so clever as well, like looking at it as a writer, so this is brilliant. Yeah.

Tobias: Thank you.

Rob: And I was interested in this setting, so why did you choose to set it in Ballarat, a regional city in Victoria? And was this your hometown calling?

Tobias: Yeah, so I grew up in Ballarat. I lived there until I was 18 when I fled to Sydney to do a dance course up there. And then I studied in Perth a music theatre course, but yeah, I spent my, my entire childhood in Ballarat. And I loved growing up there for a theatre kid. There was just so much on offer so many dance schools and you know, how amateur theatre companies and the beautiful Her Majesty’s Theatre in Ballarat where I got to perform for all of my teen years. But you know, I kind of made that decision when I wrote my first book, Anything But Fine, because when I decided to write in that contemporary young adult world, I just really wanted to be able to make it feel authentic.

And so I, I figured the easiest way to do that was to go back to where it all began for me and kind of set the story there and, you know, Ballarat’s very different when I grew up there. Attitudes have changed a lot which was a really interesting challenge because I didn’t want to present the Ballarat of my teen years. I wanted to present today’s Ballarat. And you know, I visit often, but I’m not in high school at Ballarat anymore. So it was yeah, really interesting to sort of update my version of kind of what Ballarat is like for a teenager. But also try and make it reasonably universal for anyone yeah. In a, in a country or regional area in Australia. You know, cause I think they share so many similarities, so that was kind of a big part of it as well.

Rob: Yeah. Great. And it’s just so nice to see a different location. Right? And also, a regional city, I thought that was fantastic.

I really appreciated it, as a gay man, was how you captured the feelings of sexual attraction. And you didn’t shy away from the physical aspects of it, the good, the bad, and the awkwardness of sex and the throws of the first time and first love. Some authors find sex scenes challenging to write. Was this? Or is sex writing sex easy for you? Because it’s so well done. And I loved, like I mentioned, that it’s there – there’s no sanitised -it is what it is.

Tobias: Yeah. I mean, <laugh>, I know that sex in YA can be pretty divisive sometimes, but when I write my stories, I I’m always picturing myself as a 14, 15, 16 year old boy and the sort of things that I was questioning and the sort of things that I was desperate to have answered. And so I guess that’s the only kind of lens that I can see it through is, is that sort of teenage boy and what they’re really desperate to know and to read about. Because there’s not a lot of places to find that kind of information and it’s not an instructional guide. But I think what’s important to me is always just to, to put the reality of the situations on the page. I never wanna over romanticize those kind of first moments and stuff like that.

Because as a teenager it’s generally just really awkward. And I think a lot of those moments in Take A Bow, Noah Mitchell are pretty cringy. But that’s what it’s like. There are so many things to navigate, especially for queer teen. Like, you know, we don’t get sex ed about how it all works and you know, who’s doing what and all of that. And so I think, yeah, it’s, it’s definitely, I wouldn’t say they’re easy scenes to write because you have to be so conscious of the line where it turns into something gratuitous that is much more for an adult audience and what is suitable for those younger teen years.

And it’s hard as well. I know there are so many younger readers who read YA who are kind of well below the age limit that we probably are writing for. But I guess you have to just consider that exact group that you’re writing for and where you were at in your own development at that time, and what will be helpful and help make you just feel seen and normal. And rather than what might be a little confronting, if you put a little bit too much on the page, so it’s a bit of a constant balance, I think.

Rob: Like I say, I think you did a brilliant job of it, and also you kept it within the tone of the story as well, which is another thing, right? Yeah. I just thought it was so well done and, and quite frankly, lucky teenagers who get to read that and see themselves on the page.

Tobias: Yeah, it’s really cool. And I like often think what that would’ve meant to me as a kid seeing that sort of thing on the page rather than, you know, having to stay up late under the cover of darkness to find some sort of queer film on SBS that I probably shouldn’t be watching. You know, it’s just, I just feel like today’s teen are so much luckier to just be able to, to pick up a book and read it. And I love books because if they ever get too much, you can so easily just shut the book and walk away, which I think is a really, really great thing. Yeah. so yeah, I think it’ll always be something that’s pretty present in my stories in one way or another, because it’s just such a big part of being a teenager and I think it’s absolutely of really disingenuous to ignore it. Yeah. So, yeah.

Rob: Fantastic. So another thing I really appreciated how you approached in Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell was the depiction of fluidity of the feminine and masculine, particularly in the male identifying characters, of which there all there are all sexualities. So for example, we have Alex who in the past, I think we would’ve seen in books or on screen as the gay male romantic lead. And as far as he’s seemingly the most straight acting, which is an awful term, but though as a character he’s out and proud and a great example of variation within gay men. And I hope that’s not a spoiler, but was this moving away from the masculine, feminine gender binary stereotype important for you to reflect?

Tobias: Yeah, I mean, I think the love interest in my first book is a little more of a kind of stereotypical romantic lead in some ways, and not in others. But this one, I think coming into it from, you know, knowing that these are gonna be, have to be characters who are gamers and who are also kind of in that theatre world, it just felt really natural for, for both Noah and the love interest, Eli to sort of be yeah, just their own kind of unique versions of themselves. And I don’t, I don’t think I really considered, you know, too consciously the kind of balance between typically masculine and feminine traits. It’s sort of just, I just wanted them to be authentically them. And I think, you know, having spent my whole life in the theatre that sort of those personalities come to mind really easily. And so I think, yeah, it was kind of more just about making them feel like sort of their own three dimensional characters which hopefully worked.

Rob: Ah, absolutely it did. And I love, like, I keep thinking when Noah sees Eli and, you know, he talks about his softness, and it was fantastic. I haven’t seen that. Like, I haven’t read that, like that before. And it was just like, “This is beautiful.” Yeah. So I like that. And I also like Noah’s confusion with everyone stretching all around, <laugh>.

Tobias: <Laugh>.

Rob: And what is your hope for Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell out there in the world?

Tobias: Gosh, I don’t know. I hope lots of people read it to begin with and yeah, I just hope that it kind of really finds the readers who need it at that time. I think that’s all I ever kind of can hope from my books. You know, it’s not always about making a huge splash. It just, it always means so much more to know that the books find that exact reader who, who needs that book at the time. And I guess that is probably who I would’ve been writing the book for. You know you always have some kind of audience, I think in mind, you know, a more specific audience in mind when you’re writing something. And yeah, the reaction from my first book has been really wonderful and really surprising.

And some of the messages, you know, from younger readers in particular, you just go, “Oh my gosh, like this is 9000000% worth all of the struggle and the hard work and stuff,” when a book really finds that right person, that it just has such a big impact, particularly with teen readers. And so, yeah, I hope, this one finds some of the theatre crowd, you know, the kids who probably feel a bit different and a bit weird at school. Cause that’s kind of what it’s like for, you know, theatre kids and queer kids and the nerdy kids. It really is a book for kind of nerds of all kinds, I think a bit of a love letter to being nerdy. So yeah, I just hope that people sort of see themselves in the book and that it helps them kind of find their own communities, I guess.

Rob: Yeah. Beautiful, fantastic. A question we ask all our guests is a writing question and that is around any advice or top tips for writers out there and they can be younger writers, emerging writers?

Tobias: I mean, I probably don’t have anything that everyone hasn’t already heard before, but I feel like the thing that was most helpful for me when I started writing was just to really see a project through. I think when you start writing, it can be really, really tempting to, you know, start 20 different manuscripts. And there’s always these shiny new ideas. But you will learn so much more from writing a whole book and taking it as far as you can. Like, try and query some literary agents, just do every step of that process and just see what happens. And even if it turns into nothing, which was my experience with my first manuscript you know, the things that you have learned along the way are just so invaluable because getting past that halfway point in writing a first draft things just change completely. And even having to edit a first draft and to look at that and to look at your own work objectively, there’s just so much to gain from sticking with something. So yeah, I would say just whatever it is, finish it because you will not regret it.

Rob: Fantastic. That’s great advice. Thank you. And on the show, we also have a shout out question. But first, how can listeners connect with you on socials or any book events coming up? We will put these in the show notes.

Tobias: Yeah. Perfect. So, Instagram’s probably the best place. I’m trying to minimize. <Laugh> my social media use at the moment. ‘Cause everything else is so busy. So Instagram’s the best and my handle is @Tobias_Madden or my website, which you can just Google my name and it should come up has a contact form as well, if you want to get in touch kind of the old fashioned way. Great. But yeah, I love, I love chatting to people online, chatting, writing, and chatting books. And I have tons and tons of book recommendations on my Instagram as well, which is always really handy.

Rob: Yeah. And events do, where can they find those?

Tobias: I don’t think my events are on the website. I really should put them on there. <Laugh> but I think by the time anyone is listening to this, most of my events for the year might have wrapped up, I think. I have I’m just trying to think what’s actually been announced what I’m gonna talk about. I can’t remember. But all of that I posted about on my Instagram as well, so it really is kind of the hub for all, all things.

Rob: Yeah. Excellent. And would you like to shout out any LGBTIQA Plus artists books, art shows, organizations?

Tobias: Yeah, I mean, there’s so many brilliant queer YA writers in Australia now. People like Gary Lonesborough and Hanan wild and Holden Sheppard and Alice Boyle and gosh, I mean I could go on and on, but yeah, the full list of shoutouts is also probably on my Instagram. But there are a few at the top of my head. Just fantastic writers. We we’re so lucky here in Australia.

Rob: Yeah. It’s brilliant. Really is fantastic. And our closing question for you Tobias Madden is what is your hope for the LGBTIQA Plus communities?

Tobias: I hope that we just keep moving forward and just keep doing our thing. I think it’s just such a beautiful community rich in so many ways and you know, so much diversity within our community. And I think the more that we can put our stories out there, whatever they may be, the better. I think there are so many different kinds of queer experiences. And I think the more we can share about all of them the more the whole world will understand, and the more accepted everyone will be, and the more we’ll all just be able to get on with our lives and do our thing. <Laugh>

Rob: That’s fantastic. Absolutely. Imagine that! Thank you so much. So that’s Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell, which is out now. Thanks again for being part of the show.

Tobias: No worries. Thank you so much for having me.