The Backstory: BARTALI'S BICYCLE
Megan Hoyt is here today to share the inspiration behind her debut biography, Bartali's Bicycle out now from Quill Tree Books. Read on to discover what it took to go from a spark of an idea to this inspiring biography. I'll give you a hint, it involved multiple years and 2 international trips.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind BARTALI’S BICYCLE.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Gino Bartali was an Italian cyclist who won the Tour de France in 1938, right before World War II began. Because of the war, there were no more races for the next ten years, but a priest asked him to participate in the underground effort in Italy, which was a very dangerous thing to do, especially for a public figure who would be noticed more when he’s out and about. Gino agreed to help -- how could he not? He said, “One does these things, and that is that.” His job was to tuck fake identity papers into the hollow bars of his bicycle and pretend to train for his next big race (even though there weren’t any). He was secretly delivering these packets of fake IDs to convents and monasteries all over Italy so they could be distributed to Jewish families who were hiding from the Nazis.
Absolutely fascinating! I love biographies about little-known figures especially when they pack such a powerful message. And I can imagine children (and adults) being enthralled by this story.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
I found out about Gino Bartali while watching a documentary about the secret underground resistance in Italy. It was fascinating! I didn’t really know much about the war in Italy, being an American. I’d assumed it was all about Mussolini. But there was a time when the Nazis actually were in power in Italy, too. I didn’t realize that. From there, I started researching to see if there might be a way to introduce children to the amazing yet humble Gino Bartali. I had no idea it would take three years and two trips to Italy before I would find enough documented evidence and information to sit down and write the book.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now BARTALI’S BICYCLE? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
I not only sat with the idea for a while, at one point I wasn’t even sure I could write it. One of the most notable things about Gino Bartali is that he wanted to do his good deeds in secret. It was part of his religious belief system that one does good deeds but does not talk about them. So here I was, trying to research what this man did, after he had carefully covered his tracks! It was excruciating to find documented evidence, and many times I almost gave up. I ended up traveling to Italy and speaking to the museum docents at two different museums. They showed me news articles and video presentations -- speeches Gino gave in Italy. I spoke to one of Gino’s friends and to his granddaughter, Lisa Bartali. She was the most helpful because she had made it her priority to make sure his story was true. She even sent me pages of his autobiography. It was in Italian, of course. I ended up typing each section into Google Translate so I could read it all in English. After I had gathered enough information, I had to decide how to approach the story. I wanted it to be about what real heroism is, but I also wanted it to be lyrical and moving. So it couldn’t be a typical athlete’s biography. And I had to figure out how to talk about Hitler and the Holocaust with children. There was one spread that I must have worked on for a solid two months straight. It was the spread about Hitler. I didn’t want to name him in the book because I didn’t want to give him that notoriety, you know? I decided in the end to call him “a liar.” I made that spread about the big lie.
I am in awe of the work that had to occur to make this book happen. Not only were you an author, but you could very well add detective to the list. Hearing about your travels and research is absolutely fascinating. It must have been such an experience tracking down and having the opportunity to speak with Gino's friends and daughter.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
I like to write about little-known moments in history, although I write fiction, too. I look for ideas at the Library of Congress archive or by listening to podcasts like Stuff You Should Know. https://www.iheart.com/podcast/105-stuff-you-should-know-26940277/ They have the most interesting stories! And sometimes I get ideas just by listening to what children wonder about.
What great sources of inspiration! I am sure many readers will be checking them out.
Did you use any mentor texts while creating this book?
I must have read Amy Novesky and Isabelle Arsenault’s book, Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois fifty times! I wanted to recreate that same lyrical tone she used. It’s a lovely book. I highly recommend it. I also read different types of biographies to get a feel for the many different ways you can approach telling a person’s life story -- through poetry, lyricism, sparse text, lighthearted tone. I loved The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, by Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby. It was so unique.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
I get inspired by rereading books I loved as a child, so when it comes to books that have impacted my writing, I’d have to say The Secret Garden by Frances Hodson Burnett, The Fairy Doll by Rumer Godden, and everything by Madeleine L’Engle. Oh, and The Chronicles of Narnia had a huge impact on me.
I completely agree with you about rereading old favorites. There's something about revisiting these old friends that transports me back to being a child and puts me in just the right headspace to be creative.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials? My biggest must have in my work space is a steaming mocha. I am fueled by designer decaf drinks! I can’t tolerate caffeine, so I make them rich and thick and delicious to hide the fact that they are not really keeping me alert. After that, it’s me and my laptop curled up in a comfy chair in my office surrounded by piles of books. Oh, and on top of my bookshelves I keep all these items from my childhood that were special to me -- my stuffed animals, a music box I used to listen to every night while falling asleep, a plaque my mother got me with my name on it.
I love how you surround yourself with childhood treasures. What better way to get into the mind of a child!
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
My biggest advice is DON’T GIVE UP! I was in a bad place after trying to break into the publishing industry for many years with zero success, and one day I almost quit. I gave myself one more month and then I was going to be completely done. PB Pitch was the next day, and I almost didn’t participate. At the end of the day, ten minutes before it ended, I put up a few pitches, and one of them got two hearts from two different publishers. One eventually offered me a contract! That led to me finding an agent and selling the manuscript to HarperCollins at literally the last moment I was going to give myself to make this dream happen. Imagine, though, if I had given up that day instead of giving myself another month!
You couldn't have made up a better story about not giving up. How incredible! And I so appreciate your willingness to share how close you were to quitting. This is a tough industry and I think many of us have felt that hopelessness at times. You just never know when that first opportunity will come.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I have two more books coming out in 2022, also with HarperCollins’ Quill Tree imprint. One is the story of Grand Central Station. I learned so much -- about New York City history, about trains, about the building itself and all the drama that took place while it was being built. It’s a great story! The other one has not been announced yet, but it’s about activism and people coming together. I’m working on a middle grade novel, too. It’s historical fiction.
Congratulations on your forthcoming books! They all sound wonderful and I can't wait to see them on shelves.
Where can people connect more with you?
I’m mostly on Twitter: @meganhoytwrites but I plan to use my website more, blog more, connect with readers, and provide children with activities and coloring sheets at my website: www.meganhoyt.net .
Thank you so much Megan for joining us and sharing the story behind this amazing book and all of the hard work that went into creating it.
Megan is generously offering a MS critique to one lucky winner.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
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ABOUT MEGAN HOYT
Megan Hoyt first fell in love with reading on a cozy branch of the crabapple tree outside her Texas home. She devoured Beverly Cleary’s books there, and Marguerite Henry’s “horsey books” still remind her of the loud Texas cicadas at dusk. She is the winner of the 2017 SCBWI Work in Progress Award and serves as Membership Coordinator for the SCBWI Carolinas region.
Megan's debut picture book biography, Bartali's Bicycle, is coming out in February 2021 with Harper Collins Children's Books' new imprint, Quill Tree Books. Two more non-fiction picture books are forthcoming, also with Quill Tree. Her poem, "Thanksgiving by the Lake," appears in the Millbrook Press anthology Thanku: Poems of Gratitude (2019), and her graded readers, The Lying Lion and Clara O'Hara, Private Eye (TCM) will be available soon. Her first picture book, Hildegard's Gift, came out in 2014 with Paraclete Press.
Megan speaks at SCBWI conferences and workshops for teachers in the US and Canada. When she is not writing for children, she tutors child actors on set—Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes and Warner Bros' Wonder Woman 1984, among others. Megan has a BA in English and History from Southern Methodist University and an MA in Theology from Regent University in Virginia. She lives in Charlotte, NC, with her husband, son, and a goofy bichon frise named Fitzwilliam Darcy (he has no pride or prejudice).
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Flannery Literary