I'll be at Loud in the Library at Broadbeach Library on July 12!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

From 1p.m. till 3p.m. on Sunday July 12th, I'll be appearing at Broadbeach library here on the Gold Coast! Here's what the event is all about:

Take over the library with authors Tristan Bancks, Steph Bowe and Brian Falkner. Share pizza and soft drink and find out why they write, how they write and whether you could write books too.

(OF COURSE YOU COULD WRITE BOOKS TOO, is what I'm going to say. Writing books is the greatest and everyone has awesome story ideas if they have a go at it.)

It's for 12- to 17-year-olds! I am always excited about events for teenage readers (and writers) being held here on the Gold Coast, so this is pretty awesome (I'm looking forward to the pizza!).

SO: if you're a teenage reader on the Gold Coast and wondering what to do on the twelfth of July, you really should come along.

You can register on the library website here.

Interview with Kirsty Eagar, author of Raw Blue

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Kirsty Eagar is the Sydney-based author of YA novels Raw Blue, Saltwater Vampires and Night Beach, plus Summer Skin, to be published early next year (!!! I am excited about this). She's won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adult fiction and been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the Queensland Literary Awards, the Western Australia Premier’s Awards and a Gold Inky - which should indicate that her novels are pretty terrific. I met Kirsty Eagar at the Somerset Writers Festival in 2011, so I can confirm she is as lovely in real life as she is on the internet.

Being able to ask an author tonnes of questions about their writing process under the guise of it being for my blog - when in actual fact I'm just really curious! - is one of my favourite things about blogging (I hope you love finding out the stories behind stories as much as I do!). Luckily for me, Kirsty took the time to answer all of my very involved questions with really thoughtful, interesting answers - on writing about surfing, reading while writing, exploiting your own fear to create creepy atmosphere, the advice she'd share with herself as a beginning writer, plus more.


Steph: I really love that each of your novels are so different from one another (save for the surfing theme - I'm going to ask questions about that shortly!) - from Raw Blue being achingly realistic to Saltwater Vampires being paranormal with historical elements to Night Beach being a terrifically eerie gothic horror story. So I wonder whether you decide before you set out what genre you'll write the next book in, or whether that's something you work out as you write? Genre-wise, do you favour one over the others? 

Kirsty: Oh, that’s such a good question. I’d love to know how it works for other people. With Raw Blue and Saltwater Vampires, the genre was part of the initial seed idea. It wasn’t that clear cut for Night Beach. In the beginning, I had it pegged as more of a noir thing, more realistic. But when I decided to include art in the plot, everything changed, because I’ve always loved the Surrealists. Also, the house that Abbie’s living in is borrowed directly from real life – an old place we rented. The swaying chandeliers really happened, likewise that place had no hallway (so each room had two to three doorways) and there was a locked door downstairs. So it was probably the decision to use the house that turned the story gothic. (The house’s saving grace was that it also had a great view – blurry photo below is from the balcony at night: moon over the ocean).

On genre: I have no favourite. I found Saltwater Vampires the most demanding to write, though.

Steph: I also love that surfing is a central theme in all your novels, and that it's inextricably tied to the plot of each. How do you manage to continually write about surfing in a fresh way? What first inspired you to write about surfing, and do you think it will continue to be central to your work? 
Kirsty: Before I got published I’d written two novels that almost, but not quite, made it, and I’d given up on the whole idea of getting there. But I couldn’t let go of writing, so I decided to just write something that mattered to me. And surfing has given me all the big things in my life (writing, my husband, a home, a community, daily conversation that forces me to remove my head from my … you get the picture) so it had to be in there. In the beginning I struggled with permission, though. But then I realised that a lot of surf writing is from a male perspective, and tends to be about dominating the ocean, whereas I wanted to write about something quieter – just turning up because you love it. That realisation gave me the way in, and a point of difference.

There’s probably always more to write on it, because the hierarchy in the water is an interesting way to explore other themes, like belonging, for example. That said (she says, climbing down from her high horse) there’ll be no more surf writing for at least the next two books. It’s been good to step away from it.

Steph: In Saltwater Vampires, historical events and characters are interpreted through a supernatural lens - what drew you to writing about the Batavia? Are there any other historical events you'd like to reimagine for a novel? 
Kirsty: I think what made me want to write about it was that it was just such a good story. To this day, Mike Dash’s account of what happened, Batavia’s Graveyard, is probably my favourite work of non-fiction (his writing is brilliant).

Funny, you ask that second question … I’m related to the explorer Emily Caroline Barnett (nee Creaghe) so I’d like to look at her life either in a novel, or creative non-fiction.

Steph: Do you read while you're working on a novel? Does what you're reading vary based on what you're writing and help inspire your work? 
Kirsty: Yes and no. I oscillate between lumpy bursts of intense effort in amongst much longer periods of flat line procrastination. So I’m happy to read when I’m flat lining, but I don’t read at all when things are heating up. I’ll read books related to what I’m doing in a research sense, but I try not to cross over with other fiction. Most of the time, I read pretty widely and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. So I might read a sports biography, and then a YA, and then a horror, and then short stories … What inspires me is when you come across writing so good it smacks you in the eyeballs. It makes you realise what’s possible.

Steph: What have you learnt about writing and publishing that you'd share with yourself back when you first started writing? 
Kirsty: Just. Keep. Working. Set targets and then halve them (annual, monthly, week to week) and keep a record of your hours – it keeps you honest, gives you a feeling of accomplishment, and forces you to focus on the writing. In a business sense, don’t be afraid to ask questions and never be afraid to change things if they’re not working. I think, too, I haven’t always been very mature about handling the post publication side. I let things slide, buried my head in the sand. In terms of interacting with other writers and readers, you should know, Steph, that you have been a role model to me. I very much admire your grace, professionalism, generosity and courtesy. So that’s important, too, focus on the people who are positive.

Steph: Do you outline your novels or make things up as you go along? What's your process like, generally, from idea to finished manuscript? 
Kirsty: It tends to be pretty loose until I finally get a decent first draft down. I don’t outline formally, only because when I’m writing it changes anyway. But I do have a working idea in my head of where I might be going, and a couple of story beats I want to hit. Each chunk of new writing might contain a couple of hidden gems – like a throwaway line halfway through chapter five that you suddenly realise would work well as a scene, and not just any scene, but your opening scene! So what I call a first draft is heaps and heaps of rewrites and a lot of stops and starts. I find that excruciating, and I always tell myself it’ll be different next time, more organised, but it never is.

Steph: Night Beach is incredibly eerie and atmospheric - what were your inspirations? What advice would you give writers wanting to generate creepy atmosphere in their stories? 
Kirsty: Thank you! The art in the story was a big inspiration. I took directly from it in places – so, for example, Dorothea Tanning’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Yes, there’s a point in the story where Abbie’s hair is standing on end like the dolls/girls in that painting, but what I found, the more I looked, was the sense of unease I felt actually came from that door, just so slightly ajar. I drew a lot on the idea of the shadow, too – Jungian psychology and the shadow-self, the unconscious parts of your personality that you don’t acknowledge (so, for Abbie, that might be her sexuality, or residual feelings about her parents’ divorce).

More generally, I am the person who can’t sleep without closing the wardrobe door. I take open stairs two at a time because I’m convinced a hand will suddenly close on my ankle. I haven’t watched a scary movie since I was thirteen; I find them unbearable. So it’s about exploiting your own fears as much as anything else. And my daughters, when they were little, used to come up with some genuinely creepy shit. Also, I was very tired when I wrote that book – it was written between the hours of 10pm and 2am. Being the only one in the house awake meant I could easily scare the crap out of myself!

Steph: There's a lot of really challenging material (to write and to read) in your novels, and very authentic, emotionally honest characters. I think this sort of stuff can be easily mishandled, but everything is dealt with very subtly and realistically. I felt this most especially with Raw Blue. So I wonder how you go about empathising with your characters - are you the sort of writer to whom characters seem very real and drive the story themselves, or do you have to really draw them out and explore the character before being able to write them so authentically? 
Kirsty: Thank you again, Steph. Yes, they definitely feel real and, I think this is important, they also aren’t me – because you’ve got to get your own ego out of the way. Hopefully that happens during the whole write, rewrite, rewrite, feedback, rewrite, rewrite cycle! But, on the other hand, I think you’ve got to be honest. So you’re invested, you’ve risked something. That said, the characters drive it. I will sit with a scene for a long time now, and wait until my initial urge has passed and a second, better, solution arrives, generated by them. But that’s scary, because you’re always worried it won’t come. How’s that for a not very good answer to your question??? :)

Steph: Do you have a perfect reader in mind as you write? Or do you write for yourself? Does it vary from novel to novel? 
Kirsty: The eventual decision to go with one thing over another (because there always seems to be two competing ideas when I’m about to start something new) is made to please myself. But once I’m writing, it is about the reader. I don’t know who they are, though. They’re this floaty presence, holy and humbling. Real readers are the motivation to not give up on a story, because you’ve loved this world and these people and you want someone else to share it with you.

Steph: What are you working on at the moment? (Having now read all your novels, I am in that rather unpleasant state of impatiently waiting for the next book - so I hope it will be out soon!)
Kirsty: Well, that goes from me to you, too, Steph – waiting! The next one (I have to interrupt myself here to say that for a long time I thought there mightn’t be a next one, so it’s really nice to be able to say that, albeit, not very casually!) comes out early next year. It’s called Summer Skin. Despite being a beachy sounding title, as I said, there’s no surfing. It’s a uni novel, set in Brisbane (where I went to uni). It’s a bit out there, and I’m terrified.

Thank you for such astute questions Steph, and thank you very much for having me!!!

Thank you, Kirsty!

Kirsty writes a terrific blog, which is well worth checking out - one of her features, Where the magic happens, is about where writers write, to which I contributed a post, which you can read here (predictably, it features garden gnomes). I am ridiculously excited for Summer Skin - and Kirsty has a little snippet of it up on her blog.

Here's my review of Raw Blue, and more info on Night Beach and Saltwater Vampires (you'll probably see reviews for each of these here soon).

Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Carly has dropped out of uni to spend her days surfing and her nights working as a cook in a Manly cafĂ©. Surfing is the one thing she loves doing … and the only thing that helps her stop thinking about what happened two years ago at schoolies week.

And then Carly meets Ryan, a local at the break, fresh out of jail. When Ryan learns the truth, Carly has to decide. Will she let the past bury her? Or can she let go of her anger and shame, and find the courage to be happy? 

This is another book I thought I'd reviewed when I first read it years ago. Upon discovering I hadn't, I started doubting whether I'd read it to begin with. (When I was a teenager I read so much half the books fell out of my head.) Once I started reading, my memory was jogged and I knew I had definitely read it: each scene was so vivid in my mind, and I started anticipating the unpleasant parts of the novel before they happened. I found Raw Blue incredibly realistic, uncomfortably so, and very visceral.

It frustrates me incredibly when some babe shows up in a YA novel and fixes the protagonist and their myriad problems, which I think is unrealistic (and doesn't really solve anything: the protagonist hasn't really grown or dealt with their problems). What is terrific about Raw Blue is that Carly very much saves herself. The blurb makes it sound a bit sappy, but it's entirely not; her depression and rage and self-loathing are all well-drawn, and her development as a character is gradual and convincing.

What I love best about this novel and what I think makes it so realistic is the cast of characters, all of whom are well-developed and authentic. They don't all necessarily serve the plot (a few of Carly's co-workers could easily have been merged together, for instance, without the story changing) but they make the world of the novel far more representative of real life, and the myriad people we encounter (sometimes unpleasant) and whose lives intersect ours. In Raw Blue, everyone has a story and a background and things going on in their life (often left unresolved) and the story often meanders as a result, but it's perfect for this book. Of all the characters, Danny is my favourite (a kid Carly meets surfing who has synesthesia and associates people with colours) but I also love Hannah (Carly's salsa-dancing Dutch neighbour).

Carly is a nineteen-year-old character and the novel centres around some very heavy content (always dealt with tactfully, but you may prefer not to read novels in which sexual assault occurs). I'd recommend it to older YA readers and adult readers of YA; this is a prime example of excellent, challenging Australian contemporary YA. (This is a big call, but I'd also say it's the Australian equivalent of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. It's that good.)

Raw Blue on the publisher's website

Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Young Queensland writers are invited to enter the Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards, part of the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards, for a chance to win $10,000 plus career development support. The award will be presented to two outstanding Queensland writers, aged 18 to 30, who exhibit high quality writing, a track record of publication outcomes and a commitment to developing and sustaining an ongoing career as a writer.

How awesome are the Queensland Literary Awards? (Very, is the answer.) Here's their website, for more details - get onto nominating, if you're a Queensland writer 18-30 who's published a novel/short stories/poetry/etc in the last year. Nominations for the Queensland Literary Awards close 19 June 2015.

Cry Blue Murder by Kim Kane and Marion Roberts

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Will anyone hear you cry?

Celia and Alice share everything – their secrets, hopes and the increasing horror that a killer is on the loose and abducting schoolgirls just like them. Three bodies have been found, each shrouded in hand-woven fabric.

From within the depths of a police investigation, clues are starting to emerge. But as Alice and Celia discover the truth, danger is closer than anyone knows. Who can you trust at a time like this?

Cry Blue Murder is a haunting and poignant psychological thriller that pushes the boundaries of trust and betrayal, life and death, from two exciting new voices in Australian young adult fiction.

When I first read Cry Blue Murder, I read it in two sittings, separated by a few weeks, back in 2013. I read 90% of it between workshops at a school library on the Sunshine Coast, but then I had to go home! So that was tragic. But terrifically suspenseful. You should try reading books like this. It's like having to wait a week between episodes of a TV show, which is a totally different experience to binge-watching a whole series on Netflix. I read the last bit when I was at another school, in another library (school libraries are the greatest, and just libraries generally) out in Western QLD. Well. It was certainly worth the wait. The ending is the best part, and it's exactly the sort of ending I love (yeah not the 'it was all just a dream' which I also love, the twisty, horrifying kind of ending that makes you sit there for five minutes after you finish the book), and I'm not going to say anything else or I'll ruin it.

I was pretty sure I'd written a review for it then, because when I reread the book recently I searched through my posts for it. But alas! That must have been in another reality. So I'm writing this review now, with the benefit of having read the book twice. I've been rereading more and more lately, because I read so much I am constantly pushing memories of previous books out of my head. It's great for everything to hit you anew, especially a book as incredibly creepy as this one.

(The combination of the title and the general creepy weirdness of this novel puts me in mind of the David Lynch film Blue Velvet. I've had In Dreams stuck in my head the whole time I've been writing this. But. Back to the reviewing.)

The story is told in documents - emails between Celia and Alice, newspaper articles, interview transcripts, statements to police. The fact that the story's told at a remove like this adds to the eeriness; the level of detail and authenticity in the documents makes it feel very much of our world. It's a mix of ordinary and horrifying. Celia and Alice communicate like normal teenage girls (reminiscent of Jaclyn Moriarty's Feeling Sorry for Celia, told entirely in letters), and it's a slow build - much of the novel centres around the development of their relationship. It's a very different kind of novel due to the format but once you settle into the story, it's compelling. Had it been written as ordinary narrative I'm not sure it'd be as effective, but there were some points where I really wanted more information (the internal reflections of certain characters at certain points would have clarified things for me). That said, it's a well-constructed novel, and reads like something that could happen in the real world (it's a cautionary tale without that being an overt message).

The novel's strengths lie in the uniqueness of the storytelling, and the skin-crawling creepiness that's evoked despite the absence of traditional psychological thriller scenes (nobody gets chased with a knife, you don't 'see' any violence, really) - it's pretty chilling. You're going to start thinking everybody on the internet's out to kill you once you read it. It will freak you out. I'm sorry. I won't say anymore. (Why is it so hard to write reviews that don't give anything away?)

Cry Blue Murder on the publisher's website

State Library of Queensland's Young Writers Award 2015

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

It's on again! The Young Writers Award is a short story competition open to Queensland residents aged 15 to 25. There's two categories - 18-25 year olds (for short stories of 2,500 words or fewer) and 15-17 year olds (for short stories of 1,500 words or fewer).

The prizes are terrific* so if you're a Queensland writer between 15 and 25 you should have a go! It'd be silly not to. And if you're not a young Queensland writer but you know a young Queensland** writer, you should tell them to enter.

Check out the website for more details and to enter (you should, you really, really should). Closes July 17, 2015.

*Including $2,000 to the Young Writers Award winner in the 18-25 category. You could buy a lot of books with that sort of money. Plus lots of other excellent prizes: memberships to Queensland Writers Centre and Australian Writers Marketplace online, an iPad, a Kindle, and more!

**I've used the word 'Queensland' so many times in this post it no longer looks like a real word to me. Queens-land? It's quite a strange name, really. What even is the letter Q?***

***P.S. I love Queensland, it's great. I most especially love the State Library.

My Sister Sif by Ruth Parks

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fourteen-year-old Erika and her older sister Sif are desperately homesick and want to flee their life in the city. Their island home, Rongo, and their family are calling them. 

Arriving on Rongo, a green dot in the Pacific, they find the locals frightened by the changes to their world, and cracks forming in their once-perfect home. Even in this paradise, Erika and her family feel the threat of the encroaching world. And it isn't only Erika's home that needs her attention. Henry Jacka, a young American shell-collector, catches Sif 's eye and uncovers a long-guarded family secret. Only the determined Erika can prevent him from revealing it. 

Ruth Park's prophetic tale, My Sister Sif, is a distinctive, much-loved classic by one of Australia's most highly acclaimed authors. It will appeal to a whole new generation of young Australian readers.

My Sister Sif
is a beautiful, fable-like speculative story - a small, lovely novel that mixes fantasy into reality so well it feels like it really could have happened. 
I'm not going to give away what those fantasy aspects are, in case you decide to read it - I think it's nice to be surprised. I came to it not knowing very much about the story itself, and I was very quickly swept up in it. The magical aspects of the story are perfectly ordinary to the characters, making the story feel very much of our world.

I always love stories about the bonds between sisters.* Sif is my favourite - she's shy and a dreamer. Erika is more practical, and despite being the younger sister she feels she must look after Sif. Erika is so sure that she knows best she can be obnoxious, but she's ultimately an endearing character, despite her mistakes (she is fourteen, after all). Her relationship with Pig is adorable. Their island home of Rongo is well-drawn and realistic,** and I think the young narrator and the magical, childlike freedom of the story will appeal to younger readers (I would've loved this even more if I'd read it when I was ten or twelve), while the thoughtfulness and relevance of the issues raised in the story will interest adult readers of YA, too. It's easy to read and authentic and just the sort of book you want to hug.***

The issues raised in the novel are even more important now than when it was first published, but the story has a real timeless quality. There are parts of My Sister Sif which remind me that it was originally published in the 1980s, aspects of the story that speak of a different generation (things I can imagine in my parents' childhoods which don't exist in mine): Erika having a secret hideout that no grown-ups know about, the girls being able to just roam about and leave Australia on their own, Erika seeing adults as this entirely separate species who just don't understand kids. It adds to the charm. Despite the environmental protection message and fantastical creatures, the central themes of My Sister Sif are the same as a lot of YA: characters trying to become independent, relate to their family, figure out who they are and where they belong. It's a gorgeous little book.

My Sister Sif on the publisher's website

*I am the eldest of two! Sisters are the best! I really liked Frozen, like a lot, mainly because sisterly love saves the day.

**When I'm reading, I tend to fill in the detail places described with places from my own memory. I've been to Vanuatu a couple of times, and once swam in a very lovely lagoon on the island of Efate, so I kept imagining that. I don't think Rongo is a real place, but it'd be nice to visit if it were.

***You hug books you really love, right? Or is that just me?
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