Neil Montagnana-Wallace was born in Australia, but his father is Scottish, his mother is English and his brother is American. His wife is Italian-Australian, and when they got married, they decided to stick their names together and make the most confusing surname in the world.
Neil was a handy soccer player who didn’t make it in England, but played in Victoria’s State Leagues for fifteen years. He’s a Senior Licence coach, and wrote Our Socceroos in 2004 - which was how he struck up a friendship with Mark and ultimately how the seeds of Megs were sown.
The young Neil grew up in Castle Hill, NSW where he attended Castle Hill Primary and James Ruse before moving to Melbourne and going to Melbourne High School. After living in Rome in 2005, Neil now speaks Italian, and has learnt to enjoy olives. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Val, young sons Finn and Angus, his two cats Flash and Mao and three chooks - Jane, Mary and Truly Scrumptious. When not writing, Neil is the Publishing Director of Bounce Books.
In England Neil supports Coventry City; in Italy he supports Roma; in Scotland he supports Dunfermline and in Australia he supports Melbourne Victory. His record for juggling is 891, and his career highlight was one glorious training session years ago where he managed six beautiful nutmegs.
Q&A with Neil
Did you always love writing?
To be honest, not as much as I loved doing other things. I liked school and most subjects (except arty, crafty ones) but writing didn’t stand out as a favourite. It does now.
How did you get into writing?
I went to university and studied business and marketing, then had a range of marketing jobs in various companies. I had to write reports and proposals and business communication, then I did a course in creative copywriting to help write good advertising and brochures.
Then I was in a good job that I didn’t like and the urge to write got stronger and stronger. So I left that job, and started writing - and I’m still doing it. It’s something I am very proud of but it hasn’t come easily.
Do you do anything else?
I run a publishing company called Bounce Books. It’s a challenge to be a business person and a writer but it’s a great mix.
What’s the most important bit about writing?
I think there are two things. One is the idea… you can’t get anywhere without one! Spend time on the idea before anything else. And the second is to keep at it. Writing is slow and solitary and you need to be dedicated. But don’t worry, it’s worth it.
Where did the idea of Megs come from?
I was teaching English in Italy with my wife and was surrounded by heaps of Italian kids who couldn’t speak much English. But then when we played football together, everything was so much easier. That started the idea, then I combined it with my own memories of playing football when I was younger and the idea grew. After that I spoke a lot with my wife – who’s a school teacher - then also with Mark Schwarzer, who added his experiences as well. Together, we created Megs and all the Vootball Kids characters, and only then did the writing start for real.
Why the long name?
Well, my mother is English and my father is Scottish and that’s where the Wallace comes from. Then in 2002 I married Val Montagnana who is of Italian background. We put our names together and we’re pretty sure that she and I and our two kids are the only four people in the world with such a name. We think that’s pretty cool!
What other things do you write?
At Bounce Books, we publish Megs as well as others including books for businesses that are celebrating something, or want to produce a book to promote themselves. I write some of those books, as well as some marketing and advertising work.
Megs and the Vootball Kids
Megs, Scarves and Sombreros
Megs and the Crazy Legs
Megs and the Complete Left Foot
Fletchers – A Journey Through Melbourne’s East
A-List International (www.thealistinternational.com)
Whatever It Is, This Is What It Is, with Les Erdi (biography)
Thiess 75 Years: Imagine Our Future