Words In Deep Blue blog tour: Interview with Cath Crowley

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Cath Crowley as part of her blog tour for her new novel, Words In Deep Blue. It's a beautiful, heart-rending novel, and the blurb summarises it better than I possibly could:

Second-hand bookshops are full of mysteries
This is a love story. 
It's the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets, to words. 
It's the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea. 
Now, she's back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal. She's looking for the future in the books people love, and the words that they leave behind. 
Sometimes you need the poets
Yep. It's gorgeous. It's the sort of novel that leaves you wishing the characters - and the world in which they exist, and particularly the bookshop - were real. I love it even better than Cath Crowley's previous novel, Graffiti Moon, which I love a whole lot. If you love books, and bookshops, and letters, and brilliant, beautiful, romantic, heartbreaking Australian contemporary YA (of course you do!), then you will love this novel.

Before I go off on an endless, rambling explanation of why this book is so lovely, here's the interview - it's so inspiring (for me!) to hear about Cath Crowley's inspirations, process and influences... and I hope it is for you, too!

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Steph: I read Graffiti Moon back in 2010 and it’s one of my favourite YA novels. So I’ve been very much looking forward to Words In Deep Blue since then – and the wait was definitely worth it. What was your writing process for this novel? How did the novel evolve over time?

Cath: Hi Steph, I’m a great fan of your writing, so that’s a great compliment. Thank you.

The novel certainly changed over time. It always had at its centre the story of Rachel and her brother, Cal, and the importance of words. But originally it was set in a mysterious nightclub. It was about three or four drafts before I decided to set it in Howling Books, and that was the point when the plot felt right. Howling Books felt like a character. Graffiti Moon evolved slowly too. I think that’s just my process.

Steph: Words In Deep Blue is full of literary references – did you draw them from your own favourites, or read and select books especially for your characters to love? What are the books that are most important to you?

Cath: I did choose books that were favourites of mine – I made huge lists of novels that I loved, and the lines that I loved in them. The hard part was working out what to leave out. I knew Great Expectations had to go in because Henry’s father loved Dickens, right from the moment he appeared in the page. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell gave Rachel the idea of transmigration. It’s one of my all time favourites, so I knew that would be in the book. And Henry, right from the moment I wrote him loved Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.

Steph: The bookstore, Howling Books, is almost a character of its own in the novel, and is the sort of place I wish existed in reality. What inspired the bookstore? Have you been a bookseller yourself, or would you like to be a bookseller? If you owned a bookstore, what would you call it?

Cath: I haven’t been a bookseller. I did a bit of research. In fact, I met my future husband while researching (he’s a writer and a bookseller). He gave me a lot of information about the art of bookselling, although I ignored some of it to write the book. Places like Alice’s Bookshop on Rathdowne, The Known World Bookshop in Ballarat inspired me. The people who work there love finding things in second-hand books. If I owned a bookstore I think I would call it Howling Books.

Steph: The novel has two narrators and numerous letters by different writers, and the many voices are all authentic and compelling. How did you go about creating the two distinct voices of the protagonists? Do characters come to you full-formed or require development? (I will admit that Henry is my favourite.)

Cath: Henry’s my favourite too He felt right from the start. Rachel took a long time. I think because I’d never felt that level of sustained grief. She didn’t arrive fully until after my father died, and I realised that there’s no one way to grieve. We all go off on our private roads, and so I stopped worrying if Rachel’s grief felt real.

Steph: The letters included throughout the novel were beautiful and tragic and integral to the story. What inspired you to include letters as part of the narrative? Were there any letters that didn’t make the cut? Are you a letter-writer?

Cath: A lot of letters didn’t make the cut. They were hard to include because the narrative didn’t work when it was written solely as letters and having only some letters had the potential to make the narrative feel disconnected. I took a lot of good advice from my editors on what was needed and what wasn’t. I love the idea that we can say quite personal things in a letter – more private than we might speak – and that handwriting makes those conversations personal. I wanted Rachel to reveal herself on the page, the way people in the Letter Library were revealing themselves.

Steph: What inspires your work? Who are the writers and artists you admire? And – finally – what advice would you give to writers looking for inspiration and trying to create meaningful work?

Cath: I admire anyone who finishes a book. Writing is hard. But I particularly admire writers who are taking chances, and trying something new. My advice to writers looking for inspiration is to read widely. Read about the process of other writers. I just finished Charlotte Wood’s The Writing Room. It’s brilliant I know I’ll go back to it again and again, and learn something new about writing every time.

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Thank you Cath!

To find out more about Words In Deep Blue, check it out on Pan Macmillan's website. If you're interested in reading the reviews and interviews at other blog tour stops, they're listed below.

Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie

Friday, July 1, 2016

In a dead-end town like Barwen a girl has only got to be a little different to feel like a freak. And Clancy, a typical sixteen-year-old misfit with a moderately dysfunctional family, a genuine interest in Nature Club and a major crush on the local hot girl, is packing a capital F.

As the summer begins, Clancy’s dad is involved in a road smash that kills two local teenagers. While the family is dealing with the reaction of a hostile town, Clancy meets someone who could possibly—at last—become a friend. Not only that, the unattainable Sasha starts to show what may be a romantic interest.

In short, this is the summer when Clancy has to figure out who the hell she is.

(I was lucky enough to help launch Clancy of the Undertow at Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane way back in December. I've recommended the novel to many people since I first read it, but never got around to posting a review: so here you go!)

I really enjoyed Clancy of the Undertow, and I was really struck by how authentic the voice of Clancy was. I think especially when you have met writers you can get a real sense of authorial voice intruding on the story, so you've got this sense of the intrusion of the author, which can be good and can be bad. In the case of Clancy of the Undertow, it was just Clancy, which made me suspect that Christopher Currie perhaps went on a trip to rural Queensland and discovered a very well-written, quite sad journal written by a gay teenage girl.

I think it's very tempting in Young Adult fiction when you're focusing on the central teenage characters to disappear the parents, because it's just a lot more convenient. What I loved in Clancy was the involvement and realism and nuance of Clancy's relationships with her parents and her brothers, and how that was developed.

Clancy lives in the dead-end town of Barwen, and both the landscape, the actual physical place, and the atmosphere, the attitudes of the townspeople are beautifully evoked. There's a very rich tradition in Australian fiction of romanticising rural Australia, but in Clancy's case her town is just awful and very insular. At the same time, small-town mentality - particularly among youth - seems incredibly accurately captured.

Clancy's brother Angus is a conspiracy theorist and is obsessed with cryptozoology and finding evidence of the existence of the fabled "Beast of Barwen", which is an aspect of the story that's both intriguing and amusing. (I'm not one for conspiracy theories, though I did genuinely believe in the existence of the Yowie as a child.) The dialogue is genuine, and the female friendship is endearing.

It's a gorgeous novel, and yet another example of excellent Australian YA. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to both teenaged and older readers.

Killing off the Cliché: Female Protagonists in Crime Panel (Brisbane, August 27)!

Friday, June 24, 2016

I am thrilled to appear on a crime writing panel at Old Government House on August 27, a Miss Fisher's Special Event held during the Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition. Here are the details:

Killing off the Cliché: Female Protagonists in Crime Panel
Join some of Queensland’s most exciting home-grown crime authors as they delve into the world of crime writing and how they challenge the stereotypes of the female protagonist. Killing off the cliché is a discussion panel hosted by Penny Holliday, QUT Academic in Creative Writing and Literary Studies, and joined by authors and Sisters in Crime members Mirandi Riwoe, T.J Hamilton, Lea Scott and Steph Bowe. Don’t miss this killer opportunity to take part in a captivating crime writing conversation.

DATE: Saturday 27 August 2016 
TIME: 2pm – 3.30pm

WHERE: The Day Nursery, Old Government House, Brisbane

COST: 
Trust Member $40 
Non-member $45 
(includes light refreshments and admission to the exhibition) 
limit of 36 people

Bookings open June 27. For further details, and to book, visit the Old Government House website.

Too Cool For School YA Author Panel - Dymocks Brisbane, July 6!

Friday, June 17, 2016

UPDATE: This panel has been moved to Wednesday, July 6 at 3pm!

I'm excited to be appearing on a panel at Dymocks Brisbane at 3pm on July 6, alongside some terrific YA writers! Here's the info:

Love reading? Love YA?

Join us these school holidays for our FREE EVENT

#TooCoolForSchool YA Author Panel

Five wonderful authors; Richard Newsome, Christopher Currie, Steph Bowe, Paula Weston and Julie Fison will discuss their books and crafting stories for teens.

This is a FREE event and suitable for teens aged 12 - 17.

There are prizes to be won, book signings and hillarity to be had. Bookings are essential.

For further details, and to book, check out the event on Dymocks Brisbane's Facebook page.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brusker Bradley

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds, set during World War II.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room flat. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Miss Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take in the two children. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This is the sort of novel you feel as if you've read before, but it's comforting in its familiarity. There are a lot of well-worn themes and character journeys here: Ada overcoming physical adversity; Ada and Jamie blossoming once away from their abusive mother; Susan, depressed and reluctant to care for the children, emerging from her grief and coming to love Ada and Jamie. It may lack originality in terms of plot, but it's such a well-executed, enjoyable read I didn't mind.

The beginning is engaging as Ada and Jamie flee their home and the city. Ada's voice is honest and authentic and true. While it's slow-paced through the middle, the ending is satisfying and uplifting and all the heartwarming you hope for. If you're tired of children-in-wartime novels, rest assured that the war is very much background to the story; this is a character-driven novel, which centres around Ada's journey, and is very much focused upon her acknowledging and moving beyond her mother's abuse and her physical limitations.

Ada and Jamie's mother is unrelentingly horrible, and the nature of her horribleness felt slightly far-fetched; it seemed more likely that an awful mother like her would have her daughter's foot operated on so that she could put her to work and profit from her child, rather than insist on shutting her away. By contrast, the woman into whose care Ada and Jamie are placed, Susan, is lovely. Her depressive state felt accurately evoked and her grief over the death of her best friend is dealt with tactfully. Her best friend is implied to have been her partner, prior to her death; I think it's great to see gay women represented in historical children's fiction, even in this limited way.

It's a novel which will engage older primary school students (to whom the themes and plot will seem fresh), but has enough depth and resonance to appeal to older readers, too. It's a lovely little novel to curl up with on a rainy day, that took me back to the novels I read and loved as a child.

The War that Saved My Life on the publisher's website.

NSW Writers' Centre Kids & YA Festival! And updates!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Hello humans! I emerge from the all-consuming vortex of university exams to tell you I'm super excited to be appearing at the NSW Writers' Centre Kids and YA Festival on June 25.

I'm appearing on a panel called 'YA All The Way' alongside awesome writers Adele Walsh, Dave Burton, Will Kostakis and Tristan Bancks. The festival is chock full of terrific events and great writers. You can check out the full program and book tickets on the NSW Writers' Centre website.

A couple of other cool things:



Inbetween Days by Vikki Wakefield

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

At seventeen, Jacklin Bates is all grown up. She’s dropped out of school. She’s living with her runaway sister, Trudy, and she’s in secret, obsessive love with Luke, who doesn’t love her back. She’s stuck in Mobius—a dying town with the macabre suicide forest its only attraction—stuck working in the roadhouse and babysitting her boss’s demented father.

A stranger sets up camp in the forest and the boy next door returns; Jack’s father moves into the shed and her mother steps up her campaign to punish Jack for leaving, too. Trudy’s brilliant façade is cracking and Jack’s only friend, Astrid, has done something unforgivable.

Jack is losing everything, including her mind. As she struggles to hold onto the life she thought she wanted, Jack learns that growing up is complicated—and love might be the biggest mystery of all.

So, Inbetween Days is my new favourite Vikki Wakefield novel and, considering how much I love Vikki Wakefield's other novels (check out my review of Friday Brown here), that's saying something. Australian contemporary YA has so many amazing writers, and Vikki Wakefield is up there. She isn't afraid of difficult characters and uncomfortable situations and moral complexity, and her writing is lyrical and beautiful without being inaccessible.

I think something that appeals to me immensely about Vikki Wakefield's work is that it's in-our-world but not-quite-in-our-world. There are things about Jack's life that anyone who has ever been a teenager will easily identify with (especially her insecurity and desire to escape), and her town is one you can imagine driving through on a road trip, but then there are elements that are just a little bit out-of-kilter, just slightly surreal - like the stranger camping by the suicide forest, or the number of tiles in the shop changing. The setting is wonderfully atmospheric. Mobius is like a town in a David Lynch film.

This is definitely one for the older YA reader. In a way, Jacklin and her fierce attitude reminded me of Kirsty Eagar's Summer Skin; Jack, like Jess, is unapologetically herself, but she still makes (many) poor decisions. She is real and raw and insecure and wonderful. The relationships she has with her family and friends are complex and difficult. If you expect characters to be likeable and to behave reasonably, you'll disappointed - but I think the realness and messiness of relationships and family dynamics (particularly between Jack and her mother) are what make this novel so honest and affecting. Also Jeremiah is the loveliest.

Adult readers of literary fiction would enjoy this. I also think it will really appeal to older teenaged YA readers who might have moved on to adult fiction. (It might be a bit confronting for the younger YA reader - it's quite dark, with themes of suicide, and sex is dealt with casually.) It's not straightforward or plot-driven nor does it rely on stock storylines or stereotypes, though it touches on lots of universal themes. Jack's life is dull to her but enthralling to the reader. Her sad, dark, dying town is beautifully evoked. If you can get through all the bleakness, I promise it's heartwarming in the end.

Inbetween Days on the publisher's website.
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