Author Interview: David Lawrence and Trent 'Maxi' Maxwell
I’m a big fan of junior fiction novels, particularly those which combine humour with great themes and an engaging way for kids to learn things (without realising they are!). Affirm Press recently published the first books in a new series that does just that - Maxi the Lifeguard.
Created in a partnership between experienced children’s author and comedian David Lawrence, and Bondi Rescue’s Lifeguard Maxi (Trent ‘Maxi’ Maxwell), with hilarious illustrations by Peter Baldwin, the series promotes water safety in a fun way.
Today I’m excited to chat with David and Maxi about their new series. Let’s see what they had to say.
Welcome David, welcome Maxi! Can you tell us a bit about your new book series?
David (D): Maxi the Lifeguard is a fun, adventure-based series set on Bondi Beach, that’s filled with important water safety tips for kids. The central character is 11 year-old Trent ‘Maxi’ Maxwell, and he and his two ‘besties’, Rach and Felix, have to overcome bullies (and the odd incompetent adult) to help save their Club, their beach and even people’s lives.
Maxi (M): Maxi the Lifeguard books are action-packed stories following Little Maxi’s quest to be a lifeguard. They’re loosely based around my own experiences of growing up on the beaches in Sydney.
How many books are in the series, and when will the next ones be released?
Book 1 In Deep Water (with a blue cover) and Book 2 The Stormy Protest (with a yellow cover) came out first, at the end of September. Book 3 Beach Battle was published more recently; keep a lookout for the red cover on this one!
What was the inspiration behind writing this particular series?
D: We wanted to do something about the tragic (and mostly preventable) drownings that occur at beaches, rivers, lakes, pools, dams etc. right around the world, every day of every year. Our goal was to make the series fun and accessible, so that as many kids as possible will read them before they hit the beach during summer.
M: Every hour of every day, there are 40 drowning deaths around the world. These tragedies are mostly preventable and the key is education and awareness. I wanted to use my experience as a lifeguard on Bondi Beach over the past 12 years to make it fun and easy for kids to learn about water safety. Each story is scattered with water safety messages and at the back of each book there are practical tips for staying safe in and around the water. If the series helps to save even one life, it will all have been worth it.
How did this partnership come to be?
D: It’s one of those ‘it’s a small world’ stories. Leigh Mason (Maxi’s business partner) was searching for an author to collaborate with Maxi, and one of her interstate friends said, ‘Hey, there’s this David guy in my wine club who’s always banging on about his children’s books …’ and so she put us in contact. I met up with Leigh and Maxi in Bondi just to see if we were a good fit, and less than a minute into the meeting we were brainstorming characters!
M: From our very first meeting David became ‘Big Wave Dave’ and we connected over a shared vision for the books. We’re very proud of how the series has come together.
How do you hope readers will connect with the book, and/or what do you want them to take away from it?
D: I really hope they’ll be able to relate to (and see bits of themselves) in young Maxi and his friends, as well as some of the issues raised in the book (e.g. cyber-bullying and looking after our beaches and the environment). The book includes themes like goal setting and working as a team, but even if the kids only take away the importance of wearing sunscreen and swimming between the flags, that’s a pretty good start.
M: I hope young readers will relate to the characters of Little Max and his friends, and be inspired by the books’ messages of teamwork, persistence and goal setting. The other important messages in the books are around water safety, for kids to learn about, including rips (book 1), heatstroke (book 2), and first aid basics and DRS ABCD (book 3). This information gives young readers the tools to know what to do if something should go wrong when around water.
What kinds of comments have you been getting from kids who have read the first books?
We are getting great feedback. Kids are saying they love the twists in the stories; they can’t put the books down; and they were waiting for Book 3 to come out!
Do you have any suggestions on ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the books?
D: There are some fabulous teacher’s notes that go with the books: https://www.pegiwilliams.com.au/pdfs/teachernotes/9781925584967.pdf
These include some great discussion points and a number of fun activities.
M: There are lots of conversations that can come out of the series, around the messages of teamwork, persistence and how to stay determined. Also, I would love every family to have a conversation about the beach safety tips so everyone is prepared for a day at the beach.
Are there any tidbits from the publishing process of this book that you could share for other authors, with regards to working with the publisher?
M: Hopefully authors can find a publisher like I did that is passionate about your project. Remember to be patient; it takes more time and energy than you would imagine to get the best result.
Any tips for other creatives looking to partner on a series?
D: Be prepared to listen and compromise, even though that can be difficult if you’re used to writing on your own. Normally the reason you are working with a partner is that they possess different but complimentary skill sets.
This is definitely the case with Maxi and me! I know less about lifesaving than Donald Trump knows about tact, so Maxi’s input around water safety and creating the Bondi Beach backdrop was crucial to the series.
M: Stay true to your idea and find someone who is aligned with it.
What's something you wished you had known earlier in your career?
D: To buy Microsoft shares in 1986.
And also how important it is to pursue a career that you’re passionate about, not one that will make everyone else happy.
M: To be honest, life is a journey and you need experiences to make you who you are today. I wouldn’t change much. But one thing I will say is to never put your dreams or ideas in other people’s hands – you will only get 20% out of them; when you have full control you give 100%.
Best investment you've made during your career?
D: I worked at an oil company as a Financial Analyst and one day a mysterious email came through saying ‘If you don’t mind cracking a joke in front of a large audience, come to this meeting!’
Attending that meeting (where I met Australian TV comedy writing guru, Mike McColl-Jones) changed my life. I resigned a few months later to write and perform comedy.
M: Meeting my business partner Leigh Mason in 2014. We’ve worked together to create the books and now a social enterprise that takes Live Learn Survive workshops to kids all over Australia.
Maxi, what's the strangest thing you've ever seen (or done!) at the beach?
Honestly, I have seen and done so much over the years – just when you think you have seen it all, something tops it. Bondi attracts all different types of people so you always see fun, weird, strange and wonderful things.
If you had to do a different kind of job, what would you do?
D: As mentioned, I once did have to do a different kind of job … and I could never go back!
That was a long, long time ago and I ended up creating a business (with the amazing Jo Gill) where we entertain and educate people through performing and writing … and I love it!
In recent years the Indigenous Literacy Foundation has given me the wonderful opportunity to work with (and even write books with) kids in remote communities. I can’t imagine doing any job that would be more rewarding than that.
M: I’m a full time firefighter for Fire & Rescue NSW. I currently work out of City of Sydney Fire Station; on my days off as a firefighter I work at a casual lifeguard on the Waverley beaches (Bondi, Bronte, Tamarama). I already have the best of both worlds doing my two dream jobs.