‘Before You Forget’ and Julia Lawrinson

 

Meet Julia Lawrinson, author of Before You Forget, Penguin Australia

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Julia.

Where are you based and what’s your background in books?

I am based in Western Australia, and I’ve published thirteen novels for children and young adults (lucky thirteen, I hope!)

I really enjoyed your 2006 YA novel, Bye Beautiful . Could you tell us about this and some of your other writing? bye-beautiful

Most of my books are realistic, contemporary novels. Bye, Beautiful is set in the wheatbelt in 1966, and so is a departure from that. It is about a policeman’s family, and what happens when two sisters fall in love with the same boy, who happens to be Aboriginal. Although it is fiction, it is based on my mother’s story: my grandfather was a policeman who became officer in charge of the North West before he retired, and his strong personality and morality has had a lasting effect on his family. I feel I work best as a writer when I have a strong emotional connection to what I’m writing about.

My earliest work was very ‘gritty’: dealing with bogan high schools and adolescent psychiatric hospitals. Those stories resonated a lot with readers, and were stories that needed to be told.

Your new novel Before You Forget has a devastating personal connection for you. Could you tell us about the genesis of this novel?

before-you-forgetThe novel was written in response to seeing the suffering that my daughter went through when her father developed early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which began as she was starting high school. It wasn’t just the loss of memory that was an issue: his whole personality changed, and he went through periods of being anxious and angry by turns, which was difficult for both me and my daughter. He would give money away, invite perfect strangers home, almost cause accidents when he was driving without the slightest awareness of it. He refused to see doctors, and when he finally did, they suspected he had depression, alcoholism and various other things until he saw a specialist. Being there with him when he was diagnosed remains the most awful day of my life.

It was incredibly painful for my daughter to see the father she knew disappear in this way, and nobody really seemed to understand. The only person who truly got it was her friend Gemma, whose mother had the same disease, and who tragically died the week the book was released. I want people to understand the impact of diseases like Alzheimer’s on the kids in the family, to have empathy for the extended grief such conditions create.

What is the most terrifying thing about Alzheimer’s?

That it strips away what defines you as yourself. Annie’s dad’s defining feature was his intelligence. It was so awful to see that disappear. Although he’s retained his sense of humour to the end.

How has the book helped your family?

It’s been cathartic, being able to describe some of the things that happened, and to reclaim some of what we lost through the story. The situations in the novel are common to most families where a parent develops Alzheimer’s or similar neurological diseases, so hopefully it will provide a sort of sense of community.

How can others help families in this situation?

By asking what they need. People often want to come in and take control, or offer what they think is best, but it’s really important to listen to what would make the family’s life easier. It will be different for everyone. Also, to be respectful of people’s emotions: taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s is an emotional rollercoaster. I remember someone saying to me early on that Alzheimer’s was a beautiful thing, which felt like being slapped in the face. Teenagers with parents with Alzheimer’s can become very impatient and frustrated, but this doesn’t mean they don’t love their parent. It means they are dealing with the grief of dealing with a parent who is no longer who they used to be.

flyawayWho are your favourite artists?

Visual artists? Monet, Van Gogh, Rene Magritte, Brett Whitely, Frida Kahlo, Jeffrey Smart, Margaret Olley.

The protagonist, Amelia, loves art. How have you used art to reflect Amelia’s experiences?

I tried to have Amelia’s struggle to express herself as an artist parallel her difficulties in expressing her feelings about what is happened to her and her dad. Amelia is quite self-contained, but her art shows what is important to her.

How have you incorporated 9/11 into the story?

Amelia obsessively watches 9/11 footage, reads about it, tries to imagine what it would have been like to be there. To her, it is her personal disaster writ large. Instead of having something slow and invisible up-end your life, there is something fast, immediate and visual. But she also learns that it is not just one story: there are lots of stories out of 9/11, including stories of hope and bravery and fellow-feeling.

Amelia’s best friend Gemma has a problem. Could you tell us about this?

Gemma develops an eating disorder almost by accident: she begins dieting and then finds herself on a path she can’t get off. I’ve seen this happen with a lot of young people, and it happened to me as a teenager. You can’t mess with restricting food: once you start, the problems you may have been using food to deal with get magnified. Amelia can’t understand it, because to her Gemma has everything, and she is also upset that Gemma can’t appreciate Amelia’s serious problems. They can’t help each other, in a sense, because of what’s going on in their own lives, but they do try to find a way back to each other.

I should note that I used my daughter’s best friend’s name with permission in the novel, but the real Gemma bears no resemblance to the fictional one!

1b28f-chessnutscoverAmelia’s neighbour, Will, plays chess and one of your earlier books is called Chess Nuts. Why have you used chess in your YA novel, rather than another pastime or point of contact?

Again, this was part of the autobiographical aspect of the novel: my daughter played chess, and her dad was a chess coach (which is how Chess Nuts came about). It was also one of the first things that alerted me to his mental decline: a man who remembered every move of his year seven chess final to suddenly forget how to move a knight. It was a clear sign something was wrong.

What other books have left a deep impression on you?

I read a lot of books featuring bodily or mental illness when I was a teenager. Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die had a big impact on me, as did The Bell Jar, A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, and Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig.

Thanks very much, Julia, and all the best with your new book and your family. Your story will no doubt help many others.

Australian YA: Becoming Aurora and Elizabeth Kasmer

Elizabeth Kasmer’s debut novel Becoming Aurora has just been published by University of Queensland Press. It has a thoughtful, multifaceted storyline and deals with important issues. liz-author-portrait-oval

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books Elizabeth.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA lit world?

I live in a tiny town in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. Over the years I’ve met many aspiring and established writers through the annual CYA Conference in Brisbane, SCBWI (Brisbane and the Sunny Coast) and the occasional visit to the Write Links group. Children and YA writers sure are a warm-hearted and generous lot!

What’s your working background and how else do you spend your time?

My work background is quite varied. I’ve worked for the blood bank as a donor attendant (visiting just about every RSL and local hall in the greater Brisbane area), as a car park attendant and receptionist. When I was a student I worked in a recycling factory and I have also worked as a primary school teacher. Since the birth of my three sons I’ve helped my husband run his home-based business as a construction programmer. Any spare time is usually spent reading, swimming or catching up with family and friends.

What award has Becoming Aurora won?

Becoming Aurora (or, Aurora, as it was then known) was awarded the Queensland Literary Awards, Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award 2015.

auroraCould you tell us something about your main characters, and the genesis of Aurora’s name?

Rory is grieving the loss of her father and trying to fit in with a group of kids who resent the influx of migrants (known as ‘boaties’) into their town. Jack is a feisty former champion boxer and tent boxer and Essam is an Iranian migrant and boxer trying his best to fit into his new home country.

I named Aurora after a painting that hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery. I was in Brisbane for a meeting with my writing mentor to discuss story ideas when I decided to take the opportunity to stop by the gallery. Inside, I got talking to an elderly man who told me he had been visiting the (Australian) paintings every year since the gallery had opened there in 1982. He said his annual trip was like visiting old friends. I was on my way out of the gallery when I spotted Aurora by Edward Burne-Jones (one of my ‘old friends’). aurora-126x300As I have a niece named Aurora I decided to purchase a postcard of the painting to send to her. On the train trip home I knew the main character in my story was named Aurora by her father after the painting hanging in the gallery.

How do your characters show kindness?

Rory tends to Jack in the aged care facility and takes the time to listen to his stories. Through friendships with both Jack and Essam, Rory learns to overcome her prejudices and preconceived ideas of what ‘old person’ and ‘boat person’ means. Essam teaches Rory how to box.

How is Becoming Aurora a very Queensland story?

The story is set in the (former) sugarcane town of Nambour. I tried to root the story in the landscape, using local features and icons such as the Glass House Mountains, the beaches and the Big Pineapple. The story is also set over the Christmas holidays which means there is plenty of heat, sweat and storms brewing on the horizon.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Becoming Aurora that particularly resonate with you?

Not as yet but I’m looking forward to hearing responses from young readers!

What are you writing at the moment?

A children’s novel also set in Queensland. This story revolves around a river, superstitious river folk, and two friends who live and fish there.

What have you enjoyed reading? deep

I’ve loved so many books this year but off the top of my head, Rebecca Lim’s The Astrologer’s Daughter, Claire Zorn’s One Would Think the Deep and Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori are standout reads. I’ve also just finished (and loved) Vigil by Angela Slatter where the world of the Weyrd collides with modern-day Brisbane.

It was great meeting you at the Brisbane Writers Festival and being in conversation on a panel of debut YA novelists with you, Christopher Currie and Mark Smith. What’s a strong memory of that day?

Meeting both yourself and fellow debut writers Chris Currie and Mark Smith for our discussion was a highlight, but my strongest memory of the day was when I went back to the green room to collect my bag before heading home. I slid open the door and inside, waiting to go on stage, was David Levithan, Meg Rosoff and Jay Kristoff! I stumbled into the room, smiling like a maniac and babbling about just needing to get my bag. David Levithan asked me a question, but it was at that point I got tunnel vision, grabbed my bag and backed out of the room, still smiling. I’m kicking myself now because, really, who wouldn’t want to say hi to a trio of awesome authors?

What a memorable green room encounter!

It was lovely to meet you and all the best with your books, Elizabeth.

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

Australian YA: Meet Kylie Fornasier and The Things I Didn’t Say

Kylie Fornasier’s new YA novel The Things I Didn’t Say has just been published by Penguin Books.Things I Didn't Say

It’s about seventeen-year-old Piper who has changed schools at the start of Year Twelve in the hope of a new start, particularly of finding her voice.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Kylie.

Hi! It’s my pleasure to be talking with you.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?

I’m live in the beautiful Hawkesbury area, north-west of Sydney. I’m a strong supporter of the LoveOzYa movement and I try to be as involved as I can be.

What’s your working background and how else do you spend your time?

I’m a primary school teacher librarian, so between working that job, writing and trying to be a proper adult by keeping the house clean, I don’t have a lot of time left to spend doing other things. But I do always make time for family and friends, the occasional episode of The 100 and yoga.

What inspired you to write The Things I Didn’t Say?

I came up with the idea for The Things I Didn’t Say when I was reading books like Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Fault in our Stars by John Green. I was fascinated by the way everyone approaches love from a different angle. Some people are really open to falling in love, some aren’t. Some people think love lasts forever, others don’t. Some people believe in love at first sight, and so on. The way you approach love depends on so many things about a person. This led me to ask the question, if you couldn’t speak, how would that effect the first time you fall in love?

Kylie Fornasier
Kylie Fornasier

Could you tell us something about your setting and main characters?

17-year-old Piper has been dealing with a condition called Selective Mutism for most of her life. This is a condition where someone who is normally capable of speaking finds themselves unable to speak in most social situations. So at home, Piper can speak normally with her family but as soon as she is around someone else or outside the home, she is silent. She changes schools at the start of Year 12, hoping for a fresh start and on her first day she meets West. He is the school captain, star soccer player, the boy everyone talks about. But although his life seems perfect, he struggles to make his voice heard. As you might’ve guessed, they fall in love without Piper ever speaking one word to West. But the question is, can a love mapped by silence last?

What draws hot School Captain, West, to Piper?

West meets Piper for the first time in German and is drawn to her by her contractions. She studies a subject that mostly requires speaking and the first thing he notices about Piper is that she doesn’t speak. She seems quite anxious but there’s also a gentle confidence he notices about her. On top of that, she is beautiful, new and mysterious. He wants to know more about her.

Why have you given Piper photography as her major interest (rather than another visual or other art form such as music)?

I’ve always believed the cliché that a picture speaks a thousand words. For Piper, photography is her way of speaking. However, she only ever takes photos of the bush near her house. She comes to learn that she has much more to say than she realises. I don’t think I ever deliberately choose photography over another visual art form. One of the first images I got in my mind of Piper was a girl with a camera around her neck and that stuck.

Piper is a skilled German student. What’s your favourite German word? 

It would have to be ‘ohrwurm’, which translate to ‘earworm’ and relates to having a song stuck in your head. Though, for me it’s often a story or a character.

What’s the importance of forgiveness in your story?

Forgiveness is very important in The Things I Didn’t Say. Not only in terms of forgiving others but forgiving yourself.

I know it’s only just been published but have you received any responses from young readers about The Things I Didn’t Say that particularly resonate with you?

Oh gosh, so many! What has resonated so strongly with me is the way that people are emotionally connecting with the characters and story. I keep hearing how the story has made people cry in public and go through boxes of tissues. There are also people who emailing trees now (you have to read the book to find out the significance of this – yes, it is a real thing!) and leaving Post-It notes in copies of The Things I Didn’t Say that they come across in bookshops. It’s hearing about these responses that make it all worth it.

What advice would you give to people who prefer not to express themselves verbally or are shy?

It depends how significantly it is affecting their life. If it is impacting their life, then I strongly advise they seek help. They can start by letting someone they trust know what’s going on. There are many services available that can be very successful.

But if it’s not significantly affecting their life, then I simply suggest expressing themselves in the way they feel comfortable, such as through music, writing, sport, art, dance, photography, whatever that may be!

I think it’s important to think of a person as a whole and how certain qualities have both flaws and strengths. If you are a shy person, you’re probably a great listener or a really keen observer. It’s about embracing the qualities we have but also recognising if we do need to seek help.

What else have you written and what are you writing at the moment? 

Prince who shrankI’ve had a couple of books published for children and young adults, including: Masquerade (YA, published by Penguin Books Australia in 2014), The Prince who Shrank (picture book, published by Koala Books in 2015), and The Ugg Boot War (chapter book, published by Omnibus Books in 2014).

At the moment, I’m working on the first book in a funny chapter book series for children. As soon as I’m finished that, hopefully within the next month, I’ll start my next young adult novel.

What have you enjoyed reading?

Since I’m expecting my first child in October, I’ve been reading a lot of books on caring for babies! But in terms of fiction, I’m currently enjoying The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly. I typically read YA and while this book is not YA, I started reading Matthew Reilly books as a teenager and have read every book he has written since.

All the best with The Things I Didn’t Say, and especially with your baby, Kylie.

Thanks so much!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Australian YA: Meet Will Kostakis and The Sidekicks

SidekicksWill Kostakis has a great reputation in the world of Australian YA. He seems to be vastly energetic and enthusiastic and is viewed with enormous affection by readers of YA.

Will’s new YA novel The Sidekicks has just been published by Penguin Books Australia.

It’s a poignant, appealing story about three disparate guys in Year Eleven with one thing in common. 
Olympic hopeful swimmer, Ryan is exceptionally well drawn and endearing. 

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Will.

What’s your background and how else do you spend your time?

I balance my time between working as a freelance journalist and writing books. As my career has developed, I do less of the former and more of the latter, which is a dream come true. I like to keep as active as I can – if I had my way, I’d spend my days stuck to my desk, so I break up long stints at the computer with walks and swims.

Why did you write The Sidekicks?

First ThirdThe First Third was intended as a love letter to families, but one of the more surprising aspects for me was just how much I enjoyed writing the central friendship. I knew I wanted my next book to explore male friendships. That want, coupled with a desire to reflect on what it was like to lose a close friend in high school, inspired me to write The Sidekicks.

Could you tell us about your main characters and how they interact?

I wanted three distinct protagonists, who acted and reacted in three distinct ways. There’s Ryan, the school’s prized athlete, Harley, the smart-arse, and Miles, academic powerhouse slash evil genius. They grieve in different ways, and they don’t get along, at least not at first. The deceased Isaac was sun and they orbited him. The Sidekicks is them rebuilding their lives without someone to orbit and tracing a path back to each other.

What about their mothers? (you write about families with such affirmation)

I am so clearly the product of a single-parent household, and I think my works’ consistent focus on mother-son relationships reflects that. I see YA as books about teens on the edge of the rest of their lives, of adulthood, and you can see that at play with the way the boys relate to their mothers. While Ryan’s is a quiet army (albeit ever-present and suffocating), Harley’s is absent, and Miles’s is so light-hearted and warm, my favourite mother in the book is Sue. She is mourning her son’s death and her passages really epitomise that transition from teen to adult.Kostakis

I know it’s only just been published but have you received any responses from readers about The Sidekicks that particularly resonate with you?

Given the novel has three very different protagonists, it has connected with readers for various reasons, but what resonates with me the most is the way readers have embraced Ryan as he struggles to come out. Writing him gave me the confidence to come out publicly myself. While we’re very different, his journey echoes mine, and to see readers of all ages, genders and sexualities throwing their support behind him… It’s been surreal.

What are you working on at the moment?
Ah, loose lips sink ships! I will say I’m loving it. Hopefully I won’t have to keep it secret much longer.

IlluminaeWhat have you recently enjoyed reading?
I recently finished my second reading of Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman’s Illuminae … Even better the second time. There were so many details I missed!

All the best with The Sidekicks, Will.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Australian YA: Meet Helen Chebatte and Bro

Helen CHelen Chebatte’s debut novel Bro has just been published by Hardie Grant Egmont.

It’s a riveting story and has an authenticity that young adults will respond to.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Helen.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?

Hello Boomerang Books!

I live in Sydney, Australia.

I love reading children’s and YA books and have been involved for a long time. Whether I’m attending festivals or seminars or reading the latest news in the children’s and YA world, I try to stay in touch. Bro is my first YA novel so now I’m seeing the children’s and YA lit world from another angle too. Visiting bookshops as an author and speaking at writing festivals is very exciting.

What’s your working background and how else do you spend your time?

I’m an actor. I’ve worked professionally in film, television and theatre for many years. Some of my credits include roles on Crownies, Deadly Women, the feature film Cedar Boys and the romantic comedy Alex and Eve. I also taught drama for a few years but these days I spend most of my time writing.

When I’m not working, one of my favourite leisure activities is going on long drives.

BroWhat inspired you to write Bro

Having Syrian heritage and growing up in a multicultural community, I was always excited by the mix of culture and language. I like seeing people with ethnic backgrounds represented in literature (and film) It’s important everyone feels they have a place in this world.

Could you tell us something about your main characters?

Romeo Makhlouf is a Lebanese-Australian teenager who is conflicted about his identity and his place in the school yard. He’s a gentle person who prefers to mind his own business. He adores his grandmother and has a lot of admiration for his best friend Diz. Diz on the other hand is confident, outspoken and funny. Not one to take things seriously, he’ll crack a joke whenever he sees fit. He won’t let anyone disrespect him and he’s super loyal to Romeo.

How do you know and can write characters like these?

As mentioned, I grew up in a multicultural neighbourhood. I knew, and still know many boys like Romeo and Diz as well as many of the other characters in Bro.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Bro that particularly resonate with you?

People talk about how Bro has touched them and there is a sense of need to talk further about what happened in the book. They mention how realistic the plot line is even though it’s a work of fiction, and how prevailing the themes of Australian identity and racial rivalry are today. Many also feel hopeful because conversation about these themes has been initiated. I want to say more but I’m in danger now of spoilers…

What are you writing at the moment?

I’ve started my second YA novel and I’m revisiting a children’s picture book text that I started quite a few years ago.

Sea HeartsWhat have you enjoyed reading? 

So many! I loved reading the YA novels Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels, both by Margo Lanagan. Into that Forest by Louis Nowra is another favourite. All the Truth that’s in Me by Julie Berry is also great. Forgotten by Cat Patrick was a page turner. Nona and Me by Claire Atkins is a recent gem. Then there’s the Young Reader novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick which I adored – illustrations are beautiful! In the adult genre I thoroughly enjoyed The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsythe and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I could keep listing forever – so many great books out there.

Thanks for your insightful responses and all the best with Bro, Helen.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Australian YA: Meet Justine Larbalestier, author of My Sister Rosa

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Justine. 

liar

Your books have been praised by critics, winning and being shortlisted for numerous awards, and are also very popular. Apart from My Sister Rosa (Allen & Unwin), which book is your finest achievement?

That’s not for me to say. Besides which I always think the book I’m working on is my best until it’s published and I’m at work on the next book.

[Joy’s other favourite is the brilliant Liar.]

Where are you based and how involved in the YA literary community are you?

I’m based in Sydney at the moment. Though I also spend a lot of time in New York City. Some years I’m more based there than here. Most of my friends in the US are YA writers. That’s where my publishing career began so for the longest time I was more connected to the industry there than here. But I’ve been working on that and doing what I can to learn more about the YA publishing industry here and reading heaps of Australian YA. Team Human

It never ceases to amaze me how good the quality is given what a small population we have. I’ve been meeting more writers and booksellers and bloggers and other industry people. Right now I feel very involved with the YA literary community. I find it hard to believe I can count folks like Melina Marchetta and Jaclyn Moriarty as friends. They’re both geniuses! And recently I’ve read all of Kirsty Eagar and Leanne Hall’s books. Wow. They’re amazing.

You describe New York particularly well. Do your characters in My Sister Rosa inhabit areas that you personally enjoy or find stimulating? If so, could you give us an example?

my sister rosaThank you! I’ve lived there on and off since 1999. It’s the city I know best in the world other than Sydney. My Sister Rosa takes place in the parts of NYC that I know best. Though the narrator, Che, is seeing it for the first time. I asked friends who’d only lived there a short time to tell me what first struck them about the city and I tried to remember all the things I found strange, lo, those many years ago when I first lived in NYC. Like, the way it turns out that the steam coming out of the streets isn’t a Hollywood invention, but a real thing. I was so surprised the first time I saw that. I thought someone was shooting a movie.

A character suggests that Australians swear more than Americans. Is this true?

It’s a farken fact. (Er, that I have no substantial data support. Just trust me.)

What kind of role do fashion and fame play in My Sister Rosa?

NYC is a very fashion conscious city. I love people watching there because you see such a vast array of clothes. Top hats with roller skates! (I really did see that one time.) There are many fashion designers based there and lots of young designer markets where you can pick up clothes designed by up and coming designers cheaply. They also have some of the best second-hand clothes shops I’ve ever seen. If you love clothes it’s an exciting town to live in. I wanted to reflect some of that in Rosa.

As for fame, that plays a much smaller part in the book. I’m fascinated by fame and do plan to write about it more in a USA setting. After all some claim famous people are the USA’s primary export. When I’m in NYC I often see famous people. Oh, look, there’s Philip Glass at the next table. Is that Bjork? Why, yes, it is. Hello, Yoko Ono, Uma Thurman, Ai Wei Wei. Oh, and there’s Gwyneth Paltrow. Again. I’m not kidding. I see her everywhere. She needs to stop going to my favourite restaurants already. Why can’t I see Janelle Monae everywhere instead? Life is cruel.

The only famous person in Rosa is Leilani and she’s only microfamous. I loved writing her. I’ve met several high profile bloggers who’ve parlayed that into various different high profile gigs and they all talk very interestingly about their small amount of fame. So Leilani is based on them, but also on Tavi Gevinson, who started her fashion blog at twelve and whose online magazine Rookie is wonderful. She turns 20 in April. I like to think she and Leilani would be besties. Zombies

My Sister Rosa is described as a psychological thriller, a genre very difficult to pull off, but you have done it! I couldn’t read it at night because the suspense and anticipation kept me awake.  How do you create this unnerving atmosphere?

Thank you. I’m so glad it worked for you. The first few drafts of Rosa were massively bloated so I had to cut and cut and cut and keep on cutting. It’s tricky to balance letting readers get to know the characters with building tension and having enough scary incidents. It involves lots of cutting and rewriting and sending out to readers to see if I’m getting it right.

Narrator Che’s voice contributes significantly to the verisimilitude of the story. How did you create his voice and character?

It was a struggle. Rosa is the first novel I’ve written where I didn’t start with the voice. I’m a writer who doesn’t plan. Usually I don’t even know what the plot is when I start writing. But Rosa was my YA version of William March’s The Bad Seed (1954). So I knew the plot: instead of the mother of a psychopath, I would tell the story from the point of view of the older sibling. So instead of my usual practice of starting with the pov character and figuring out the story; I already had the story and had to figure out the pov character.

In the original draft Che was a girl but it didn’t work. I started over. But it still didn’t work. It took about four drafts before I figured out who Che was and what made him tick and made him believable and not cloying. He was really hard to write. Not because he was a boy, but because he’s such a fundamentally nice person, assuming the best of everyone, worrying about other people. We readers are trained to not much like good people. Mostly our favourites are the morally ambiguous characters, not the goody two shoes. Razorhurst

What makes his cute, ten-year-old sister, Rosa, so terrifying?

My guess is that she’s terrifying because she’s a psychopath. And she’s a real psychopath not the serial killer stereotype of the likes of Hannibal Lector. When I was writing the first draft I did a lot of reading on psychopathy. I wanted to see how much what we knew had changed since William March did his research back in the early 1950s. A lot it turned out.

I learned that psychopath, sociopath and antisocial personality disorder are synonyms. I read many case studies of real-life psychopaths who aren’t serial killers.

I also learned a lot from friends, who, on hearing of my research, told me about their own encounters with psychopaths. One dear friend went out with one for years and another close friend’s mother was a psychopath. I also heard stories of people whose children had been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. The stories they told me of the manipulation and lies and absence of empathy went a long way towards shaping the character of Rosa.

How well matched are Che and Sojourner or is she out of his league?

I’m not convinced there are leagues. Che and Sojourner have a lot in common. I think they’re well matched. Che underrates himself.  He has a gift for making and keeping friends. He’s loyal and caring and smart. I like that Sojourner was able to see the depths in him. Though, yes, she is amazing.

How carefully did you balance love and empathy with evil?

Several drafts in it was clear that Che was pretty much the opposite of his psychopathic sister. She feels no empathy; he feels too much. That central fact, I think, keeps the book balanced.

What are you enjoying reading? This is Shyness

I’m on a great reading roll at the moment. I loved Kirsty Eagar’s Summer Skin, which is sexy and smart and unputdownable. I’ve read all her books now and loved all of them. As I mentioned above I also recently discovered Leanne Hall’s work. Wow. This is Shyness is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. And her new book Iris and the Tiger is utterly delightful.

Thanks very much, Justine. 

It was a pleasure.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Books & Christmas with Melissa Keil

MKMelissa Keil is the author of two of my favourite YA novels, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (2014) and Life in Outer Space (2013).

(I reviewed Cinnamon Girl here and Life in Outer Space here.)

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Melissa.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA lit world?

I’m based in Melbourne, but get to travel around a bit for writers’ festivals, school visits and so forth. The YA lit world is pretty amazing in Australia – apart from the festivals and speaking gigs, I get to catch up with other authors pretty regularly at launches and other events. It’s a lovely, supportive world to be part of.

How did your first YA novel, Life in Outer Space, get published? Which awards has it won or been shortlisted for? life in outer space

My first novel was the winner of the inaugural Ampersand Prize run by Hardie Grant Egmont, who, at the time, were looking for real-world manuscripts from unpublished YA authors. I think it was just one of those magical moments where the stars aligned and the manuscript just landed in front of the right people at the right time. It’s been nominated for a few things, including the Prime Minster’s Literary Award, The CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), the Gold Inky, the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards. It was the winner of the Ena Noel Award, and it was also a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults in the USA.

There’s still a buzz happening around your second novel The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl. Which awards has it won or been shortlisted for and what’s happening with it now?cinnamon girl

Thanks! Cinnamon Girl was shortlisted the Gold Inky Award, the CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), the Western Australian Young Readers Book Award. The most exciting thing that’s happening at the moment is that it’s getting ready to be published in the US and UK early next year. Both publishers have chosen quite different (but amazing) cover looks, and the US edition has been illustrated by a fantastic comic book artist called Mike Lawrence. I’m looking forward to seeing her out in the wider world!

Why do you think these books resonate so strongly with readers?

That’s a hard question! All I can say is that I write the characters who I love and connect with, whose worlds I want to be immersed in. They feel like real people to me, and I hope that that translates onto the page.

What else have you written?

I started out as a children’s book editor, and as part of my job, wrote lots of books ‘in house’, mostly junior non-fiction and preschool early-learning type books. I’ve had a picture book, Rabbit and His Zodiac Friends, published. I also have lots of half finished books and short stories in my bottom drawer!

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m finishing up my next novel, tentatively titled The Secret Science of Magic. It’s been one of the most challenging things I have written so far, but I’m on the home stretch with it now.

What have you enjoyed reading?inbetween days

The last book I read was Vikki Wakefield’s Inbetween Days, which was just beautiful, with some wonderfully complex and well-realised female characters and relationships. I’ve just started reading Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for a long time.

Christmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

All the books! I think my friends and family are tired of me asking for books and book vouchers, but there is no such thing as too many books. There are loads of things on my wishlist – one of the things I would really love though is the complete Obernewtyn Chronicles. My first four books are original editions with covers that don’t match the newer books – as all true book-nerds know, this is just unacceptable.

Where can people find you on social media?

At my website melissakeil.com, or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as MissMisch77.

All the best with your books, Melissa.

Thank you for having me!

Books & Christmas with A.J. Betts

A.J. Betts has achieved great popular and critical acclaim for her YA novel Zac & Mia (Text Publishing).

Why A.J. rather than Amanda?

I chose to use my initials for the publication of my first novel, Shutterspeed, which was, amongst other things, a book written to appeal to reluctant male readers (14+). After teaching teens for many years, I realised how little was written to engage and excite this group. I worried that a female name on the cover might give potential readers a reason – however small – not to pick up the book. My decision was also a homage, of sorts, to S.E. Hinton, and her amazing work and legacy.Shutterspeed

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?

After growing up in Far North Queensland, then living for a time in Brisbane and overseas, I’m now based in Perth, where I’ve been since 2004. I’m fortunate to live beside the ocean. I’m obsessed with the blues.

I’m quite involved in the YA scene. I’m a member of WA branch of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), which regularly meets for workshops and talks. I’ve made some incredible, like-minded friends through this organisation. I spend a lot of time speaking at schools and festivals, including working with The Literature Centre in Fremantle, which promotes Australian children’s creators, and conducts writing programs for young people. More generally, I’m a proud supporter of the LoveOzYA campaign, as well as the Room2Read projects.

How else do you spend your time?

Besides writing and presenting, I teach high school English part-time. I’m a keen cyclist (I own five bikes) so I try to get out most days, followed by an ocean dip. I read when I can, for pleasure or research. If I need some ‘down-time’ I watch films or I wander around shopping centres like a zombie.

Zac & MiaWhat inspired you to write Zac & Mia (which I reviewed for The Weekend Australian here)?

For the past eleven years I’ve worked as a high school teacher in a children’s hospital in Perth, and most of that time has been spent working on the cancer ward.

Even so, Zac & Mia was a surprise to me. In the past, my writing has always been sparked from random moments, followed by ‘what if?’ questioning. I never imagined I’d write about topics so close to my real (working) life. I never thought I’d write a novel so emotionally testing.

The book came about from two separate things: firstly, my empathy for teenagers stuck in isolation during a bone marrow transplant treatment (imagine being stuck in a room for five weeks!?); and secondly, because of a request I had from a cancer patient who wanted me to write a romance. I didn’t know which idea to pursue first – isolation or romance – so I wondered if it was possible to bring the two ideas together. This raised the question: is it possible to fall in love with someone you can’t meet?

Cancer wasn’t a driving ‘theme’, but the catalyst for bringing the two characters together. As the story developed, so too did the ideas, such as finding ‘a new normal’ after illness or change. It was only in the editing process that I realized what is truly at the heart of the story: What is beauty? What is courage? What is love? The characters are working out their own answers to these questions – and I certainly learned a lot from them along the way!

I’m indebted to the hundreds of teenagers I’ve worked with on the cancer ward – they are the reason I persevered with this book, honestly and earnestly. They continue to inspire and surprise me.

Could you tell us something about your main characters, and also about the book’s structure (which I love)?

Zac is a very level-headed kind of guy who likes sport and the outdoors. He uses humour to deal with problems, and has a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of approach. He was lots of fun to write and his voice came to me quite naturally. I’d say he’s made up of 50% me and 50% teenaged male students I’ve known over the years. (Please note: while Zac & Mia is influenced by real people, the actual story and events are fictional.)

The entrance of Mia’s character, on the other hand, needed to prompt contrast and conflict, and as a result she’s more impulsive, self-focused, and quicker to anger. She’s feisty! Whereas Zac’s decisions are based on logic, hers are emotion-fuelled. She was also fun to create, but it took me a long time to get her character right. Again, she’s made up of teenagers I’ve known (their comments; not necessarily their actions) and parts of me. I had to delve into my teenage recollections to truly bring her to life.

The three-part structure – Zac’s perspective; alternating perspectives; Mia’s perspective – evolved through the writing process. Originally, the novel was going to be completely narrated by Zac, but when I was approximately eight chapters in, I realized the main character arc was going to be Mia’s. This meant I needed to give her the chance to reveal much more of her inner life. I liked the alternating chapters in the middle third, as it contrasts the characters’ experiences while showing their lives intersecting. By devoting the final third to Mia, I came to like her more – and hopefully the reader does too! The novel’s three-word title came directly from its three-part structure.

AmandaBettsHave you received any responses from young readers about Zac and Mia that particularly resonate with you?

I’m overwhelmed by the sincerity of the emails I receive from young readers, both here in Australia and overseas. Some have cancer; some have witnessed it in a friend or relative. For most readers, though, they really relate to Mia’s experience, which is not about illness but universal experiences such as hope, rejection, fear, self-loathing, love, vulnerability and frustration. Readers tell me the book moved them, and that they see their worlds with new eyes. What a privilege this is, for me.

What else have you written?

My first novel is Shutterspeed (Fremantle Press; 2008), followed by Wavelength (Fremantle Press; 2010). They are completely different from each other, and from Zac & Mia. Shutterspeed is fast and edgy, exploring ideas of obsession and secrecy. Wavelength is more funny and philosophical, reflecting on the decisions that teenagers (nearing the end of Year 12) need to make.Wavelength

What are you writing at the moment?

My current project is already three years in the making. It’s something unexpected and exciting – a work of speculative fiction set in a future Tasmania. It’s my most adventurous story yet. I’m about 2/3 through the draft, though the overall shape keeps changing and I’m continually having to rework earlier chapters. It could be really good or a terrible mess. I’m yet to find out! But I’m enjoying it right now, which must count for something.

What have you enjoyed reading? Illuminae

So much! I’ve just finished reading Illuminae (by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff) which kept me awake at night for all the best reasons. This year some of my favourites have been Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel), My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante), The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern), South of Darkness (John Marsden), A Single Stone (Meg McKinlay), and Inbetween Days (Vikki Wakefield). I’m about to begin reading American Gods (Neil Gaiman), and a non-fiction book called The Soul of an Octopus (Sy Montgomery). I can’t wait to begin.

Inbetween daysChristmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

Already!? This Christmas will be a quiet-ish one in Perth with good friends, good food, and some cooling ocean swims. For Christmas, I need another bookcase, and only then I’m allowed to buy/receive new books. No-one dares buy me books for Christmas as they know how fussy I am.

For the New Year I’ll be going to New Zealand for a one month cycle-touring trip of the South Island, (with some research and bookstore events/visits thrown in). Travel, bikes, books – what more could anyone want?

‘Fantastic’ Australian YA for Christmas

Red QueenThree new Australian YA novels, The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody (Penguin), Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti (Allen & Unwin) and Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix (A&U) will make appealing Christmas presents. These all have ‘fantastic’ elements.

What a thrill to meet Isobelle Carmody again recently when she spoke about the final book in her incredible ‘Obernewtyn’ fantasy series, The Red Queen.

 

Isobelle’s readers are probably the most dedicated fans of an Australian YA author I’ve come across. People engage completely with her Obernwtyn heroine, Elspeth Gordie, and share their personal stories about growing up with Elspeth. As many know, Isobelle started writing the first book, Obernewtyn, when she was fourteen years old and it was published in 1987 so the series of seven books has been a long time in the making. Isobelle’s readers are relieved that, even though Elspeth Gordie’s story is now complete, Isobelle has planned other ways back into the high fantasy world of Obernewtyn.

ObernewtynI decided to buy the first book Obernewtyn rather than The Red Queen because, even though I read it when it was published, I didn’t have a copy and thought I might savour the series again from the beginning. Of course, buy The Red Queen for Christmas if that’s where you (or someone you’re choosing gifts for) are up to, otherwise work through the series. Or delve into Isobelle’s other books. My favourites are The GatheringLittle Fur (for young readers),  Metro Winds (stories for mature readers which I reviewed here) and Alyzon Whitestarr (which is inexplicably out of print).

When I moderated a session with Isobelle at the Sydney Writers’ Festival about Fantasy Worlds a few years ago, the talented Scott Westerfeld was also on the panel. My particular favourites of Scott’s books are So Yesterday and the ‘Uglies’ series (which is also available in graphic novel form).

Zeroes

He has now co-written Zeroes with the legendary Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotta. It’s an explosive whopper of a book about young people who each have a superpower. But they are ‘zeroes’ (all born in the year 2000), not ‘heroes’. It’s a perfect holiday read (and has been roaring up the NY Times YA best-sellers’ list). Which character will be your favourite – blind Flicker who can ‘see’ through the eyes of others, Chizara who can crash computer systems, Kelsie or Nate who can influence crowds, or handsome Anonymous who blends into backgrounds and is easily forgotten; but it probably won’t be Ethan with his knowing ‘extra’ voice. It’s not clear which author has written which parts but this may be revealed further into the series.

Newt's emeraldGirls aged 11 (good readers) and older will be hooked by Garth Nix’s Newt’s Emerald about eighteen-year-old Lady Truthful. I can’t do better than use the book’s blurb to describe it: ‘A regency romance with a magical twist’. It is a change of direction for Garth Nix, who is renowned for The Old Kingdom Chronicles and Keys to the Kingdom  series. Newt’s Emerald is a mystery-adventure as well as a romance, as Truthful seeks the emerald that has been stolen from her family. It’s another perfect Christmas read.

Australian YA: Sue Lawson and Freedom Ride

Meet Sue Lawson, author of Freedom RideSue Lawson

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.

Freedom RideWhere 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?After

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 whisperPan’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!Zeroes

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.

Thanks, Joy!

2015 Qld Literary Awards Winner: Meg McKinlay

Single StoneI am thrilled that the news has now been released that Meg McKinlay’s A Single Stone (Walker Books Australia) has won the Griffiths University Children’s Book Award in the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards. I hope it becomes a contemporary classic. 

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books Blog, Meg.                I reviewed A Single Stone as YA lit for the Weekend Australian in August and chaired the QLA children’s book panel – with the wonderful Megan Daley and Maree Pickering, which it has just won. Why do you think it could be classed as either YA or children’s literature?

It’s an interesting question. When I started writing the book, I thought it would be YA, but along the way found myself resisting some of the tropes you might expect in a book of this genre for that readership. By the time I finished, I was thinking of it as more junior fiction, extending into lower YA.

The bottom line, of course, is that the boundary between children and young adults is not clear cut – either in literature or in life. Since the book’s publication, I’ve had positive feedback from readers as young as 9 and teenagers of all ages. As with most things, I think it depends on individual readers but there are certainly elements in the book itself that mean it can more readily straddle that range.

For example, the main character, Jena, is 14, which is sort of on the cusp of the two categories, and even though conventional wisdom holds that readers prefer to ‘read up’, I think that’s a generalisation. If a character is strong and compelling, a reader will want to follow them regardless of age. I also think the ideas in the book are complex enough for YA readers while still being accessible to younger readers, and at the same time there’s no content that might be considered problematic for that younger age group. That was in no way by design – it’s simply a function of what the story did and didn’t call for – but I do think it’s helped extend the book across a broader range. The only time that’s really a problem is when a firm classification is needed – for awards entries, library/bookstore shelving, and so on. I’ve been a little concerned about whether this might see the book fall through the cracks between categories, but so far that doesn’t seem to have been a problem.

Surface Tension by Meg McKinlay
Surface Tension by Meg McKinlay

Did you attend the awards ceremony in Brisbane? What happened?

Yes, I was fortunate to be able to make a flying visit to Brisbane for the ceremony. It was a wonderful evening shared with a room full of fellow writers and booklovers; there was a real sense of celebration across the whole event and I felt privileged to be part of it. I’m a fairly relaxed public speaker but as the announcement approached, I found myself feeling unexpectedly wobbly. There was something about the occasion that was quite overwhelming!

What is A Single Stone about?

A Single Stone is the story of 14-year-old Jena, who lives in a village which is enclosed within a valley; it’s encircled by an impassable mountain range and cut off from any notion of an outside world. In this closed society, which suffers very harsh winters, a mineral known as mica is essential for survival, but it can only be found deep inside the mountain.

Girls who are small enough, and skilled enough, will eventually join the line of tunnellers who harvest the mica from deep inside the mountain; this is work which is highly prized and for which every girl longs to be chosen. It is not an option for boys, who aren’t permitted inside the mountain.

For this reason, girls are kept as small as possible. There are various strategies for this, all of them closely monitored by the Mothers, a group of women who hold most of the power in the village. It isn’t always easy, but it’s the only world the girls know and they accept it as the natural way of things. That is until a tragedy leads Jena to a discovery – about the Mothers and the mountain – that leads her to question the world and beliefs on which she’s been raised, and sets in motion a chain of events that changes things in a fundamental way.

Meg McKinlay
Meg McKinlay

Have you based the characters on anyone in particular, or certain types?

None of the characters is based on anyone in particular, although on reflection I may have been thinking a little of Katniss and Rue from The Hunger Games in writing the relationship between Jena and Min.

I don’t think about character in terms of ‘types’ particularly, but I knew I wanted Jena to be someone who’s heavily invested in doing what’s ‘right’, in a way that threatens to blinker her to larger truths. Writing this now, I realise that there are some elements of my teenage self in her – conscientious and authority-pleasing, but with reasons for that, and also with a latent capacity to stand up and go against the grain if pushed to a certain point.

There’s a character in the book who’s a conscious counterpoint to Jena in some ways, and I’ve set this duality up in order to reflect a bit on the nature/nurture debate. I can’t say too much more on that without veering into spoiler territory, though.

The other characters I thought quite carefully about are the Mothers. I was very clear in myself that I didn’t want them to be simply antagonists; people are of course far more complex than that and I wanted the Mothers to reflect those ambiguities, the shades of grey.

You have created an intriguing, original setting and mood. How would you describe your writing style in this novel?

It’s very satisfying to hear these comments about the setting, because this is something I typically struggle with. I’m much more interested in the internal landscape than in where the action takes place in a physical sense, and often forget entirely about the literal setting.

In terms of style, I would describe my writing here as lyrical, measured and thoughtful, and hopefully all those things on the backbone of a compelling plot.

Could you tell us about the literary texts that helped inspire A Single Stone?Silver chair

There are two that I’m aware of, but undoubtedly others whose footprints I haven’t yet recognised. The gnomes in CS Lewis’ The Silver Chair, which is my favourite of the Narnia series, made me think about what it would be like to be so at home underground, in tight spaces, that you had a horror of being outside.

The other book was Franz Kafka’s The Zurau Aphorisms, which is a collection of fragments and pithy observations about life and the human condition. One such aphorism tells of leopards breaking into a temple so frequently that they are eventually co-opted into its ceremonies. As a teenager in an Anglican high school, I was taken by this notion of how something inherently random and meaningless might ultimately become part of sacred ritual. And from there to wonder what the consequences might be when that ritual becomes utterly removed from its point of origin.

These are both texts whose influence came a long time ago – at the ages of about seven and fourteen respectively – and laid very early seeds for the story that became A Single Stone.

What are your other books?

Definitely No Ducks
Definitely No Ducks! – one of Joy’s favourites

I’ve published 11 other books for young readers, picture books – No Bears, Ten Tiny Things, and The Truth About Penguins – and chapter books – Duck for a Day, Definitely No Ducks, Going for Broke, The Big Dig and Wreck the Halls – through to junior novels – Annabel, Again and Surface Tension. My latest release is Bella and the Wandering House, which is a chapter book for ages 5-9-ish. I’ve also published a collection of poetry for adults, entitled Cleanskin.

What have you enjoyed reading?

So many things! I like a book that makes me think, that shows me the world in a new or surprising way, and also one that treats language with care. I read a lot of literary fiction and poetry as well as children’s and young adult fiction. One of my favourite books in recent years is Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals, a collection of startling short stories narrated by the souls of animals. On the plane home from Brisbane, I read Darren Groth’s young adult novel Are You Seeing Me?, which I really enjoyed, and I’m currently immersed in Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last.

Thanks for speaking to us, and all the best with this one, as well as your next book.

My absolute pleasure, and thank you right back!

Australian YA: Meet Lili Wilkinson and Green Valentine

 

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Lili

Where are you based and how involved in the YA literary community are you?

I’m in Melbourne, and I’m as involved as a lady with an eleven-month-old baby can be! I used to work at the Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria, where I helped establish insideadog.com.au, the Inky Awards and the Inky Creative Reading Prize. I’ve just finished my PhD in Creative Writing, and I’m part of the #loveozya movement, as well as just being generally around on social media.

ScatterheartI’ve followed and admired your work for many years, in the past reviewing Scatterheart for the former version of Books+Publishing and writing teacher notes for Joan of Arc.

How has your writing changed over time?

Thank you! I’d like to think my writing has gotten better – I certainly feel like I’m always learning and trying to improve. I’m more confident now, and my writing process is more streamlined. I’m also becoming much more aware of the gaps in literature (my own and more broadly), particularly in the areas of feminism and diversity, and am trying to do a better job of filling those gaps.

What is the significance of your title, Green Valentine (Allen & Unwin)?

Titles are the absolute worst. Green Valentine was originally called Garden Variety, then Bewildered, then Bewildering, then Lobstergirl and Shopping Trolley Boy. Then the wonderful Penni Russon suggested Valentine, and it ended up Green Valentine. Valentine is the suburb where the protagonist Astrid lives – it’s an awful, grey, ugly suburb where nothing grows and everything is shabby and run-down. Astrid’s interest in environmental issues inspires her to bring some green back into Valentine. It also works on a couple of other levels – the name Valentine suggests at some romantic possibilities, and the ‘green’ part refers not only to actual green growing things, but also the environmental activism movement, as well as signifying jealousy.Green Valentine

I love Green Valentine, not least because it’s very funny. Humour is difficult to write. How have you done it?

I love humour, and it is tricky to get right. Mostly I just try and make myself laugh. You feel extremely conceited sitting there at the computer chuckling away at your own jokes. But it has to be done! For me humour has to be paired with heart – I think humour and romance go hand-in-hand.

Which of your other books have humorous elements?

The Not Quite Perfect Boyfriend, Pink, A Pocketful of Eyes, Love-Shy and The Zigzag Effect. I’ve been on a bit of a funny bender. My next book won’t be funny at all! It’s going to be dark and sad, which is actually quite a fun change of pace for me.Pocketful of Eyes

In Green Valentine you have paired Astrid with Hiro. How unlikely is this match?

I love unlikely matches. For this pairing I wanted to mess with a few tropes – the Romeo/Juliet starcrossed lovers thing, a comical take on the masked-ball-mistaken-identity thing, and a sort of genderflipped Cinderella, where the girl is in the position of privilege. And I really wanted to take that well-worn trope of the Popular Mean Girl and make her the protagonist of the story, instead of the villain. I like writing stories about how putting people in boxes is stupid.

How have you used other texts in the novel?

Being a reader, so many of my experiences are shaped by the books I’ve read and loved, and it makes sense for me to extend that to my writing. Green Valentine references heaps of different kinds of texts – from Pride and Prejudice to Tom’s Midnight Garden. But probably most significant is the use of comic books and superheroes. Hiro is a comic book fan, so he and Astrid frame their guerilla gardening activities through a superhero lens, using those characters as a kind of tool to interrogate their own actions and emotions. This was inspired by activist fandoms like the Harry Potter Alliance, who are motivated by literature to try and make the world a better place. I love the idea that stories can act like a kind of blueprint of how to change the world.Tom's Midnight Garden

Greening a community is such a wonderful premise. Is this something you try to do also, maybe even at home?

The whole book came about because I started a veggie garden and was so excited about growing my own food that I wanted to write about it. I have a relatively small little patch of backyard, but manage to grow a lot of fruit and vegetables due to careful planning and some solid permaculture principles. Next, I want chickens.

In the novel you refer to the Cuban Garden Revolution. What is it?

Cuba used to grow lots and lots of tobacco and sugar, and sold most of it to other countries. But to grow a whole lot of just one thing is difficult, so you need lots of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. After the Cold War, Cuba couldn’t get that stuff from the US any more because of the trade embargo, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba’s whole economy collapsed too because they had nobody left to trade with. They didn’t have enough food, medicine or petrol, which meant that all that sugar and tobacco just rotted away in fields, because there was no one to harvest or transport it. Plus, none of those fertilisers or pesticides for the next crop. They couldn’t import food the way they used to, because they weren’t earning any money from their exports. People were starving to death.

So in Havana, they started growing food in the city. They turned vacant lots and rooftops into gardens. Every school and small business had a little veggie garden. No more big petrol-guzzling tractors required, just people, wheelbarrows and a few oxen. When you grow lots of different things together, your biodiversity increases, and you don’t need any pesticides or fertilisers. They went back to ancient traditions of crop rotation and companion planting. They made compost and harvested animal manure. Today, nearly all the seasonal produce consumed in Havana is grown within the city, as well as all the eggs, honey, chickens and rabbits. They’re a world leader in worms and worm farm technology.

It’s really inspiring stuff, and as large-scale agriculture becomes more and more difficult as we face the challenges of climate change, these small-scale intensive urban farming projects are going to become more and more vital to our survival.

What are you enjoying reading?Cloudwish

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, a stunning exploration of love and family and art. I read it when my baby was very small, and I actually looked forward to him waking up in the middle of the night so I could tiptoe into his room and feed him while reading it on my phone.

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood. Just finished this and adored everything about it. Beautiful writing, beautifully crafted story and character, handling diversity with a very sensitive and respectful touch.

Thanks very much, Lili. I hope Green Valentine finds an enormous readership.

Australian YA: Meet Frances Watts, author of The Peony Lantern

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books about The Peony Lantern, Frances.

It’s my pleasure.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the world of children’s and YA lit?Raven's wing

I’m based in Sydney. I’ve been involved in the children’s lit world for many years now, through membership of the Children’s Book Council of Australia NSW, IBBY and the Australian Society of Authors – and of course I love the opportunity to meet authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, booksellers and (most importantly) the readers – i.e. kids – at festivals, libraries and schools. I’m new to YA lit, with my first YA book (The Raven’s Wing reviewed here) published last year, and I’ve been really inspired by the passion, commitment and support of the YA community for each other and the genre. The #LoveOzYa movement is a great example of this. (And it’s introduced me to some great books!) I’m also involved with Books in Homes (as a Role Model) and the Reading Hour.

What is the significance of your title, The Peony Lantern?

The Peony Lantern’ (ABC Books, HarperCollins) is actually the title of a traditional Japanese ghost story; Japan has a rich tradition of ghost stories which I drew on in the writing of The Peony Lantern. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling a big twist!

How did you create the Japanese historical setting?Peony Lantern

I began by reading about the historical period – the book is set in 1857, which was a particularly tumultuous time in Edo (now called Tokyo) – to establish the social and political background for the book, before gradually narrowing my focus down to the specifics of setting: a samurai mansion in Edo, an inn in the remote Kiso Valley. Then I moved on to dress, architecture, cuisine, culture. What I really want to convey – because it is what I am interested in myself – is the daily life of the characters. Once I had a general idea of the main settings, I then travelled to Japan and visited the places I intended to write about. That gave me a richness of detail; the scent of the trees in the Kiso Valley and the number of steps to the village shrine, local legends and culinary specialties…In Tokyo there are a few museums that recreate the streets and buildings of the Edo period, so visiting them was invaluable. The research is one of my favourite parts of writing historical fiction. I’m completely obsessed with Japan now!

How did you create the character of Kasumi?

I wanted a character who was observant and to put her in a situation in which she was a ‘fish out of water’ as it were – in this case, a girl from a humble background who finds herself living in a samurai mansion. So she is in a position to observe differences in class as well as the differences between urban and rural lifestyles.

How important is writing about girls for you?Sword girl

It’s extremely important to me; in writing about girls from different times and places – whether it’s Claudia from Rome 19BC in The Raven’s Wing, Kasumi in The Peony Lantern or even Tommy from my junior fiction series ‘Sword Girl’, set in a medieval castle – I’m hoping to inspire readers to consider the position of girls and women in our own society.

Ikebana is a feature of Kasumi and Misaki’s time. Can you do it?

I’m afraid to say my attempts were rather embarrassing! I did a class at a famous ikebana school in Tokyo. I love flowers, so I was rather hoping I might display some hitherto-undiscovered flair, but…no. It was definitely a useful experience, though; it turns out that Kasumi’s own efforts at flower-arranging also lack that essential refinement!

Tell us about your other books.

Goodnight, MiceI began my writing career with picture books (including Kisses for Daddy and Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books, illustrated by David Legge, and Goodnight, Mice!, illustrated by Judy Watson). [Frances modestly hasn’t mentioned that Goodnight, Mice! won the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Fiction. Her other books have also won awards.]  I then started writing junior fiction (such as the Sword Girl series), also extending the storytelling to upper primary (with the Gerander trilogy), and now I’m writing YA historical fiction. I’m still writing in each of these genres – I love them all – so I’m covering from birth to young adult. I sometimes joke that my motto should be: Grow up! with Frances Watts.

How else do you spend your time?

It probably won’t surprise you if I say reading. I also love travelling, cooking and running.

What have you enjoyed reading?

Fiona Wood’s new book, Cloudwish. Tegan Bennett Daylight’s Six Bedrooms (reviewed here). And I’m currently devouring Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet. I’ve just started the third book, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and I am completely in its thrall.

All the best with The Peony Lantern, Frances. I feel like reading it all over again after hearing your responses.

Parsely rabbit

Australian YA: Meet Trinity Doyle and Pieces of Sky

 

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Trinity.

My pleasure!

Pieces of SkyPieces of Sky (Allen & Unwin) is your first published YA novel. How did you get published an agent or through the slush pile?

I got my deal through my agent.

What is the significance of your title, Pieces of Sky?

In the novel the idea of sky represents something to reach for out of the grief and the story is a somewhat fractured look at that.

The characters seem very real as if based on experience or young adults you know or have observed. How did you give your characters this verisimilitude?Trinity Doyle - credit Farrah Allan

Thank you. I tried to instil them with as much truth as I could—whether it was my truth or someone else’s. If I could work out what each of them wanted—small or big—it helped them become more alive for me.

Who do you hope reads your book?

Everybody haha. People who are searching and feel stretched thin by the world, those who want beauty and an escape. Those who are up at 3am developing obsessions for things most people have never considered. Photo of Trinity Doyle (credit Farrah Allen)

One of the characters writes snatches of poetry. Do you write poetry or song lyrics?

SextonI’ve tried my hand at song lyrics. I was in a band once and did some writing—not much of a singer though so I just spoke gruffly into the microphone haha. I had an intense period of journalling when I was 19 and that was mostly poetry. I tried to be all Anne Sexton over my lack of boyfriend 😉

 

You included some really interesting bands in the novel? Why did you pick these?

Some, like The Jezebels, had a lot of impact for me in the early writing of the book while others became important to me later. I tried to make each mention count, it had to have the appropriate feel for the scene and also be someone I thought the character would’ve actually listened to. I had a lot of fun with Evan’s more obscure taste.

Why did you choose Pennant Hills in Sydney as the place Evan grew up?

haha! Because I wanted him to come from somewhere a bit well off but not too much. It’s also outside the city, which I liked, I like him being an outsider. Truthfully though it’s just what came to mind. I had some friends who grew up there.

Where are you based and how involved in the Australian book world are you?

I’m based in Newcastle, NSW. I think I’m somewhat involved in our book world—I think it’s the best book world going. I’m a part of our local CBCA group, the Australian Society of Authors and the brilliant #LoveOzYA campaign.Night Beach

 

How else do you spend your time?

I work as a graphic designer, hang out with my 4yo daughter and hubby, cook—I love food and am passionate about health. I garden a bit though I tend to lose interest when things die or are overcome by weeds. One day I’d like to have a tiny farm—gotta get better at keeping the backyard alive first though.

What have you enjoyed reading?

Graffiti Moon

So many books! Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar is my absolute fave, closely followed by Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley and Maggie Stiefveter’s Raven Cycle books.

All the best with your new book, its a stunner and I reviewed it in the Weekend Australian here. Thanks very much, Trinity.

Thank you!

New Australian Fiction with Young Australians: Six Bedrooms and Relativity

Some of the most beguiling writing for adults features young characters. I touched on this when I reviewed Joan London’s The Golden Age in January. http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/the-golden-age-where-children-are-gold/2015/01 This book has recently been awarded the 2015 Kibble Award. Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi also has a young adult protagonist, as does Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Eimear McBride’s winner of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and other prestigious awards, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Many other well-regarded adult books focus on young characters.Golden Age

It is, however, of concern that some industry professionals and others have a lesser view of YA and children’s books than of those from the adult list. I addressed this in my interview with James Patterson (who has the opposite view) for Magpies Magazine https://www.magpies.net.au/current-issue/ (July 2015):

‘Adult books often receive bigger prize money for book awards than children’s books; adult books are positioned at the front of bookstores while the children’s bookshelves are at the back (there are some exceptions); and publicists from publishing companies tend to accompany adult authors at writers’ festivals (once again, there are exceptions), while most children’s authors and illustrators are expected to fend for themselves, which they do very capably. And, even though blogging about books is growing, there is generally diminishing space in the mainstream media to report on children’s book news and review children’s books, although we must acknowledge those few journalist, editor and media heroes who support children’s literature and literacy.’

Five on a Treasure IslandIt was affirming to view ABC TV’s The Book Club in June where guest Alan Cumming selected Enid Blyton’s Famous Five: Five on a Treasure Island as the classic book of the month. The discussion was animated, with the panel in positive agreement and revealing surprising depths in this book. So a children’s book was one of The Book Club’s high points. And the writing quality of much children’s and YA literature has improved exponentially since Blyton’s time. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firsttuesday/s4229132.htm

Relativity

Two new Australian titles for adults feature young Australians. In Antonia Hayes’s novel, Relativity (Penguin/Viking), Ethan is navigating the end of childhood and adolescence. It is more difficult for him than most due to anomalies in his personality and mind. He is absorbed by science and ostracised by his peers. Although he resembles his father in many ways, they have not seen each other for years until Mark returns to Sydney from WA to see his own father on his deathbed. Something happened in Ethan’s infancy to rupture this family.

Tegan Bennett Daylight’s, Six Bedrooms (Vintage, Random House) is an absorbing volume of short stories. Like Relativity, it also touches on estranged families. The writing is fresh and vulnerable, raising the often-forgotten experiences and memories from youth into crystallised vignettes.

Six BedroomsReading many of the stories in Six Bedrooms is like reading YA. The concerns, themes and style are similar. It explores friendship, boyfriends, tortured and other family relationships, parental influence on children, body image, identity and finding ways to navigate the world. Felicity Plunkett reviewed it insightfully for the Weekend Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/tegan-bennett-daylights-short-stories-reflect-pivot-into-adulthood/story-fn9n8gph-1227425621590.

Some sophisticated Australian YA which matches (or exceeds) the quality of our fiction for adults include Girl Defective by Simmone Howell, The Three Loves of Persimmon by Cassandra Golds, The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky, This is Shyness by Leanne Hall, Into White Silence by Anthony Eaton, Wildlife by Fiona Wood, Liar by Justine Larbelestier, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil, The Dead I Know by Scott Gardner, The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley and The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee. These are a mere sample of our YA treasures (and I dread to think what’s I’ve missed after listing these off the top of my head).Protected

To find more of our best recent YA, explore the 2015 CBCA winners and honour books, which are announced on Friday 21st August at midday. The Books for Older Readers are a phenomenally strong group this year .

Australian YA: Soon by Morris Gleitzman

SoonOn my recent bookshop tour of London there were more books by Morris Gleitzman on the shelves than copies of The Book Thief. This is not to detract from Marcus Zusak’s famous and well-stocked literary export but means that there were many, many Gleitzmans on display, a fantastic achievement for our popular Australian children’s and YA writer.

I moderated a session with Morris and the beautiful Gabrielle Wang  several years ago at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival. The children in the audience were spellbound by the words of both authors and Gabrielle didn’t have enough hands for all the little girls who wanted to hold hers. Fortunately Morris gave me some warning about how the session would end. He jumped up and sprinted for the door to beat the kids to the signing table. I had to try to stop them running out after him. Luckily I had spent a number of years as a teacher so was able to summon my latent teacher authority. His queue then and now rivals that of Andy Griffiths‘.

Gleitzman prefers to describe his books about the holocaust, which begin with Once (Viking, Penguin), as a ‘family’ rather than ‘series’ of books. When Once was published in 2005 I wrote teacher notes about it here. http://www1.curriculum.edu.au/rel/history/book.php?catrelid=1877 Once

Each book is characterised by an inimitable structure where every chapter begins with the book’s title, such as ‘Once’, ‘Then’, ‘After’, ‘Now’ and ‘Soon’ and each book also begins and ends with this word. Now breaks the chronological pattern by being set in present-day Australia with Felix as an old man.

I reviewed After for the Weekend Australian in 2012 and said: ‘After takes the reader back to Felix’s trials during the war, at first to the underground hole which was his home for the past two years. When Felix leaves it to rescue his benefactor, Gabriek, what dangers will threaten him? … The effect of war and trauma on children and young people can be horrific and should not be underestimated. Stories about these issues can provide opportunities for characters such as Felix … to play out their roles and show readers how goodness can be kept alive to help mend broken places and people. Damaged young figures move forward with hope in books of this calibre and, ideally, will not remain broken.’After

Most of the books show Felix as a boy evading the Nazis. In the latest title, Soonhe is 13-years-old and the war is over. But it’s not. Many people are still treating others without compassion; injuring and killing them in ways they wouldn’t treat animals.

Felix is surviving in a hideout with his former rescuer Gabriek. He is forced to confront more atrocities of war and its after-effects despite his work as a child doctor, innate goodness and belief in humanity. Soon is a strong anti-war cry. It is so harrowing that I would recommend it for young adults rather than primary school children. It is dedicated to ‘the children who had no hope’. Gleitzman alerts us to evil but ultimately does give us hope in these important books.

Australian YA and other fiction in London

I’m just back from a tour of (mostly indie) London bookshops.Children of the King

My visit to the Tower of London was enhanced after seeing Sonya Hartnett’s Children of the King, which alludes to the missing princes held captive by their uncle Richard III in the Tower, in a Notting Hill bookshop.

Australian YA, as well as children’s and adult literature, held its head high with sightings of Amanda Betts’ brilliant Zac and Mia, (which I reviewed here) and works by Kirsty Eagar and Melina Marchetta. I was so pleased to see my favourite Marchetta, On the Jellicoe Road on the shelves there. Watch out for the movie.Jellicoe

Karen Foxlee seems to be appreciated much more in the UK and US than in Australia. I saw Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy (for children) and The Midnight Dress. (I reviewed The Midnight Dress for the Weekend Australian here.)

And Jaclyn Moriarty has had a strong following overseas, which her own country is finally catching up with now she is winning YA awards here. Her sister, Liane’s Big Little Lies, the best seller for adults, was everywhere.

Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published here as Sea Hearts was visible and I also noticed another crossover series, Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn.Red Queen

It was great to see some of the incomparable Isobelle Carmody’s stunning YA works. Along with many others, I can’t wait for The Red Queen, the final in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, which is being published this November. This series is world class and dearly loved. How will Elspeth Gordie’s story conclude?

Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer rules the world. It was everywhere, and even featured in bookstore displays.

Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief still has a high profile but Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect for adults seemed to be even more popular. Like Rules of Summer, Rosie was everywhere, which makes me anticipate my upcoming conversation with Graeme at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival in September even more eagerly. It is so difficult to write humour and we spent a car trip recalling anecdotes from his books and laughing aloud.

Australian children’s books were highly visible, particularly multiple titles by Morris Gleitzman, including his holocaust series beginning with Once.

SoonThe latest in the series, the chilling Soon, is now available in Australia, although not quite yet in the UK. Andy Griffiths’ and Terry Denton’s Treehouse series was as ubiquitous as London’s red, double decker buses and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series was also popular. I spied books by Emily Rodda and it was a thrill to see Anna Fienberg’s stand-alone children’s novel, Louis Beside Himself, as well as her Tashi series, illustrated by Kim Gamble.

Some Australian adult authors taking shelf space were Peter Carey (Amnesia), David Malouf, Evie Wyld (All the Birds, Singing), Hannah Kent (Burial Rites), Tim Winton (Breath), Steve Toltz (Quicksand) and Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

A few standout OS YA authors on the shelves included Mal Peet (who I’ve written about here), Frances Hardinge (Cuckoo Song and Fly By Night) and Patrick Ness, whose latest YA novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, will be available in August. It’s one of his best. rest of Us Just Live Here

Australian YA Fiction: Meet Nova Weetman, author of Frankie and Joely

 

Frankie and JoelyMy upcoming YA column for the Weekend Australian profiles four new novels by Australian women. One of the books I selected for the column is Frankie and Joely (UQP) by Nova Weetman. Nova gives some fascinating insights into her work in the following interview.

What’s your background in books, Nova?

My first YA novel The Haunting of Lily Frost came out last year. I also published two books in the Choose Your Own Ever After series last year. Before I started writing YA and middle grade, I published lots of short stories for adults and worked as a children’s television writer.

Your new novel Frankie and Joely is about both the city and country. Have you lived in both and where are you based now?Nova

I grew up in Wonga Park, a tiny spot of a town up the Yarra from Warrandyte. My childhood was all about riding horses, catching yabbies in the dam and canoeing. Of course I fled that life when I turned 18 and moved to the heart of Melbourne. Now I live in Brunswick, a busy inner-city suburb with my kids and partner. But I still go camping a lot because I love the Australian bush.

Are you more like Frankie or Joely? Tell us why.

That’s a hard one. I think maybe I started out like Joely as a teenager. I was a bit insecure and emotionally needy, and possibly I’ve become more like Frankie as I’ve got older – less competitive, kinder, more loyal. But I’ll always have Joely’s pale, sunburn-prone skin!

What would your ideal friend be like?

A lot like Frankie. She’s loyal, loving, generous, kind and Joely is the centre of her world. Occasionally she loses herself around boys, but she is very emotionally insightful and I like how thoughtful she is about other people.

I love how Frankie carries her novel around and how she re-reads it ‘studying each sentence so that she can try to understand the author. Sometimes she imagines how the story would read if she wrote it.’ Is this what you do as a reader?

When I was fifteen, the same age as Frankie, all I wanted was to be an author. I used to rewrite my favourite Agatha Christie novels on an old black typewriter. I had a suitcase of props – a horseshoe, a deck of cards, and a piece of green velvet. All the things I imagined Agatha Christie would have in her arsenal. She was such a mystery that I wanted to understand her.

Picnic at Hanging RockFrankie’s obsession with Picnic at Hanging Rock is borrowed from my own. It was, and still is, one of my favourite novels. But I never wanted to be the author of it; I wanted to be one of the girls in it. My grandparents lived near Hanging Rock and I grew up thinking the story was true. I still remember the day I found out that it wasn’t. It was worse than being told Santa didn’t exist.

I think now as a reader I love losing myself in other people’s books. Sometimes, if they are completely brilliant, then I wish I’d written them myself.

Which other literary friendships have made an impression on you?

I’ve always liked unlikely literary friendships, like the one between Miranda and Sara in Picnic at Hanging Rock because Sara is so waifish and lost. The tragic friendship between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby still intrigues me. And a great contemporary female friendship is the one between Skylark Martin and Nancy in Simmone Howell’s book, Girl Defective.Girl Defective

(I reviewed Girl Defective  in the Weekend Australian here.)

What other books have you enjoyed reading?

I love reading, and I enjoy a really wide range of books. I read a lot of Australian YA. Authors like Pip Harry, Claire Zorn, Simmone Howell, Melissa Keil and Ellie Marney to name a few. But I also enjoy reading adult fiction, particularly anything written by AM Homes. One of my favourite adult novels I read last year was John Williams’ book Stoner.

Lily FrostI really enjoyed your 2014 YA novel, The Haunting of Lily Frost. It’s contemporary realism tinged with a ghost story. Could you tell us why you wrote it like that?

My mum was very ill when I wrote Lily Frost, and I think looking back, I was trying to grapple with the prospect of her dying, but in a very removed way. Ghosts let you talk about death, and let you examine it from a distance. The book starts with Lily recounting the time she almost died as a child and this sense of her imminent death is then played out through the narrative. Lily has to imagine how it feels to die and that’s what I was doing around that time.

All the best with your new book and thanks very much, Nova.

Thanks for the interview Joy!

Meet Suzy Zail, author of Alexander Altmann A10567

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Suzy.

Alexander Altmann

Your second novel for young adults, Alexander Altmann A10567 Black Dog Books (Walker Books)  is a candid account of a Hungarian boy’s experience in the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In spite of the horrific events, you have crafted a story of human indomitability and hope. Was this a deliberate strategy?

Yes.   There’s no episode more grim than the Holocaust. Alexander Altmann A10567 doesn’t shy away from the fact that the world can be a bleak and crushing place, but I also wanted to remind readers that we’re capable of great things, that we can help – in big and small ways – and that our capacity for friendship can powerful.

 Why are you interested in the holocaust?

My father inspired me to write the book. I was a litigation lawyer when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 1998. My father had survived Auschwitz as a thirteen-year-old, but had never talked about his experiences. Once he was diagnosed he wanted to tell us everything. He didn’t want us to be victims or victimise others.

I left the law and spent the next 5 years writing his story, promising him, on the day he died, that I’d get it published. Writing The Wrong Boy and Alexander Altmann allowed me to remember him and pass on his warning never to forget.

Alexander Altmann was inspired by the true experiences of Fred Steiner, who worked in the elite horse commando at Auschwitz. What was the most disturbing thing he told you? The most hopeful?

The most disturbing episode was when he was forced to throw his baby cousin over a barbed wire fence hoping his aunt would catch him. (She did and that cousin is now living in San Francisco in her 60s.) The most hopeful was when Fred was severely whipped by the Commander but his wife called him by name and fed him cake.

How has the 2013 CBCA short-listing of The Wrong Boy changed your writing life?

wrong boy

 I came to writing fiction through non-fiction. It was a steep learning curve: from interviewing people to imagining them into existence. The short-listing allowed me to believe that my writing could touch people and I could master the craft of storytelling.

Why are you writing YA?

I didn’t pick YA. My stories did. Young adults are the next generation of leaders. They’re our future and the perfect audience for a story set in Auschwitz. The only way to prevent something like the Holocaust recurring is by trying to understand it and the best way to help kids do that is giving them a character to care about. Not millions of Jews – just one – a girl or boy their age with the same fears, dreams and insecurities.

I knew teenagers would relate to the stories because their lives, like Hanna and Alexander’s, can also involve betrayal, abandonment, loneliness and shame. They’re also discovering their identity, so a book that encourages them to examine intolerance and question how they want to live is powerful.