YA at the SWF: Vikki Wakefield and the Best and Worst Years of our Lives

Vikki WakefieldLast week I spent three days with four top YA writers at the Sydney Writers Festival. We travelled from Roslyn Packer Theatre at the Wharf in the city, to Parramatta Riverside Theatre and our third day was at the Chatswood Concourse. These enormous venues were filled with secondary students from schools in Sydney and further afield.

Our two international author guests were John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Boy at the Top of the Mountain) and Michael Grant (Gone, Front Lines) and one of our Australian authors was Claire Zorn whose publication of her new novel One Would Think the Deep was rushed forward in time for the SWF.

Our other Australian writer was Vikki Wakefield.

Vikki Wakefield spoke about how being a teenager can be the best – or worst – years of our life. Vikki spoke honestly and vulnerably about once being voted the girl least likely to succeed, failing high school but learning to discover the extraordinary in life.

She lives in the Adelaide Hills and loved horses when she was growing up. She has written some short film scripts and does party tricks, one of which she demonstrated on stage after a request by the audience.

Her novels are mainly for mature YA readers.

Her first two YA novels All I Ever Wanted and Friday Brown have won awards and Friday Brown was shortlisted for the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award and CBCA award.

One girl in the audience declared that Friday Brown changed her life. Friday Brown

I think that Vikki must be nocturnal and I’m guessing that she always refused to go to the movies at the cinema and would go to the drive-in instead. Drive-ins feature in Vikki’s latest novel Inbetween Days.

Vikki sets this novel in an Australian town, with the thought provoking name of ‘Mobius’.

The main character is 17 year old Jack (nickname for Jacklin) who’s left school and her life seems pretty meaningless but she hopes for a better future.

Jack tries to keep her secret relationship with Luke alive. But she really wants to be loved both privately and openly.

Jeremiah seems to offer love but can he cope with Jack?

Vikki creates Jack as being vulnerable yet tough, knowing yet naïve.

Can Jack summon enough self-esteem, resilience and drive to turn her life around?

Vikki’s writing has an understated tone and style that seems particularly Australian. Her characters act like young Australians do and incidents occur realistically, such as the events in the derelict drive-in theatre and in the nearby forest, which are surprising without hyperbole.

Inbetween Days (Text Publishing) has just been shortlisted for the CBCA awards. Congratulations to Vikki for her vulnerable writing and authentic characters.

All I Ever Wanted

ALL I EVER WANTED

All I Ever Wanted is the debut novel of Vikki Wakefield.

Mim knows what she wants, and where she wants to go – anywhere but home, stuck in the suburbs with her mother who won’t get off the couch, and two brothers in prison. She’s set herself rules to live by, but she’s starting to break them.

All I Ever Wanted really resonated with the teen in me. As teens we have big dreams of the future beyond our existing lives, leaping into the adult world where we can escape the restrictions of home and anything seems possible.

Vikki Wakefield captures this teen feeling so authentically in her main character, Mim who others see as brave and fearless, but who has her own insecurities and dreams.

Mim lives in a household where drugs are bought and sold, where classmates are intimidated by her family’s reputation. She fights against her upbringing and everything her family seems to represent. Her new friend Kate comes from a completely opposite background but she doesn’t fit in either.

Kate describes it as being, “Like being stuck where everyone else fits, but you don’t.”

Mim makes life work by creating rules for herself that set her apart from the family she is being raised in.

RULE NUMBER ONE:

I will not turn out like my mother.

But Mim discovers that her rules might not be practical in the real world and that her family are not as black and white as they seem.

Mim has more power and control over her life than she realises. As Kate says, “You’re brave. You’re honest. You affect people….You’ve changed me already.”

I like the way Mim makes new friends but is able to expand her circle to include her old ones as well.

All I Ever Wanted is a powerful story told with reality and humour. Vikki Wakefield combines page turning tension with beautiful language and setting descriptions so vivid that the reader feels they are sitting in Mim’s bedroom, sharing her life.

The only corner that’s really mine has my bed, a three-legged bedside table and a dressing table with a mirrorless frame. I still have the Eiffel Tower quilt cover from my eleventh birthday and an original lava lamp that was Mum’s when she was a teenager. A World globe with a skewer stuck through it hangs above my bed by a strand of fishing line. The opposite corner is empty, but there’s a smoke blackened stain that flares up to the ceiling like a ghost, from when Tahnee and I set a toaster on fire after a night out. Only my bookcase stands new and tall, everything at right angles, each book in its place.

All I Ever Wanted is a gripping thriller with strands of first love and friendship deftly woven through it.

It brings change,  revelation and hope for main character, ‘almost seventeen-year-old’ Mim, and also for the reader.

All I Ever Wanted is published by Text Publishing