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!

The Mayne Inheritance and other Australian Gothic Classics

I’ve been immersed in gothic tales lately – doing a spot of research for a story I’m working on. And it was after several friends insisted I read Rosamond Siemon’s 1997 non-fiction work, The Mayne Inheritance, that I finally picked it up.

I couldn’t put it down.

The Mayne InheritanceSiemon delves into the lives of the Maynes – a wealthy Brisbane family who donated 270 acres of riverside land to the University of Queensland to build a new campus in 1926. It might sound like a worthy story of philanthropy. But it’s actually a gripping tale of murder, madness and social exclusion. It sheds light on the murky origins of the family’s wealth and explores the stigma that still surrounds the family today.

Siemon also paints a vivid picture of Brisbane’s early history – from the mid nineteenth century, when it was a lonely colonial outpost, prone to floods and fires, through to the early twentieth century when Brisbane developed into a flourishing river city.

Ever since finishing the book I’ve looked at my hometown with fresh eyes – inspecting the streets for markers of the era that Siemon describes.

For the Term of His Natural LifeIt might come as a surprise that Brisbane has much of a past to explore. As a teenager I recall heritage buildings being torn down in the dead of night by dodgy demolition crews. But enough fragments of old Brisbane remain, as a reminder of the people and events that shaped the city.

There is certainly a great deal of the Mayne’s legacy left. The University of Queensland remains on the sprawling St Lucia site, donated by surgeon and philanthropist Dr James Mayne. And income from the quietly elegant Brisbane Arcade, which was built on the site of the family’s butcher shop, still supports the University’s Medical School. The Mayne’s grand home, Moorlands, is preserved in the grounds of the Wesley Hospital.


In true gothic fashion, their legacy includes a ghost. The spirit of Mrs Mayne, dressed in black, is said to bustle along the upper floor of the Brisbane Arcade – drifting through shop windows and rattling display cabinets in the quiet of the afternoon.

Picnic at Hanging RockAlthough Australia might seem like an unlikely place for gothic literature – what with the dearth of draughty castles, foggy lanes and sinister gargoyles, there’s actually a strong tradition in our novels. Marcus Clarke’s classic, For the Term of his Natural Life, Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Rosa Praed’s many novels of colonial isolation all pit ill-prepared settlers against the foreboding bush.


Sonya Hartnett’s terrifying Wolf Creek and Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright continue the tradition, with the outback taking on a sinister personae, where no one is safe.

Plenty of research material for me to be getting on with, but I might leave the last two until after I’ve finished exploring the Australian outback!

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.