Jennifer Niven in Australia

American YA writer, Jennifer Niven has been wowing fans up and down Australia’s east coast from the Sydney Writers’ Festival, to Brisbane, then Reading Matters in Melbourne, then Adelaide and further afield.

It is no wonder she is greatly loved. She seems to care for everyone she meets and gives equal weight to answering the questions and concerns of all her readers. She has transformed the difficulties and joys she has experienced in her own life into becoming a brave, ‘honest and responsible’ writer, speaking for those who may not have a voice. She doesn’t like conflict but has become an advocate after writing her first YA story about a boy she loved who suffered from mental illness in All the Bright Places. She poignantly recalls, ‘I lost him to suicide’ and about how she wrote about this relationship and experience ‘as honestly as I could … Pieces of me are in each of my books’. Jennifer has since received thousands of messages about how All the Bright Places has, in some way, saved people’s lives.

Jennifer reiterates that everyone deserves to be seen and heard and inscribes some people’s books: ‘You are wanted’. ‘Life can be dark but there are always bright places everywhere.’

I was thrilled to be invited to lunch in Sydney with Jennifer and a small group of informed young bloggers. Jennifer was charming; a lady who listens and engages. She was very generous with her time; asked us all to sign her copy of All the Bright Places (a lovely, original idea) and showed us a sneak peak of the photo of the young actor who will be playing lead character, Finch, in the movie of All the Bright Places.

When I asked at lunch how she gets into the writing zone as quickly as possible, she explained the importance of music and playlists, including Split Enz’s song, I Got You (her playlists are online). Lyrics are ‘also all about words’, but in a different form.

Even though Jennifer is generous with her words in conversation, she is happy to listen to others rather than dominate the conversation; conversely when writing, she writes more than she needs before paring back the words.

Unfortunately, she’s not able to write while on tour but, despite this, jumped at the chance to come to Australia, agreeing even before she was given the dates.

Jennifer concluded one of her sessions at Reading Matters by sharing her and her author mother’s writing advice: ‘let yourself cry (or laugh or feel); check it in the bus locker (put distractions away so you can focus on writing); and write the kind of story you want to read.’

Thanks to Penguin RandomHouse Australia for the incredible opportunity to meet Jennifer.

Further links:

Jennifer recommends Germ online magazine

Follow Jennifer

My brief review of Holding Up the Universe for Boomerang blog

My review of Holding Up the Universe for the Weekend Australian

Risk, Meet Fleur Ferris

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books Blog, Fleur.

Thanks you for having me on the blog Joy.

RiskYour new YA novel, Risk (Random House Australia) is creating a buzz in Australian YA circles. I believe that it has a very important message, told as an engaging story. Is it your first published work? Have you met any other YA authors?

Risk is my first novel to be published. I’ve met a few YA writers in person, and many more online. It is great to be a part of the Australian YA community, everyone is very friendly and supportive. I hope to catch up with a few YA authors (in person) at the Bendigo Writers’ Festival in August.

Why did you write Risk?

A number of incidents involving predators meeting and grooming girls online and then luring them away occurred in my local area. I’m a family friend to one of the girls and was shocked that she was almost a victim to this type of predator. This girl (then 14 years old) is a smart, well-adjusted girl who doesn’t go looking for trouble. It frightened me that trouble found her. I started looking into cases and researching how predators use social media to find victims. I found out that anyone can use a proxy box to hide their identity, even from the police. During the process an idea for a book came to me.

Your character Taylor comments that the guy she meets online doesn’t seem like a stalker. What does an online stalker seem like?

Great question! I wish I had a great answer. Taylor, the fifteen-year-old character in Risk, thought that an online stalker would be outwardly creepy, or have other obvious, indicative traits. But once Taylor got chatting to one particular guy online she didn’t question him because he was so nice. It is impossible to know if people you meet online really are as they seem.Fleur Ferris

Apart from encouraging young people to read Risk how can we protect them?

I believe education is the key. Discussing online dangers and possible strategies to adopt will help people (of any age) avoid falling victim to online predators. Increasing awareness of online dangers will hopefully lead to a person making better, and more cautious, decisions about information they give out as well as meeting online friends in the real world. As long as there are online places to meet people, online predators will exist and education about this needs to start early.

Who have you modelled the two protagonists, Taylor and Sierra on?

Initially, Taylor and Sierra were modelled on my nieces who were fifteen and sixteen years of age at the time Risk was written.

Sierra likes Taylor Swift. Do you like her too or have you featured her for another reason?

I do like Taylor Swift and her music. Over the years I have enjoyed learning about her journey to stardom and I admire her. She is strong, intelligent, funny and artistic. Taylor (and her music) inspires me.

Pieces of SkyWhat have you enjoyed reading recently or in the past?

The neighbour by Julie Proudfoot is incredible. The pause by John Larkin, Cooper Bartholomew is dead by Rebecca James, Pieces of sky by Trinity Doyle and All the bright places (audiobook) by Jennifer Niven are all brilliant YA books. I’m also reading Jacqueline Harvey’s Clementine Rose Series with my kids and I am enjoying these books as much as my kids are.

Are you writing something else at the moment? If so, could you tell us about it?

I have just signed a contract with Random House for my next YA novel. The title is unconfirmed at this stage, but I can say it is another contemporary stand-alone and sits well alongside Risk. It will be out mid next year.

Neighbour

That’s fantastic news. All the very best with it, Fleur.