Meet Sue Lawson, author of Freedom Ride
Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Sue.
It’s a pleasure, Joy, thanks so much for asking me.
Where are you based and how involved are you in the world of children’s and YA lit?
We moved to Geelong two years ago from a smaller regional town. Though we loved our life in that time, it was time to move, and it’s been a great move on so many levels. I’m loving the access to so many beautiful beaches, an incredibly sourced and staffed library, and, well, all Geelong has to offer. The proximity to Melbourne is another huge bonus, which not only makes catching up with friends easier, but makes attending many more literary events and festivals of all descriptions. And our friends from our old home are nearby.
I’m passionate about children’s and YA lit, the readers and connecting readers with books. I’m a member of wonderful organisations like SCWBI and CBCA Victoria, but my ability to support and be involved with them has been curtailed for health and family reasons of late. I’m hoping there will be a time when I can devote more energy to the CBCA, particularly. I’m fortunate to be asked to visit schools, present at festivals and other events, which gives me the chance to work with and listen to young people, and to spread the love about reading and writing. For me, it’s all about creating readers.
Where and when is your most recent YA novel, Freedom Ride, (Black Dog Books, Walker Books) set and what is its major concern?
Freedom Ride is set in fictional Walgaree, a small town in country NSW, at the end of 1964 and start of 1965. It culminates with the Freedom Ride, led by Charles Perkins, arriving in Walgaree. The Freedom Ride was organised to highlight and protest the treatment and the living conditions of Aboriginal people.
It is an era I knew very little about, I’m ashamed to say. My research broke my heart, and angered me on so many levels, especially as I had no idea how bad it had been, and continues to be. I wanted to explore how a teenage boy, who knew so much of what was going on around him was wrong, yet didn’t have the power change anything, might behave.
How do you think Australian attitudes have changed since this time?
How long to do you have?
I think, hope, we are moving forward, but we have such a long, long way to go. Until Australia as a nation acknowledges the treatment, the abuse and wrongs Aboriginal people have endured, as painful as it is, true healing can’t occur. I am absolutely no expert, I just come from the belief it is the right thing to do.
How did you create your major protagonist, Robbie?
I knew I wanted Robbie to find the courage to stand up to not only his father and grandmother, but to his friends and the Walgaree community. I love that quote attributed to Edmund Burke, that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Though Robbie’s stand is tiny in the scheme of things, if each of us stood up, then it’s a start.
To create Robbie, I started with beliefs and attitudes, and how his conflicted with his father and grandmothers’ opinions. I wanted him to feel alienated at home, so that when he encountered the accepting and generous Barry, he was open to the contrast.
As always, I create character profiles and collages for my major characters. Doing this helps me get beneath my characters’ skin and know them as well as they know themselves.
What values or qualities are important to your characters?
That varies, depending on the character and the story. For Robbie, his sense of right and wrong was important, as was his honesty and courage. Hope was vital too.
Actually all my characters have buckets of courage and hope – they need it survive the turmoil I make them face!
It’s also important to for me to understand their motivations – from Robbie to his friends, to his grandmother – I need to know why they behave as they do. That helps me be more compassionate, especially when the overwhelming urge to slap them (Nan!!) is hard to control…and I am the least violent person!
Your writing is clear and engaging. Do you work to achieve this clarity or is it your natural style?
Oh, gosh, thank you.
My husband’s grandmother had an expression I love – talks as her guts guide her.
Well, I think that’s me. I write as my gut, or heart, guides me. I get it down then edit, edit, edit, and pare back as much as I can. I’m so lucky to have worked with and continue to work with incredibly supportive editors and publishers – Karen Tayleur, Maryann Ballantyne, Andrew Kelly and Helen Chamberlin especially – who trawl through the quagmire and find the essence of what I am trying to say. Sometimes they get it way before I do!
You’ve written many books. Could you tell us about some, including After, which is one of my favourites?
Thank you! I love Callum and After. He is possibly one of my favourite characters…but then Pan is so damaged, and what about Dare You‘s Khaden?
All my books explore how young people cope in horrid situations, usually every day, situations. I love exploring that time when we discover who we truly are, and find the courage to be true to that. Pretty sure I’m still working on it.
After deals with a boy who had it all – popular, legend status at a big, city school etc, etc, but one incident changes his life forever. After was sparked by a 100 word newspaper report about a horrific incident, which I can’t detail without giving away the book. It started me thinking about how a young person ever came to terms with what had happened.
Pan’s Whisper was sparked when I started wondering why two people can live the same experience but remember it so differently. And what role does age play in the recall?
You Don’t Even Know is about judgements and stereotypes, fitting in, grief and courage. That Alex!
Yes, I do become very attached to my characters!
All of my books start with a question, or series of questions and develop from there.
Apart from writing, how else do you spend your time?
I work part-time for Bay FM, the Geelong commercial station. I was a radio announcer in a past life, as well as a teacher! The radio job is so much fun, and I get to do a book review and interview my talented friends!
I love to hang out with my husband and daughter and friends, read (surprise!) and watch movies. I have a serious stationery addiction, (the gorgeous staff in our Kiki K know me by name…I know!! It’s tragic!) and being at the beach.
Which books would you like for Christmas?
Right, strap yourself in!
The Strays – Emily Britto…I know, I haven’t read it yet!!!
The Eye of the Sheep – Sofie Laguna – I read it a while ago and LOVED it. That Ned! He is unforgettable. I need to read it again…slowly and savour each bit.
All the Light We Can Not See – Anthony Doerr – a friend recommended it!
Zeroes – because Margo Lanagan is one of the authors. Her writing is incredible!
Big Blue Sky – Peter Garrett – I am a Midnight Oil tragic.
The next Game of Thrones…for the love of God, George Martin…hurry up!!!!
Like one of those demtel ads, there is more, but that will do. Notice there aren’t many YA novels on the list? I buy them straight away. Just finished Vikki Wakefield‘s new one. Man, she is one hell of a writer!
(See my review of Vikki Wakefield’s In-between Days)
All the best with Freedom Ride, and thanks very much, Sue.