‘White Night’ and interview with Ellie Marney

Ellie Marney’s new YA novel, White Night (Allen & Unwin) has an authentic Australian feel. It is warm-hearted with a welcome edge of rawness. Male protagonist, Bo, is a triumph, with his blend of masculinity, compassion and love.

Where are you based, Ellie, and how do you spend your time?

Ellie Marney

I live near Castlemaine, in north-central Victoria. I usually spend my time writing or reading! But I also have four kids, and a couple of day jobs, so life can get pretty busy.

How are you involved in Australia’s YA community?

In 2015, when the ALIA lists came out and OzYA was barely a a blip on the radar, a group of lit sector professionals – authors, librarians, booksellers, bloggers, publishers – got together to form the #LoveOzYA movement, to advocate for and promote Australian YA, and I was lucky enough to be at that first meeting. I’ve never really stopped flag-waving for OzYA since then!

Oz YA is thriving but why do there seem to be few Australian novels written for males at the moment?

I actually think Australian YA caters pretty well to males! There are plenty of great YA books written by male YA authors, or featuring male protagonists. But I also believe it’s good for boys to broaden their horizons (and maybe learn something new) by reading books with female protagonists, or written by female authors – I certainly encourage my boys to pick up books by authors of all stripes, with a range of protagonists. We don’t seem to worry so much about girls reading books written by men, or focusing on boys – Harry Potter, for instance – which makes me think it’s a bit of a double standard.

Could you tell us about your other books, particularly your very popular ‘Every’ series?

The Every series is based around the question of ‘What would a contemporary teenage Sherlock Holmes be like?’ (or as the tagline says, ‘What if Sherlock Holmes was the boy next door?’) and is my most popular series to date. People liked my take on Young-Sherlock-and Girl-Watson-in-Melbourne so much I wrote a companion novel, No Limits, which I self-published last year – Harris Derwent, one of the secondary characters in the series, had his chance to shine in a darker-edged story about drug crime and high-stakes romance in regional Australia.

Now this year I’m releasing White Night, and in a few more months, Circus Hearts, a 3-book YA romantic crime series set in a circus – the first book, about a teenage trapeze artist and an apprentice strongman on the run from a terrible crime, will (if all goes to plan!) be out in September.

What is the significance of the title of your new novel White Night?

It refers to a a number of things actually – I’m glad you asked! White Night is the name of the lightshow festival that the students in the book want to stage to raise funds for their local skate park; it’s based on the worldwide festival of lights that has taken off so well in Melbourne. But ‘White Night’ also has darker connotations: in the Jonestown Peoples’ Temple cult, the name was a code for the ‘revolutionary suicide’ practise runs that Jim Jones forced all his followers to perform to prove their loyalty.

But also – and this is a little Easter egg for readers! Because my brain is funny like that – there are a lot of references to the Sleeping Beauty story in White Night. The names of the characters (Bo and Rory – in the old legends, it was Prince Beau and Princess Aurora), the idea of a handsome suitor who rescues a damsel from a tower (in this case, an ideological tower) which is surrounded by greenery… So White Night is a play on the old references to a ‘white knight in shining armour’. I liked threading little bits of the story into the book, and flipping the idea too, with a headstrong princess who sort of rescues herself…

Could you tell us about your major characters, Bo and Rory, including their relationships with their parents?

Bo is sixteen, and focused on footy, friends and family – his dad, Aaron, his pregnant mum, Liz and his younger brother, Connor. Bo’s parents are strict but fair, and he feels like he’s cruising along – except for some nagging concerns about what he’s going to do at the end of high school. Rory, on the other hand, has no plans, because her life isn’t lived in a conventional way – she lives in Garden of Eden, an off-the-grid radical environmentalist commune with a very alternative family arrangement. This is her first attempt at real high school and ‘outside’ life, and when she meets Bo, the two of them rub up against each other in curious, life-changing, spark-creating ways.

I think I’d better leave it there – if I give too much away, I’ll be sharing spoilers!

Which of Bo’s school friends would you like to write about further?

Hm, that’s a hard question! Bo’s best mate, Sprog Hamilton, starts out as a total bogan footy bloke and then evolves to have so many layers – Sprog has a wonderful story arc, and I do love Sprog as a character. But Bo’s other friend, Lozzie D’Onofrio, is equally lovely – and maybe has a lot more backstory to explore… I’d happily write about either one of them!

You’ve mentioned the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in White Night. What environmental messages do you want to share?

When I was researching White Night I read an incredible book: The World Without Us by Alan Weismann – it poses the thought experiment of how would nature recover and go on if all the humans in the world just disappeared overnight? That book was mind-blowing and fascinating, and threw out lots of amazing and terrifying facts about the impact of human beings on the planet. I’d love more young people to think hard about the environment and contribute ideas for solutions to some of the problems – it’s their planet too, and I think young people have much to give on this issue, considering they’re so invested in it. We just need to start listening, and acting on their ideas, before things get too urgent.

How have you incorporated the book The Ruins of Gorlan into White Night?

Oh, that book is so great! Every single one of my sons has read The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan, which is the first book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. That series… It’s so good! And it seems to really appeal to my kids, especially the idea of being a boy (like Will) with an older male mentor (like Halt) and learning all the survival and craft skills necessary for living on the land. I just thought it was a natural fit for Bo and Connor’s story, with echoes of what it’s like being a young boy growing up and searching for male role models.

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve actually been so immersed in writing I haven’t had much reading time – but when I’ve had a break, I’ve been reading Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (O.M.G. that whole series is so incredible!), LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff (I have an ARC! Yes, it’s just that good, I had to steal it from the Allen & Unwin offices!) and also a few books I’m reading for #LoveOzYAbookclub – Gap Year in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor, and Valentine by Jodi McAlister.

And of course, I often grab a romance read when I’m tired or flat – I love Penny Reid, Sarah Mayberry, Kylie Scott and Sarina Bowen. Those ladies bring all the feels!

Thanks very much, Ellie, and all the best with White Night. It will no doubt find a wide and appreciative readership.

Thanks Joy! I hope people enjoy it, and thank you so much for having me to visit!

Ellie Marney’s website 

See Cait’s great review of White Night on the blog.

Review: White Night by Ellie Marney

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White Night by Ellie Marney is a slowly uncoiling tale of highschool and first-love and lowkey cults and the realisation that growing up is very out of your control. I will always and forever be in love with Marney’s writing, and her Sherlock Holmes retellings, Every Breath, Every Word, and Every Move, are some of my absolute favourite Aussie literature. White Night definitely doesn’t disappoint, with a good serving of Australian outback life and the complications of falling for a girl in a cult.

The story follows Bo Mitchell, who is just a typical boy, although slightly internally warring between wanting to please his dad and be a footie star and…well, he also loves to cook. His life consists of the drudge of highschool and farm chores, amongst a backdrop of his mates who love to mess around, and are currently on a fundraising rampage to save the local skate park. But then life shifts a little as a new girl comes to school: Rory Wild. She’s from a local self-sustained closed community that believes humans are ruining the world and they just want to live in peace in their gardens. Rory tiptoes into school searching for something more and while she’s met with hostile bullying for her wild clothing and weird mannerisms and beliefs, she does find Bo. And Bo falls a little bit in love with her free and unhindered way of living too…until he learns what sinister things are going on under the surface of this supposed “Eden”.

It was definitely a book I couldn’t look away from! The pace at the beginning is rather meandering and quiet (but always interesting) but by the end, you have this sick feeling rising and just keep flipping pages wondering if it’ll end in your worst nightmares.

Bo’s narration is a fantastic collision of contrasts. He’s torn between being super blokey to please his farmer dad, and his slang is very typically your outback Aussie, but he also likes taking care of people and he’s interested in food and organic things. He’s so open minded! And this was really refreshing to read?! WE get this 16-year-old boy who’s realistic and makes mistakes and has messy reactions to family strife…but underneath it all he’s the driving force of his own character development. SUCH good news.

Bo also meets this super nice girl called Rory who’s part of a local self-sustaining hippy community. Rory was homeschooled but she decides to try school and Bo becomes besotted with her. It’s slow and sweet and there’s so many “will they/won’t they” moments and I loved their relationship.

The community is called “Garden Of Eden” and it was really interesting. At first it seems such a harmonious and idealistic place, very calm and nice, and everyone was so welcoming…but the further the book progresses the more you see the cultish undertones. The community grows their own food. Uses solar. Makes pottery and weaves and makes anything they actually need. Rory is fantastic person who’s equal parts whimsical and free-spirited, but also realistic and full of deep and complex feelings. You can’t help but root for her to have a good life…even if that might not be the one she’s living now?

The book isn’t a raucous action/adventure, but I did love the quiet feel. There’s lots of school, pottery making, conversations, frolicking about in gardens, bike rides, etc. etc. Bo had family drama, but it wasn’t life-or-death so I wasn’t too strung up about it. I loved his bogan friends, particularly Sprog, who is presented first as a total clown and potential low-life…but he actually has ambitious and ends up picketing the council for a chance to keep the local teen hang-out of the skate park open. His character development was so good I really wish he got his own novel!

White Night is a fantastic story from a not-to-be-missed Aussie author! The ending is a slow build up of intense excruciating feelings and the writing is just delicious and so engaging.

Review: Every Breath by Ellie Marney

9781743316429I absolutely loved and adored Every Breath by Ellie Marney. I DID! I put off reading it for a few stupid reasons and yes I am ashamed. But I was nervous to try it because:

  • I totally adore Sherlock Holmes and I didn’t want to read a bad retelling,
  • The cover is not pretty. I’m shallow, but HEY. At least I’m honest.
  • The title does nothing for me. It doesn’t even hint that the book is a crime/thriller/mystery.

But I should never have hesitated because Every Breath was pure PERFECTION. Plus it’s by an Australian author. What is not to love?!

 
It was a perfect YA Sherlock Holmes adaption. Mostly because it was really realistic. It wasn’t about two kids who go snooping for crimes like a revamped Nancy Drew. These two Aussie teens kind of trip into the murder of a homeless guy that they knew and they can’t let it go until it’s SOLVED. Plus they defer and reference the actual Sherlock Holmes, which I adored because it wasn’t a “take over”, it was more honorary. These two kids just happened to be named James Mycroft and  Rachel Watts. Mycroft is a forensic genius and Rachel has a knack for medicine. I loved the gender bending of John Watson/Rachel Watts, too!

And it’s so so very Australian. Which just fills me with immense joy. I felt like dancing around the house singing, “It speaks my language!” (You can tell I read a lot of American books, can’t you?) They use “arvo” and “bikkie” and “cuppa”. They call Rachel “Rache” for short (such an Aussie thing toEvery Breath do) and sarcasm and “she’ll be right mate” attitudes come easier than cuddly emotion. I just love how Australian it is, okay?!

The characters (and development) are probably just the. best. ever. It’s narrated in first person by Rachel, who is epic. She’s a bit of an open book, and gets smothered in disbelief and righteousness and rules. But at the end of the day, she’s a ripper of a friend. Since her family just  moved from the country to the city, she’s dealing with a lot of “I don’t fit in” and homesickness, which was uber relatable.

Then there was the adorable, eccentric Mycroft. He’s not as narcissistic as the original Sherlock, which was actually refreshing. He claims to be a social moron, BUT, he makes friends with just about anyone and everyone. Literally every second person he’s like, “Oh, hallo, Bob, how’s the wife and kids” and it always stumps Rachel how he just KNOWS everyone. Mycroft has a tragic past and he forgets to eat, and he notices everything, and he has scars, and he pretends his life is fine, but he huuurts. The tortured little darling hurts. omg. Plus he and Rachel have one of the most fantastic friendships of EVER. It was refreshing to read about a friendship so strong as theirs too, although it hinted that it might move off platonic in later books.

The only things I didn’t like?

  • The book starts with this confusing after-the-school-yard-brawl scene. It was confusing and jarring. I like books to start with action, BUT STILL. To this day, I’m not even exactly sure what that first chapter was about.
  • I still don’t know HOW Rachel and Mycroft met. Did the book not say? Did I miss it? Was it brushed over because it didn’t matter? I’m curious and hope this, too, gets explained in later books!

But otherwise? I’m a billion percent in love with this book. I need the rest of the trilogy ASAP. I loved the mystery, I loved the deductions, I loved how it was all so realistic and very Australian, and I loved the character exuberant amounts.

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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!