Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

Steph Bowe’s latest YA novel is Night Swimming.

Thanks for being interviewed by Boomerang Books Blog, Steph. Where are you based and what is your current role?

I’m based on the Gold Coast, but I was born and raised in Melbourne. I write Young Adult novels and visit schools to give talks and run writing workshops.

How involved are you in Australia’s YA community?

I read more Australian YA that probably any other category! And I recommend it heartily to everyone, every chance I get. Australian YA is wonderful both to read and as a community to be part of – I have always found YA writers and readers incredibly supportive and welcoming.

Could you tell us about your earlier books?

My debut novel, Girl Saves Boy, is about a girl saving a boy from drowning, the secrets they both keep and all of the events that ensue, including garden gnome theft and lobster emancipation.

My second novel, All This Could End, is about Nina, a girl who robs banks with her psychopathic parents and younger brother – and accidentally takes hostage a boy she knows in a bank robbery that goes horribly awry.

Why is your new novel Night Swimming (Text Publishing) important?

It’s the first time I’ve really felt comfortable writing about a lot of things that are very close to my heart – I drew on my own life a lot writing this novel, and wrote about things that I think are important to represent in fiction for young people.

I was inspired to write Kirby dealing with her grandfather’s dementia after someone in my own life was diagnosed with dementia, which is something that so many people deal with. And even though the novel covers a lot of heavier things – including mental illness and being estranged from a parent – there’s still a lot of humour and lightness. It’s a novel that’s hopeful.

Kirby is gay but the focus of the novel is not on her coming out; that’s just one aspect of her life and who she is, and is normal and accepted, as it should be. The country town where she lives is not a homogenous place, because Australia is diverse, and I wanted to represent that – so characters some from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. I aspired to write individuals; no real person is defined by one aspect of themselves, and people rarely fit clichés, so I wanted my characters to reflect that.

I wrote Night Swimming as the novel that would have been a comfort to me as a young person, who often felt anxious and out of place and awkward, and who struggled with my sexuality and my race and so many other things. And I hope that other young people will find the novel uplifting. I hope that it resonates.

Who are the major human (and animal) characters?

Kirby, our awkward/adorable protagonist, who has a pet goat, is a carpentry apprentice and loves her family and her town more than anything. She wants nothing to change in her life, and – unfortunately for her – suddenly everything does.

Clancy, her best friend, who is obsessed with musical theatre and longs to leave town, move to Sydney, and become a star. Instead he’s stuck working in his parents’ restaurant. He continually comes up with ridiculous money-making schemes and insists on Kirby being his partner-in-crime.

Iris, new girl in town and the love interest of both Kirby and Clancy. Her parents open a restaurant across the road from the restaurant belonging to Clancy’s parents, sparking a bit of a rivalry. She plays the mandolin, is the most brightly dressed person Kirby has ever met, and makes a lot of puns.

Stanley, Kirby’s pet goat, son of her first pet goat, Gary. Likeable, charming, sophisticated. Not a regular goat, a cool goat. Best character in the book.

You have a cast of minor characters who help create the community setting. Who is your favourite and why?

Kirby’s cousin Nathan is my favourite of the secondary characters – he’s a bogan and a bit of a dag, but he’s a very affable, endearing character. (And he, and Kirby’s friend/Nathan’s girlfriend Claire, were the same age as me when I wrote this – about 21. So if I lived in the town, I would be friends with them – that’s probably why I wrote them to be so likeable.)

I really enjoyed the humour in the story. Could you share a little?

Thank you! Clancy is the biggest source of humour in the story – probably because he is so unapologetically and ridiculously himself, and Kirby is willing to be a sidekick and go along with his absurd plans. His Cane Toad Removal Specialists scheme is one of my favourites.

Why crop circles?

I love The X-Files. I love conspiracy theories around aliens, though I don’t believe them – they’re entertaining. And I love the idea of bored teenage kids in country towns making crop circles.

I also wanted to explore the way that things that are pretty uneventful (i.e. some crops getting flattened) can explode into a huge source of gossip and intrigue when there’s not much else going on (i.e. in a small town).

Why have you mentioned George Orwell books?

I really enjoyed 1984 and Animal Farm as a teenager, and so many young people study George Orwell books at school. And because they’re classics, older people have read them, too. So a love of George Orwell books is something that Kirby has in common with her mum – who she’s very different from, in a lot of ways.

Were you talking to Gabrielle Tozer while you both were writing your new books? You’ve both mentioned The Very Hungry Caterpillar! What were some of your favourite books as a child?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is such a timeless classic – I adored it as a kid, and I think anyone who read it as a child loved it. I remember wanting to create stories way back when I was reading picture books – probably before I actually understood the words. I loved Where The Wild Things Are, and the Charlie and Lola series, and The Lighthouse Keepers’ Lunch.

As a slightly older kid, I loved massive series – The Saddle Club, Babysitter’s Club, Enid Blyton’s books, just anything with a whole lot of books I could collect and obsess over. My favourite Australian books as a kid was Deborah Abela’s Max Remy Superspy series. I always wanted to be a spy.

I started reading YA when I was about eleven – my first favourite YA novel was On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, and it’s still one of my favourites now (I could not possibly name a single favourite novel these days – I would have to give you a top ten).

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve been reading lots of Australian YA, including:

Vikki Wakefield’s Ballad For A Mad Girl which is an incredibly creepy novel about a girl being haunted by a ghost – that’s still very authentic and magnificently written (like everything by Wakefield).

Paula Weston’s The Undercurrent which combines sci-fi and action in a future, dystopian Australia and manages to be both enjoyable escapism and politically relevant and thought-provoking, which is quite a feat.

Mark Smith’s The Road To Winter which is a really haunting dystopian novel that’s ultimately hopeful. It’s reminiscent of Claire Zorn’s The Sky So Heavy but with a deadly virus as the apocalyptic event rather than nuclear winter. I’m excited for the sequel.

And I just finished Begin, End, Begin, the #LoveOzYA anthology, which was all kinds of wonderful. My favourite story is the one by Jaclyn Moriarty, because it features a time travel agency and a hilarious protagonist.

Thanks very much, Steph, and all the best with Night Swimming.

Thank you for interviewing me! Always a pleasure to ramble about books!

Review: Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

BUY HERE

Night Swimming by Steph Bowe was a piece of adorkable cuteness! It’s such a good example why Aussie YA is absolutely the best and so entirely special. I’ve loved Steph Bowe’s previous books (Girl Saves Boy and All This Could End) and I’m so glad she’s back writing again with this one! It has goat puns, quirky humour, dry wit, book lover appreciation, and features a super cute gay romance. Plus it’s set in a small dusty Australian town where everyone knows everyone’s business. Oh. And there’s crop circles. Because of course.

The story centres around Kirby, who is one of the only two teens in the town. Her best-friend-by-default is Clancy Lee, son of the local Chinese restaurant owners. They have the most hilarious witty dialogue of ever and I can’t get enough of it! Kirby is working as a carpenter apprentice and fast approaching the doomed decision of What Do I Do With My Life.

Kirby is also such a fabulously relatable protagonist! She has a great sense of humour and she is very obsessed with books. Although she claims she has a “book buying problem” which is obviously nonsense because when is buying books a problem? It’s a lifestyle, Kirby, you’re fine. When the new girl Iris comes into town, Kirby can’t work up the courage to admit she likes her. The adorkable awkwardness is equal parts hilarious and definitely relatable. Plus Kirby is a huge fan of chips and I mean…who isn’t.

The plot isn’t super faced paced, but it’s full of interesting happenings. Someone’s making plot circles in the local fields (aliens?!) and Clancy is putting on a musical for the sole reason to impress the new girl, Iris. There’s flood warnings coming and goats eating everyone’s shoes and is Kirby’s mum secretly dating the local Greek grocery store assistant?!

There is a love triangle, but it’s not a super angsty one. When Iris arrives, both Kirby and Clancy immediately fall in love with her…but it’s Kirby who actually tries to befriend her while Clancy maintains a more dreamy idea of Iris’ imagined perfection. Iris is part New Zelander and part Indian and is the daughter of a new restaurant owner, bound to give Clancy’s family a bit of friendly competition. She’s also definitely hiding the reason they moved out and Kirby is definitely curious about that. But I appreciated how the romance was “Friendship to Lovers” because I think it makes it so much stronger and sweeter!

OTHER THINGS TO LOVE

  • beautiful but horrible puns
  • small dusty country Aussie town
  • Kirby was fat and while she fretted over it occasionally she was also okay wiher her body and sent great messages of self-love
  • the romance was basically ADORKABLE with Kirby spending 5 hours sending a text that says “sure”
  • bookworm appreciation
  • a pet goat named Stanley who will eat your shoes and soul
  • Aussie slang which is my favourite
  • Kirby’s grandpa features in the story
  • excellent diversity representation

I fully adored this book! I laughed out loud and ate it faster than a goat with a tasty stolen slipper. Steph Bowe is a master storyteller and I was engaged the entire time with the quirky and fabulous writing style. It summarises the awkward and awesome that is the life of a teenager and the tale is poignant as well as downright fun.

GIRL SAVES BOY

I intended to review Girl Saves Boy at Kids’ Book Capers last year, but before I knew it 2010 was over and I’d run out of time.

I sat on this book for a while because I was savouring it. Every time I picked it up I found something different to like about it – the tone, the characters, the plot, the dialogue, the fact that the story hooked me and carried me along right to the end.

Written by teen author, Steph Bowe, Girl Saves Boy is the story of a girl who saves a boy from drowning and in doing so, dredges up a lot of past issues for both of them. So it’s not really about the ‘almost drowning’; it’s about the people involved and the lives they occupy underneath the surface.

I write YA myself, and recently when I felt like I was losing my way with a character, I picked up Steph’s Book and read a few pages. That’s because the voice in Girl Saves Boy is so authentically teen. It’s not surprising given the age of the author, but it’s also a book that has been written with maturity – that handles subtle nuances well – that keeps the reader turning the pages all the way through.

Girl Saves Boy is written from two points of view but the voices are distinctly different and easy to distinguish from each other.

Jewel is the girl in the book and this is how she starts her story.

My brother’s last word was: ‘Polo’

My grandfather’s last words were: ‘I feel better than ever. Stop fussing.’

My grandmother’s last words were: ‘Jewel, pop the kettle on, love.’

As far as I knew, my father was still alive, but the last words he uttered before he left my mother and me were spoken to me.

He said, ‘You should never have been born.’

Sacha, the boy Jewel saves from drowning is a lot less direct in how he tells his story.

The first time we met, Jewel Valentine saved my life.

There was a sudden and forceful pressure on my chest, and someone pinching my nose and pulling my chin down, and then a mouth against mine, filling my lungs with air.

Girl Saves Boy is a poignant and heartfelt novel about two characters that readers will care about and remember long after they have read the book. Author, Steph Bowe speaks with a unique voice that will resonate with both adult and young adult readers.

STEPH BOWE – GIRL SAVES BOY

In my travels as an author, I meet many aspiring young writers. I hope they will take inspiration from today’s guest, 16 year-old author, Steph Bowe.

Steph has taken time out from her hectic schedule to visit Kids’ Book Capers to talk about becoming a writer, and about her brand new book, Girl Saves Boy.

I asked Steph what made her decide to become a writer.

It was never a conscious decision – I’ve written stories since I could put together a sentence, and I’ve always felt like a writer.

STEPH’S JOURNEY TO PUBLICATION

I sent out queries to literary agents in September of last year, and within three weeks had three offers of representation. From there, a signed with one agent after speaking to each of them – a handful of weeks later, my book went to auction in Australia.

Steph says that the thing she enjoys most about being a writer is writing. “When  ideas come easily, and everything clicks.”

Like many authors, she says that the hardest thing is dealing with self-doubt.

STEPH’S ADVICE TO OTHER KIDS WHO WANT TO WRITE

Just do it! Don’t worry about rules or publication, and don’t doubt yourself for a second – if you want to write, write.

Steph says that her greatest achievement to date is getting a book deal.

I’m working on book two at the moment – but I’m not really talking about it. I’m afraid I’ll jinx it.

GIRL SAVES BOY

Girl Saves Boy is about a girl saving a boy from drowning, garden gnome theft, lobster liberation, first love, friendship and grief.

I asked Steph where the inspiration for her book came from.

I never really have specific inspirations for things – I’m always taking stuff in and having ideas and they just grow and grow in my head till I’ve got a fully-formed story bursting to get out – that’s how it was with Girl Saves Boy.

I hope it’s an honest book. I think the fact that I’m still young makes it easier for me to write about the emotions that you experience at this age.

Why will kids like it?

While it might not deal with experiences they’ve had, it does contain emotions they’ll be able to relate to.

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

There are really two main characters in my novel:

I dislike them both because they can be selfish, like almost everyone is.

Sacha, who I like because of his sensitivity and sense of humour

Jewel, who I like because of her attitude

Best part about writing this book?

The writing part – when everything clicked, and I absolutely loved the characters and what I was writing.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The editing with an editor! Very involved, and a bigger job than I’d expected.

Find out more about Steph and her fabulous book at her blog http://heyteenager.blogspot.com/

The Teen Reviewer

Steph Bowe, blogger extraordinaire returns to give her teenage perspective on two of the hottest new releases for kids. For more of her musings, click here.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Nina has been fifteen since 1973, when she was infected by a rogue vampire, but instead of the glamorous, superhuman life that television and Nina’s novels suggest, her life as a vampire has been boring and sickly so far.

Then Casimir, the vampire responsible for infecting half of the reformed vampire support group he’s a member of, is found dead in his coffin – staked and reduced to dust – and the boring life Nina loathes is suddenly threatened. With a vampire-slayer at large, the support group holes up at Nina’s house, in spite of her ageing mother’s protests, and the resulting quest to find and stop the killer (or at least convince him that they aren’t a menace to society), reveals the courage behind their reluctant, pallid exteriors.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group puts an original spin on a familiar concept. I deeply enjoyed this novel; the fact that it’s set in Sydney and distinctly Australian was refreshing, and the quirky humour and dry wit sprinkled throughout the novel sparkled. Nina, Dave and the rest of the support group, as well as the villains, were characters with personality and quirks, each with their own motivations.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group was deeply involving, and impossible to put down. The plot was extraordinary, but deftly handled by the author. It was simplistically but beautifully written. Next to other recent vampire novels I’ve read, The Reformed Vampire Support Group stands out for its originality. A novel well worth reading, and reading again – my new favourite.

Worldshaker by Richard Harland

Col lives on the Upper Decks of the juggernaut Worldshaker, a mobile city as big as a mountain. He has been chosen as next Supreme Commander – but then a girl Filthy escaped from Below appears in his cabin. ‘Don’t let ’em take me!’ she begs. Will he hand her over, or will he break all the rules? Col’s safe, elite world is about to fall apart.

Though I don’t usually read fantasy (I think Worldshaker classifies as ‘steampunk’, which is an incredibly irrelevant genre name that imparts absolutely no information about the novel, but sounds really awesome), I really enjoyed Worldshaker. I was slightly frustrated by Col’s naivety, but he was a character who was easy to empathise with the deeper I got into the novel. I found the plot believable, and the ending satisfying and conclusive.

The world within which Col lived on the juggernaut, separated into the Upper Decks and the Filthies Below, made for a fantastic setting – dark and a little bit sinister, and very alternative to our own world but at the same time with many similarities. The characters within Worldshaker fit very much with their surroundings, and there were many weird and wonderful personalities who you were never quite sure were on Col’s side or not.

Richard Harland spoke on the fantasy panel at the NSW Writer’s Centre Kids & YA Festival about the history in Worldshaker. It’s explained in the novel how it came about that everyone is living on juggernauts, and the Filthies are living below, and the world in Worldshaker’s history is very much the same as ours, until Napoleon made a different decision, and juggernauts slowly became possible in their world. I liked the thought of it being entirely possible that maybe we could be living on these ridiculously large earth-ship things, and I thought of it again when I read James Roy’s Sliding Doors post on my blog, and how different things would be if people in power had have made different decisions however many years ago (though it is very, very improbable, it’s an interesting thing to think about).

I also have to mention, I absolutely love the cover of Worldshaker. It has got to be one of my favourite book covers of all time.