Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be a speaker at the NSW Writers’ Centre’s 4th Annual Kids and YA Festival, able to rub shoulders and exchange quips with authors infinitely more famous than I. With all the events leading up to the main Saturday, I was bumping into authors at a frequency I’m not quite used to. One of those authors was Deborah Abela. I took the seventh time I ran into her in as many days as sign enough to pull her aside for a quick interview.
For those that don’t know, Deborah is the author of, among other things, the wildly successful Max Remy series, which only recently came to a close. Not long ago, she was being asked, “What’s next?” Well, now, she’s released it – a fun, quirky novel whose jacket illustration I’m secretly insanely jealous of, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen. I sat down with Deborah to discuss books past, present and future.
The Max Remy series spawned ten books… How hard was it to say goodbye to the franchise?
I knew the series was going to end at Max Remy Part 10: The Final Curtain. I had great fun writing it, but found that over the next few weeks, I felt despondent and irritable and wanted to crawl into corners to sleep or cry. Not being like this usually, I eventually worked out that I was grieving for my characters, especially Max and Linden, my two young superspies I’d sent all over the world to save it from multiple bad guys. I’m okay now, though.
Which of the characters in the Max Remy universe was your favourite?
Max will always have a special place in my heart, because the idea for the series came from this young feisty but clumsy girl spy who is the hero of each book, but her cute spy partner Linden, who is calm, smart and funny, is my fav. I’ve had letters from readers wanting to be his girlfriend, so I guess other people feel like I do.
In a sentence, pitch your new book, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen.
Aurelie Bonhoffen adores living on a seaside pier amusement park with her family, but on her twelfth birthday, she discovers that some of them are ghosts.
What’s the hardest thing about writing for children?
I love writing for kids! Apart from trying to find enough time to write, one of the hardest parts is getting the tone of the book right and finding the voices of the characters. This can be very fast as with my soccer legend, Jasper Zammit, but sometimes, as with Aurelie in The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen, it can take its good sweet time.
What’s next for Deb Abela? Another Aurelie Book?
At the moment I am working on a book where a major city has flooded. Most people managed to escape but a group of kids were left behind and have to find new ways to survive in this world of floating building tops. There are sea monsters, flying machines and evil harbour lords. Its been soggy but lots of fun.
Sounds great. Of your books – which one has the best opening line?
I like the opening line from The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen:
The girl lay in her coffin with a faint smile on her powder-white face.
Its a quirky, comic novel by the way.
Who would you say were (and are) your biggest influences?
Children’s authors, books and the kids themselves. More and more I love hearing authors speak. There is so much to learn about writing. I also love getting kids excited about books by speaking to them during author visits and at festivals. Of course, I love reading and always get excited by a well-written, well-told kids story.
If you could claim any other writer’s work as your own, whose would it be?
I think, perhaps in a previous life, I was Norman Hunter who wrote the Professor Branestawm book about a wacky, inventive professor whose inventions often went terribly wrong. Either that or we’re related. I loved those books as a kid.
The last Australian book you read?
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks. Very funny, twisted and seriously subversive as far as all those other vampire books go.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you were never told?
The more you write sometimes the harder it gets, but oh how sweet it is when it all clicks into place. I was also never told how wonderful and generous and supportive kids’ book writers are… This has been an especially sweet discovery.