The origin story

 January 19, 2022

When I’m talking to potential clients about starting a new project, they inevitably ask me about my background: have I come from a writing background? From the trade publishing world? Is Neil a journalist from way back?​

Hmm. Not exactly.

Almost two decades ago, before Hyphen – before Bounce Books even – I was a primary school teacher and Neil worked in sports marketing. I loved my job. My greatest joy was knowing that I’d instilled a love of literature and the written word in a kid who’d come to me thinking that reading was ‘boring’. Neil, not so much. He was good at his job, but he didn’t love it.

One night we were out for dinner and he was talking about his job and how much he didn’t love it. He said, ‘You know what I’d really like to do? I’d like to write a book.’

His idea was this: the Socceroos, Australia’s men’s football team, was a team filled with players whose families often hailed from somewhere else. Like Australia itself, it was a mishmash of people from all over. What had their lived experiences been? What was it like playing for your adopted country? What was the story of football in Australia?

Over that dinner, we formulated a sort-of plan. We had no kids and no mortgage back then, and I had a stable job that I loved. So, Neil would pack in his marketing job and use his contacts in the football world to meet and interview men who had played for Australia over the years, starting with the pioneers of the 1950s and going all the way through to the current players at the time. He would work on this project for two years. At the end of those two years, in the best case scenario he would have written and somehow published this book. In the worst case scenario, he would have failed and we would be no better – but also no worse – off than what we were in that moment, in that restaurant.

His first contact was Ted Smith, a former Olympian who had played for Australia in the ’56 Olympics in Melbourne. Next came players that had become coaches that Neil knew in the game. Players introduced him to more players and the network grew. Because Neil is nothing if not persistent, within eighteen months he’d interviewed, photographed and written the stories of twenty-six former and present Socceroos. Oh, and he’d secured a publishing deal with Random House.

In 2003, Neil’s first book, Our Socceroos was published. As our household’s resident book-lover and red-pen wielder, I’d had first crack at editing all his stories before they went to Random House. When they came back with all the markups, I looked at the edits I’d missed, and I learned. My brother Leonard runs Woof Creative, a design agency, and Neil got him the gig of designing the book’s cover and internals. When it came time to promote the book, Neil’s marketing background came into its own.

At the end of it all, the three of us stood back and, with the outrageous over-confidence of youth, said, ‘Huh. Publishing. We could do that.’

First, though, Neil and I decided to take a detour to Europe and live for a year in Italy. During that year, we travelled to Germany to watch the Confederations Cup, where Australia was playing. There, Neil and Mark Schwarzer – one of the people in Our Socceroos – hit it off, and soon, another idea was born: what if they collaborated on a children’s book series for reluctant readers that focuses on the world of football?

While we were gallivanting around Europe, Leonard had been busy. A client of his during that time was Pelaco. They’re an Australian shirt manufacturer, and they were turning 100. They had the idea that they might produce a coffee table book that showcased a century of print ads, and that they’d give it to stockists, suppliers and staff as a gift.


By the time we returned to Australia, Bounce Books had been born. Leonard had registered the name, designed a logo and built a website. His reasoning: companies are celebrating milestones all the time. We can totally do this. Again, the confidence of youth.

Neil and Leonard set to work winning clients. Their first as a team was the Marconi Social Club in Sydney, again won through Neil’s contacts in the football world. They had a writer but needed us to turn a manuscript into a book. Next came Thiess, a Queensland construction company founded by the five youngest brothers in a family of ten. For their 75th book we interviewed everyone from the forklift driver to the company chair to create a picture of what it is to work at Thiess. After that came a project for Girl Guides Australia’s centenary. Somewhere in the middle of all that, that collaboration with Mark Schwarzer became a reality, and Megs and the Vootball Kids landed in all good bookstores, followed by four more books about the adventures of Megs and his mates. By then I’d packed in my teaching job, had some babies and joined what was fast becoming a family business. After a couple of years, Neil and I threw our very last egg into the Bounce Books basket and bought Leonard’s part of the business.

Fast-forward a few more years and we found ourselves with a thriving publishing business that we loved, an amazing and creative team of people to work with, and a parade of interesting and remarkable clients to work for. We would dive into their stories head-first, and turn them into really great books, and when we’d come up for air, more and more we started to hear from them: ‘We love this book, and this story-telling caper… maybe we should do a film, too.’


We weren’t so young by then, but our confidence was still intact and now it had more than a decade of experience to back it up. We were pretty confident that storytelling is storytelling, and that if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s storytelling.

So a few years back, we rebranded our business and expanded our offering to include storytelling in all its forms – books, for sure, but also films and exhibits. Hyphen. Stories, well told, was born.

The past eighteen months have been an interesting challenge as we navigate film and photography projects in lockdown, and making books from the discomfort of our kitchen tables and couches. It’s been tough (and exhausting) but as we say around here, tough experiences are ‘good for the book’, and our story continues.

Val Montagana-Wallace