Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (February 7, 2017)
“Funny, heartfelt, and likely to appeal to reluctant readers, especially boys on the cusp of puberty” --School Library Journal
“A refreshing take on body image, acceptance and the need to fit in. The novel’s moments of profundity are subtle yet powerful, and masterfully balanced with humour. Spurt is appealingly naughty.” --Books+Publishing
It’s our tool for sharing and embracing our common humanity; it’s how we remind ourselves of who we are and what we can be. And it’s one of those rare things that’s nourishing and pleasurable at the same time.
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I think the ambition to become a writer really struck when I was in my early teens, when I realised that being on my own and inventing stories in my head a) didn’t mean I was crazy and b) was something you could do professionally. Or at least semi-professionally.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
Instead of studying literature or English or arts at university, which you’d think might be better preparation for being a writer, I actually studied accounting and economics. Though ‘studied’ implies that I actually turned up, which I mostly didn’t. Because — spoiler — I did not actually want to be an accountant or economist.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I think I was 10 or 11, and it was a Mad Max inspired post-apocalyptic story, but all the characters were leather-clad balls of fuzzy felt instead of leather-clad road warriors. I wrote my first actual children’s novel in my mid-twenties, though it has never been published.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
In elementary school we had an emergency teacher (like a relief teacher, not sure what the word is in the States) who took us into the cellar of the old headmaster’s house attached to our school and told us a scary story about a grisly murder. The story ended with him telling us that the bodies from the murder were buried right where we were sitting. So I guess what I learned was that emergency teachers can be real jerks sometimes.
In your new book; SPURT, can you tell my Book Nerd Kids Community a little about it and why they should read your novel?
_Spurt_’s about an eighth-grader called Jack Sprigley who hasn’t hit puberty yet, and thinks he’s being left behind by his friends. So he decided to try to ‘fake puberty’ and convince the world that he really has ‘manned up’. Except he learns that manning up isn’t exactly what he thinks it is.
I think anyone who has had the experience of not feeling like they ‘measure up’ in some way would get something out of Spurt, but hopefully anyone can read it and get some laughs from Jack’s cringeworthy exploits and the situations he gets himself into.
For those who are unfamiliar with Jack, how would you introduce him?
Jack is basically a decent kid, but when we meet him at the start of the book it’s fair to say he’s a little bit self-absorbed, and too fixated on comparing himself to other people. He was on a reality TV show called Bigwigs when he was in sixth-grade but it was a bit of a weird experience, and not necessarily in a good way, so it’s not something he talks about much. Eventually he’s led astray by his need to prove himself, but I think his good nature comes through in the end.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think Jack would have a lot in common with Adrian Mole from the Adrian Mole series by Sue Townshend. Both are them are having problems with puberty, and they’re both a bit naive and deluded, though Adrian is probably a bit more pretentious about it than Jack.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
We are not always the same person from moment to moment, but we can sometimes find ourselves in situations where we lose touch with who we really are, so my life advice would be to try to compassionately measure yourself not against other people but against the best, most ideal version of yourself you can imagine.
I just realised that maybe you meant writing advice, in which case: try to remember to stand up and walk around for a bit every twenty minutes or so.
What’s the most memorable summer job you’ve ever had?
I was pretty lazy and spent most of my summers (you guessed it) writing stories, but while I was at university a friend had a summer job collecting fares at the local rubbish dump. I used to hang out with him there and after hours we’d lock the gates, get in his car and take turns doing burnouts in the rubbish dump.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a kid?
Honestly, the 80s was a pretty interesting time to be a kid (that was the decade I grew up in). There was an amazing explosion of pop culture, really, plus you had the spectre of nuclear war looming over you. But if I had to choose another decade, it would be the 60s, because that’s when Doctor Who first aired and it would have been cool to be in the playground at the peak of Dalekmania.
What scares you the most and why?
Depending on the day, it’s either the apparently inevitable environmental catastrophe we’re hurtling towards or accidentally giving someone bad bus directions, which I did recently.
What is your greatest adventure?
Probably my first overseas trip, in my twenties. I went to Turkey and Europe. I caught a ferry from Turkey to Venice, and arriving in Venice by sea was like a dream come true.
Where would you bury hidden treasure if you had some?
I like to obey rules, so I’d probably find some sort of designated hidden treasure burial zone and do whatever they told me.
When was the last time you cried?
When did the last Pixar film come out? Probably then.
What was your favorite book as a child and why?
As a child I mostly read Garfield and Peanuts and Doctor Who novelisations, but I remember also having a soft spot for an Enid Blyton book called Hello, Mr. Twiddle. Mr. Twiddle was an old man who would do things like accidentally put his alarm clock in the oven. I guess as a child I was just hungry for stories about people suffering from age-related cognitive decline.
Where can readers find you?
I’m on Facebook at facebook.com/chrismilesauthor, and I have a website at chrismiles.com.au
01. “Sometime around the end of seventh grade, Jack had started noticing the changes. Darylyn’s pimples. The hair above Reese’s lip and under his arms. Vivi becoming, to the extent that Jack had looked, more ‘boobs-having.’”
02. “‘We’re all in the middle of big changes in our lives, right? You, me, Reese, Darylyn… me… We’re all growing up. Our minds, our bodies. Definitely mine are.’”
“Natsumi Distagio’s tan was just that shade more perfect than anyone else’s. Her eyes, nose, and mouth were crucial millimeters closer to ideal. Her hair had optimum bounce and luster.
03. Natsumi Distagio — and Jack felt this was no exaggeration — was a hottie of sufficient magnitude to be one of those models who stood at the back of the stage during the presentation of a People’s Choice Award.”
04. “Sometime between the end of sixth grade and the start of seventh, Oliver Sampson had been swept up in the biggest testosterone tsunami in recorded history. Over the course of a single summer break he’d tripled in size in every direction. When he’d stripped down in the locker room that first week of junior high, the other new seventh graders literally cowered, as if they’d received a visitation from some extraterrestrial superbeing.”
05. “Jack wondered if he’d made a terrible mistake, turning away from his Bigwigs semifame. He should have cashed it in as a kind of popularity insurance policy. Maybe then it wouldn’t have been so easy for everyone to leave him behind. As it was, he felt like an embarrassing leftover from another time. A time before pubes.”
06. “‘Manhood, you see, is not something that just happens,’ said Mr Trench. ‘It’s something that has to be taken charge of. There’s a whole army of male sex hormones lying idle within you, Sprigley. An undisciplined rabble just waiting for a general to marshal them into action. It’s you who must lead the charge. You must act like a man in order to become a man.’
07. “Jack was afraid that if he tried to use the Bigwigs reunion to rescue his reputation, he’d only sink further into a humiliation of national proportions. Because all the producers had to do was show one clip of Jack from when he’d been a contestant on the show, and the whole country would see that he looked and sounded the same as he did in sixth grade: fresh-faced and freckled, like a woodland creature in an old Disney cartoon.”
08. “‘This is reality TV, Jack. The last thing we want you to be is yourself.’”
09. “Soon Jack would be standing up in front of the whole town to launch the balloon festival, before soaring through the heavens to victory in his very own mayoral chariot. With his official duties finally over for the day, Jack grabbed himself an energy shake and walked home via the Bernadino Mall. All through the day, everywhere he’d gone, he’d been welcomed like a king. Every door in Upland was open to him. It was almost enough to stop him thinking about the typically disappointing results of that morning’s pube tally. (Zero.)”
10. “Jack forgot himself for a moment. He wasn’t Jack the Mayor for a Week, or Jack the Bigwig, or even Jack the pubeless weirdo freak-boy. The world suddenly seemed vast and full of possibility. He felt, for that moment at least, the freedom not to be anything or anyone at all.”
Jack Sprigley isn’t just a late-bloomer. He’s a no bloomer: an eighth grader, and puberty is still a total no-show. Worse yet, he hasn’t heard from his friends all winter vacation. He assumes they’ve finally dumped him and his child-like body—until he finds out it’s much worse than that. His friends are now so far ahead of him that they’ve started dating. Jack is out of luck. But then he comes up with a plan to catch up and win his friends back. And his plan is perfect: he just has to fake puberty.
(From pages 176 – 177)
“O-okay . . . ,” said Delilah. “I better get these guys working on their masterpiece. But first”—she touched Jack’s shoulder and leaned in close—“can I have a word? I just remembered something.”
Todd and Brett started packing up their equipment, leaving Darylyn, Philo, and Reese standing around looking slightly lost. Jack let himself be led away by Delilah.
“What is it?” he asked.
Delilah crossed her arms. “This girlfriend of yours, the one you mentioned the first day of filming. Nats. We haven’t seen her. We haven’t got any vision of her. She should really be with you when you open the balloon festival.”
“Oh,” said Jack. “Um. Well—”
“Be straight with me, Jack. She doesn’t exist, does she?”
“Of course she exists!” said Jack.
This, at least, was technically true. Nats did exist. Just not in a being-the-girlfriend-of-Jack-Sprigley sense.
Delilah stared at him for a moment. “I’m not judging you. I just want to know: Is this is another thing I need to ‘make happen’? Because I’m going to be extremely busy between now and the weekend, getting the plans for these two balloons to the seamstresses—”
Delilah looked temporarily lost for words. “It’s just . . . insurance. In case the first one doesn’t work out.” She looked Jack in the eye. “So we’re solid on the Nats thing? There’s nothing I need to do?”
Jack wondered if Delilah really could find a way to fix him up with Nats. She’d already proved she had the power to change reality. Jack clicked his fingers, Delilah transported him to a firing range, summoned up a fishing boat, pulled the strings to make him Mayor for a Week. It just fell into his lap, without him even having to do anything. He was starting to wonder if that was a good thing.
“No,” he said. “It’s all good. It’s all taken care of.”