Joanita Wibowo


5 minutes with author Bernard Gallate

5 minutes with author Bernard Gallate

In 5 minutes with authorOver60 asks book writers about their literary habits and preferences. Next in this series is Bernard Gallate, a writer, illustrator and teacher based in Sydney. He worked in the animation industry for companies such as Hanna-Barbera and Walt Disney before turning to writing and illustrating children’s books. His first contemporary novel, The Origin of Me is out now.

Over60 talked with Gallate about creating children’s books, dealing with writers’ block, and Ruth Park’s timeless work.

Over60: What is your best writing tip? Alternatively, what is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?

Bernard Gallate: Good tip: Experiment with perspective. Instead of always writing from within a character, step back a little and give them free reign occasionally, as if you’re observing them doing their own thing.

Worst tip: “Keep writing regardless of how you’re feeling”. I think it’s ultimately more productive to spend a little time tending to your internal state, instead of pressing on defiantly in a terrible mood. Small excursions and occasional treats are always beneficial.

How did you find writing a novel compared to writing children’s books?

I think everything has to be more distilled, more concise when writing children’s books because of the size restrictions dictated by format. There was definitely more freedom to explore multiple ideas in the early stages of writing my novel, The Origin of Me. Later in the process though, structuring and re-structuring became a huge challenge – especially with a dual narrative involved.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’ve just started The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell.

What was the last book that made you laugh?

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. It’s about a young woman, Lillian, who’s cajoled into becoming the nanny of twins who spontaneously combust when upset. The premise sounds grisly, but the book is a hilarious spin on the tale of an underdog prevailing against the odds.

When it comes to writing, do you plan ahead or go with the flow?

I prepare as much as possible, then jump right in and yield to the flow whenever it comes and wherever it takes me. Going somewhere unexpected and maybe a little risky is always preferable to stagnating. I wrote a 25-page synopsis for The Origin of Me, but the story was constantly evolving right up to the final draft.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I give myself permission to play, go on an excursion, a walk or a swim. The solution often comes when I’m not fixated on finding it. If a scene is a bit stodgy, I challenge myself to transform it into something tasty, or remove it. A lot of my worst sections have become favourites.

Which author, deceased or living, would you most like to have dinner with?

Ruth Park. Her widely acclaimed first novel, The Harp in the South, has never been out of print. And after twelve years of working at The Rocks Discovery Museum, I still have young visitors telling me that Playing Beatie Bow is their favourite book. I love her descriptions of Sydney’s Surry Hills and The Rocks in earlier, leaner times, and her characters are unforgettable.

What trope grinds your gears?

The gay character being portrayed as witty, flamboyant and neurotic but destined for a tragic ending like a briefly spectacular firework is a bit overdone. Hopefully my character, Pericles Pappas, is a bit more nuanced. I’m always a sucker for the outsider finding their place in the world, and for the average protagonist doing something exceptional.