Q&A: Carl Merrison, Author of Backyard Footy

Q&A: Carl Merrison, Author of Backyard Footy

Tell us about your book.

Backyard Footy is about growing up in a small, remote community in the heart of the Kimberley. It was inspired by my lived experiences – without phones, PlayStations, the internet, social media. But life isn’t so different in remote communities now: friendship, active, outdoors, waterholes, hunting, fishing.

What inspired the idea behind this book?

I was on a drive from Halls Creek to Broome, which is about a 7-hour drive. My ex-partner and I were talking about story ideas and brainstorming and I told the story of jumping fences as a kid and playing in each other’s yards all day till dark. When the Blak&Write Fellowship came up, I remembered the brainstorm and chose one of the story ideas from the list to use.

How did you go about developing your characters?

Backyard Footy is a 24-page picture book- so there isn’t as much character development as there is in my other books! A lot of the character development is actually done by the illustrations- the way they interact, their facial expressions, their body language, the fun they have. I used the names of real-life Halls Creek AFL and AFLW characters. But it was like what me and my mates did when we were younger. I had the young kids of Halls Creek in mind when writing this book, so they could see themselves in it and know their pathways too.

What are you hoping readers will take away from your book?

The diversity of First Nations people in outback communities- that you can’t stereotype or assume that all First Nations people are the same. I want readers to see our strengths – family and community-orientated, healthy living.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

Brainstorm on long drives, talk with my writing mentors, use real-life lived events, and think about what kids in the schools I have worked would have enjoyed reading about, then write that. I sometimes use speech-to-text to get the words on the page. For this book, I was also fortunate enough to have the team from Blak&Write QLD State Library support with editing and improving the manuscript.

What were your favourite books as a child?

Comics, footy books, non-fiction books about sport.

What are you reading right now?

Personally, Barefoot Investor. But I also read a book each night to my daughter (and my son before that) so Rainbow Fairies is actually on my bedside table!

Where did the idea for this book come from?

My lived experience growing up in a small town in the Kimberley. The way my mates and I were always out and about having fun.

How does this book compare to your other books?

The Backyard Sports series has similar themes, setting and characters as my other books, Black Cockatoo (Magabala 2018), Dirrarn (Magabala 2023), Tracks of the Missing (Magabala 2022) and My Deadly Boots (Lothian 2022). My Deadly Boots and Backyard Footy actually complement each other really well.

What advice would you give to aspiring Kids/YA authors?

Don’t shoot yourself down too quickly if it feels too hard. We all have stories worth telling. You just need to right team around you to help you find the right one.

Try to write about things you are passionate about. I have been playing football since I was small, helped my dad with oval maintenance when he worked as a groundsman with the council, played all my life with Halls Creek Hawks, coached Halls Creek Hawks/Lismore Swans/Coolangatta Bluebirds, worked with the Clontarf Foundation and Garnduwa Elite Sports Pathway, got my Level 3 Coaching Certificate, and done work experience with Brisbane Lions. So footy finds its way into most of my books. When you write about something you love, writing doesn’t feel like a chore and it’s easier to push through challenges with your story when they come up.

What’s next? Do you have any new spectacular stories you’re working on/hope to work on?

The other books in the Backyard Sports series come out next year and the year after – Backyard Tennis and Backyard Basketball. The Kimberley Kickers series with HarperCollins starts coming out next year. Beautiful Night illustrated by Dub Leffler comes out with Lothian next year. Loved You Then will be released with Lothian in 2025. And Our Lake will come out with Lothian in 2026. Plus any other books that get signed along the way! I highly recommend following us on social media to stay up to date with the new books. I also release a teacher resource pack with every book to make book and novel studies less time-consuming for the teacher.

Who is your favourite character in the book/series? Who are you most similar to?

I love them all.

Can you give us an outline of the story and characters?

Jy is kicking around in his backyard when the ball accidentally goes over the fence. The children explore community, collecting teammates on the way.

Did you always plan to be an author? What led you to where you are today?

I remember writing a manuscript in year 3 and feeling really proud. Obviously, I did assignments in school. But I didn’t think I was going to be a writer. Collaborating with others has helped me grow and see the value in my stories. Time to write while awaiting the birth of my daughter, a passion to improve literacy in remote outback students, and wanting my daughter to have connection to Country no matter where she is.

What’s some great advice you’ve received that has helped you as a writer?

I have been really fortunate with the help and support of people around me. Rachel Bin Salleh from Magabala took a punt on my first book. Shel Sweeney from A Worded Life has been a great editor and mentor. Alex Adsett has been amazing at finding homes for my books. The Blak&Write Fellowship team were really supportive and helpful in crafting this series. My friend, Hakea Hustler, and I enjoy bouncing story ideas off each other. I don’t think I can come up with a specific thing that’s been said – but teamwork is amazing.

How did you think of the title of the book?

A series of Backyard Sports books meant that it was easy to name the others: Backyard Footy, Backyard Tennis, Backyard Basketball.

Do you write about people you know? Or yourself?

All my books so far I have used names of people I know but the characters weren’t inspired by them. Backyard Footy is about AFL and AFLW players. Kimberley Kickers will be about Jy Farrer, Krstel Petrevski, Francis Watson and Ash Johnson.

Does the creative process get easier for you with each book?

Mostly. But some books are harder to ‘get into’ than others.

Buy a copy of Backyard Footy here.


Celebrating Footy and Friendship: Read Our Review of Backyard Footy by Carl Merrison, Illustrated by Samantha Campbell

Review | Our Review

22 May 2023

Celebrating Footy and Friendship: Read Our Review of Backyard Footy by Carl Merrison, Illustrated by Samantha Campbell

Publisher details

Backyard Footy
Carl Merrison, Samantha Campbell
Lothian Children’s Books
Children’s Picture Book
31 May, 2023


Recommended for ages 3+.

The first book in a joyful black&write!-winning picture book series that follows a cast of footy-crazy kids as they hop through the backyards of their neighbourhood in the Kimberley, collecting equipment and friends to play with as they go.

Jy is playing football alone in his small backyard in the Kimberley, but when he accidentally kicks the ball over the fence, a footy adventure begins! Footy by yourself is fun but playing with mates is better.

The first title in a joyful black&write! fellowship-winning series, where the fun only grows with family and friends!

Carl Merrison
About the author

Carl Merrison

Carl Merrison is a respected Jaru/Kija man from the Halls Creek area who came WA runner up Australian of the Year - Local Hero in 2016. He has worked for over ten years alongside Aboriginal youth as a mentor and coach. Carl was the winner of the black&write! Fellowship in 2020 for his young readers' series Backyard Sports (coming in 2023). He was also shortlisted for the State Library Western Australia Writer's Fellowship for his proposal, Kimberley Kickers series.

Books by Carl Merrison


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *