Posted by: nancyisanders | September 3, 2009

Author Interview: Susanne Gervay

Susanne photo
Meet Author Susanne Gervay!

Susanne Gervay is an award winning short story writer published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, with her story included in ‘Fear Factor Terror Incognito’ with Sir Salman Rushdie, David Malouf, Thomas Keneally published by Picador India.

Her children’s and young adult novels are recognized for their relevance to social justice. Her children’s novel I Am Jack, a rite-of-passage book on school bullying; Butterflies recognised as Outstanding Youth Literature on Disability; The Cave, exposing youth male culture awarded the Society of Women Writers Biennial Book Award.  Susanne’s books are endorsed by organizations including Room to Read, bringing literacy to the children of developing countries, the Children’s Hospital (Westmead) Sydney, Life Education Australia, The Alannah & Madeline Foundation. Her young adult novel, set against the background of youth music is a unique combination of text and music where lyrics, songs, film are integrated into story. That’s Why I Wrote This Song is a collaboration with her song writer-singer daughter Tory, who wrote the music that drives the book.

I Am Jack has been adapted into a play by the award winning MONKEYBAA Theatre and is being performed in major theatres in Australia and internationally.

Susanne Gervay is on the board of the NSW Writers Centre holding the youth portfolio, Chair of The Sydney Children’s Writers & Illustrators Network at The Hughenden, co-head of Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Australia & New Zealand, has been awarded The Lady Cutler Award for Distinguished Services to Children’s Literature and Professional Achievement Award for Literature from University of Technology Sydney.


Featured Book:
I Am Jack

Q: How do you hope to influence today’s young readers through this book series?
Through emotionally engaging young people and adults in story journey, I Am Jack works against school bullying. Its sequel Super Jack gives young people a voice as they face the challenges of real life – aging grandparents, blending families, the events of life including bush fires and even terrorism and that search for peace.

I Am Jack is a rite of passage book in Australia on school bullying. It is now being published in the USA by Tricycle an imprint of Random House.

The Alannah & Madeline Foundation whose charter is ‘keeping children safe from violence’ endorses I Am Jack:-

Susanne Gervay’s I Am Jack is a significant resource for parents, students and teachers. School bullying can have a devastating effect on a child and the school community. It can happen to anyone. Through story journey, I AM JACK emotionally engages the bullied, bully, other children, teachers, parents exploring important ways to create a safer place.

Room to Read bringing literacy to the children of the developing world endorses I Am Jack:-

I Am Jack is a wonderful book recognizing the importance of kids, reading and literacy.

Written after my son Jack was bullied at school, it is assessable, warm, funny and feels real to readers.

The strength of Jack is the family love, humor and humanity of family and community. I Am Jack can empower leaders to lead for justice or comfort a child who’s afraid or challenge a group to not walk away or support a parent to be their child’s advocate or reveal those times when a teacher can hear the student speak. For those who are bullied, it can offer help and hope. For students who watch while others are victimized, it empowers them to act. It supports parents as their children’s advocates and protectors. It re-emphasizes to teachers the signs of bullying and strategies to counter it. It opens essential communication and establishes that society can work towards a fair and safe school with the support of family, friends, teachers and the children.

I Am Jack has been adapted into a play by Monkey Baa Theatre which is touring Australia and internationally in 2010.

Q: Describe part of the process it took to write the Jack Books.
The process of writing I Am Jack is life.

My son was bullied at school. I couldn’t believe that I did not know. Jack and I have a loving and open relationship, yet my twelve-year-old son did not tell me. I am a specialist in child growth and development, yet I did not see it. My children are the centre of my life, yet I wasn’t there for my son.

How did I discover the bullying? The father of Jack’s friend rang me to say that Jack was in trouble. I confronted Jack. It was painful as he broke down, as I broke down. He didn’t want to go back to school again. My son was afraid at school and I didn’t know. I felt such a failure.

Bullying is so insidious. It starts with nothing. A joke that gets out of control. A casual comment that escalates into a war. A child who comes back to school after being sick and new social groups have formed. Jealousy, insecurity, fun, fear. There are all sorts of reasons that begin the process of bullying. My Jack is a ‘normal’ boy. He makes jokes, argues with his sister, kicks a ball, tries to get out of homework, loves to take photographs and make things. Yet he was bullied. It started with a joke. That’s all. A joke.

The common factor in bullying is isolating a child, then a group targeting that child. There are no restrictions once bullying seriously comes into play. Teasing, physical aggression, humiliation, rejection from social play, scape-goating, loss of friends, are all part of bullying. That is what happened to my son. I could hardly breath from the pain of discovering what he experienced. Yet my Jack went to school facing bullying. I wouldn’t have. Every day, was a day of survival for Jack. How would he make it? He had to devise plans and strategies. He read magazines about karate. Maybe that would help. He ignored the bullies. Maybe that would help. He laughed when they attacked him. Maybe that would help. In the end, Jack just had to make it through the day.

The most dangerous times were when there was no teacher or parent around – before school, recess, lunchtime, after school. Jack discovered safe places such as the library and hiding behind the toilets. He’d also try to arrive late to school and to class. He knew that the most his teacher would do was shout at him, but he wouldn’t kill Jack. He wasn’t sure of that on the playground. School became a prison for Jack.

The only real power my Jack had, was to tell an adult. To speak to me or a teacher. However it’s hard to tell. In Jack’s mind, telling could open a Pandora’s box. The bullying could get worse. If the bullies found out, maybe they’d really kill him. He really felt that he should be able to handle it without his mother or a teacher. But how could he? A child being bullied is a victim, which means he has no power. In addition Jack didn’t want to put more pressure on me. I work and raise the children. Jack didn’t realize that he is more important than work. Always.

There were a few times that Jack did try and tell me that he was in trouble. The problem is that children often don’t know when to tell. Sometimes adults can’t hear their children. Try and get my attention when I’m on the phone. I’m likely to say ‘go away.’ Try and tell a teacher when she’s in the middle of class activities. She’s likely to say ‘later’. Children have to learn when to speak. For me it’s in the evening, when the day’s activities are over and the house is tidy and I’m sitting on the lounge with a cup of coffee. I can hear Jack then. He asked at the wrong time and I said to my son, ‘later’. He felt I didn’t care. That I did not love him. My Jack felt alone.

When I discovered that my Jack was being bullied, I fulfilled my Jack’s worst nightmare. Yes, I went up to the school. Yes, he was scared. Yes, the school acted. Yes the bully was called up. I gave my Jack the option. If he wanted to change schools, I’d arrange that. Personally I would not have had the courage to stay at his school.

Jack’s teacher asked him to give the school a chance. Asked Jack if he’d be prepared to work together to stop bullying not only for Jack but for other kids. Jack agreed. It took six months for things to really change. The teacher spoke to all the kids in Jack’s year. Many of the children involved in bullying were surprised that Jack was in trouble. They didn’t hate Jack. It was just a game or it was a safe thing to be in the bully’s group or they didn’t think about Jack at all. Jack’s friends were ashamed that they had abandoned him because they had been afraid they’d be bullied. Kids not involved in the bullying realized that they should have protected Jack and other children who were being bullied. Teachers and parents aren’t in the playground all the time. But the rest of the children are. It was up to them to create a fair and just school

The bully and his supporters were counseled. The bully was withdrawn from the playground and helped because he really wanted acceptance and friends. Aggression wasn’t the right way. A new form of leadership was developing where children acted to protect those in trouble. Strategies were put into practice, where ‘ordinary’ kids could become ‘heroes’. When they saw a kid isolated and alone, they called him/her over to join their game of handball. If a kid was seriously being bullied, they could go as a group and report the problem. It was up to them not to follow the bully. There were many actions that kids could do to counter bullying.

Eventually my Jack worked through the bullying. He didn’t have to run away from his school. By the end he felt good about himself, had great friends, loved his school, did his school work, played soccer and learnt that society can be a fair place. He also learnt that his family is there for him.

My process of writing I Am Jack and Super Jack is to take life and translate it through fictional narrative into story that emotionally reaches the reader.

Q: Where do you get most of your ideas?
My ideas come from events that I experience or read about or feel strongly about. I emotionally engage in people and ideas and this drives my writing be it from burns which I wrote about in my young adult novel Butterflies to school bullying in I Am Jack. I care about what I write and hope that my readers care and are challenged to think about the world and their place in it.

Q: Share one tip you would like to give an unpublished writer about breaking into the world of publishing and getting their first piece published.
The biggest tip is a writer’s willingness to work on your craft to ensure that your piece is as good as it can be. This means having an open mind, so that you can accept critiques and take from those comments what you believe in. Without the courage to look at your writing honestly, it is unlikely you will ever be published. It means having a critique group, going to workshops, assessing your manuscript, looking for opportunities where you can develop your writing, joining groups and study writing through university and writing courses. The added benefit is that once you begin the submission process, you have a support group for disappointments and successes.


  1. Wow! What a powerful piece of writing–your heartfelt comments about how your son was bullied and how you felt about it.

    A few weeks ago I emailed my grown son that I’d run into “John,” a former classmate, at the bookstore and that John had said to say hello. My son emailed back that John was one of two students who had bullied him in school.

    I never knew. Sadly, kids often just don’t tell.

    Thanks for sharing, Susanne.

    And thanks, Nancy, for hosting Susanne’s interview.

  2. Susanne you are such an inspiration. Your book I am Jack has really helped my younger brother cope with bullying. We didn’t even know that he was being bullied for years, but with the help of your book he finally reached out for help. I recommend it to everyone!

    I really feel it is such an important book, even if you have never experienced bullying yourself, because a lot of people really don’t understand what it is like for someone who lives through it.

    I am just about to start reading your novel Butterflies and I can’t wait! Keep on writing so I can keep reading!!

    Sal x

  3. I AM JACK will now be out on 13th october and I hope it touches others like it has Sal and Evelyn

    Thankyou for these beautiful responses


  4. Susanne, this is such great news! We’re hoping for the best for this book!

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