Are you too afraid to fly?

Monday, July 24, 2017

I’ve got this theory that everyone is at their peak when they’re a baby, brand new (I have no evidence to back this theory up. It really can’t be proved).

You’re full of magic! There is so much genius lurking in your synapses, ready to fire. You figure everything out so quickly – proprioception! Whole languages! How to manipulate your parents! You are entirely fearless during this brief, glittering period of your life, and everything is possible.

Unfortunately you have to grow up. The trouble with growing up is that you stop being this pure angelic thing entirely unto yourself, yet to be impacted by the neuroses of those around you, and start becoming a creature of our world. Our world is confusing and weird and scary at times, and you’ve got all these messages being lumped at you from all sides, and lots of these messages come from fear – the world is dangerous! Money is exceptionally difficult to acquire! Everyone is out to get you!

And then you become entirely mad just like every other living human. It’s okay; it’s a process we all go through. Unavoidable.

Curiosity and fearlessness are two highly undervalued traits that we seem to part with entirely. You arrive at your later years of high school and start being ‘realistic’ about your career prospects. You panic that your dreams are too big, downright impossible. You start having to worry about stuff… It’s awful. Fear can be a really powerful force in your life, convincing you that failure is inevitable, that you’ll disappoint your parents, that it’s not worth even having a go.

I have a photo of myself at the age of three at the beach. I’m wearing a triple j t-shirt and an exceptionally sun-smart hat – the kind with the flap at the back. I appear to be dancing. Maybe I was; I don’t remember the picture being taken. I will never be cooler than I was in that moment. I was an awesome child, which makes up for me being a decidedly mediocre adult.

Whenever I am freaking out about anything – which is more often than not – whether it’s the impossibility of a long-term writing career or a talk I have to do or how rubbish my work-in-progress novel is, I ask myself, ‘What would Young Steph do?’

Young Steph would not freak out. Young Steph would marvel at the awesomeness of Older Steph’s life. Failure would not even occur to Young Steph because Young Steph would be too busy having fun with it. Because books, and writing, and talking about books and writing? Those are the things I love (and the things Young Steph will very shortly love, when she learns to write – at age three she’s too busy being rock ‘n’ roll).

When I was fifteen and an aspiring author, I was keenly aware of the possibility of failure. I couldn’t really shut it out. But authordom was something I had been dreaming of for years, and I knew that all authors had tonnes of rejections. I figured if I started submitting to publishers then, I might be published by the time I was thirty. I could cope with that.

I didn’t get my expected result; instead I ended up with a book deal. If I’d allowed myself to be crippled by the fear of failure and rejection, nothing would’ve happened. My manuscript would’ve languished and I would’ve continued to envy ‘real’ writers and wonder ‘what if?‘.

So, when it comes to pursuing your dreams, you have options (Hint: giving up isn’t one of them! I won’t allow it!). Either get back to the core of what you want to achieve and stop thinking about the possibility of failure – instead think about how you as a kid would view your dreams: entirely possible, and pretty magic. It’s not about deluding yourself; it’s just about shifting the focus away from the negative.

Or, incorporate failure into the plan. It’s part of the journey, and the eventual successes certainly make it worthwhile. The main thing is that you don’t fear failure. The fear of it is worse than failure itself, I assure you! You will have many fabulous adventures, I can tell.

Originally published on Birdee Mag.

Everybody's Faking It

Monday, July 17, 2017

There are many things I like about reality. Like Icy Poles on hot days, the smell of rain on dirt, and when the public transportation system runs on time.

There are other things that I don’t like about reality, like the flu, and poverty, and paper cuts. One of the things I like least about being a real person in reality (which I’m fairly sure I am, though it is entirely possible we are all just in the Matrix right now) is that you are always stuck in your own head. Unless, that is, you are a ghost who has the ability to possess others. Unfortunately, I’m not (to the best of my knowledge), though that would be super awesome (and slightly immoral).

This is one of the reasons why I love stories – the ability to escape your own head for a little while and examine the world from someone else’s point of view. I’m fascinated by what the internal realities of other people’s lives are like, and am always trying to work them out. In this way, I think, stories teach us empathy. Writing allows us ways to explore other worlds and new experiences that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Stories make our world limitless.

But the trouble with always being in your own head is that you have no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s head. You probably guess at it all the time, but unless you’re Edward Cullen (I really hope you’re not), you’re likely just basing all of your guesses on external signs.

So it’s easy to see other people succeeding in life and assume that everything is wonderful for them; that they have boundless confidence and travel through the world with ease. And then freak out, because you find life pretty challenging, and they’re obviously totally fearless, and you’ll never be that excellent.

Of course this is all rubbish. We live in a society where everyone is faking it, all the time. Displaying vulnerability and letting people know that you struggle and maybe saying ‘hey, I could use some help’ is generally frowned upon. You’ve got to keep up appearances. And that’s unfortunate. Because everyone is struggling. Life is a tricky and confusing thing to navigate.

Just because your logical mind is aware that everyone is at least a little bit insecure and neurotic – that the way people present to the world is not necessarily representative of how they’re feeling – doesn’t really stop your irrational mind from continuing to freak out. It’s something you need to remind yourself of over and over again.

When I was younger I believed for a very long time that grown-ups were somehow inherently whole – that I would hit 18 and metamorphose into an Adult who Knew About Stuff and possess incredible self-assurance. I got a little bit older and realised that no-one is ever absolutely sure of themselves – that I’ll probably still be trying to work it all out for the rest of my life. And that’s okay, although disappointing to figure out after a childhood of believing in the infallibility of adults.

Unless you are a super Level 10 extrovert (in which case, good on you! Be nice to us introverted weirdo types), parties are probably a prime time for being neurotic, and assuming that you are the only person there feeling awkward and out of place because other people are smiling and obviously having a great time. I guarantee you that 9 out of 10 people in the room are entertaining a similar thought process.

Remind yourself that everyone’s too caught up feeling awkward to notice your perceived awkwardness. People are like icebergs, or socially awkward penguins. I don’t know; I’m bad at similes.

I’m great at projecting the appearance of having my act together when I’m freaking out, though, and I think it’s reassuring to be reminded: hey, even people who appear successful struggle. You’re not an outlier. Everybody’s faking it.

Originally published on Birdee Mag.

The Worst Generation Ever

Monday, July 10, 2017

Every couple of months a story runs on an evening current affairs program about how the current generation of teenagers is out of control.

They get a bit of footage of 18 year-olds stumbling about on a night out and a social commentator shakes her head and makes inane and insulting comments – like she’s never worn impractical shoes herself.

News stories about teenagers stealing and fighting and forming gangs are continually broadcast, with a special horror reserved for girls. In ads they’re given solemn voiceovers: ‘Are you really safe?’

If we’re not being demonised as randomly violent in the news – causing elderly people to side-eye us at the bus stop like we might nick off with their bag at any moment – we’re criticised for being lazy and unambitious narcissists who rely on our parents.

What’s missing from all these stories about teenagers are the voices of actual teenagers. 

What’s missing is balance, reason, and logic. All people get to hear is a select few negative and sensationalised opinions. After all, stories about teenagers doing well just wouldn’t get people watching, would they?

Fear and sensationalism sells papers and drives ad clicks. All those dumb opinion pieces are written to be deliberately controversial – the writers and publishers know they’ll get a whole lot more attention if they get people riled up.

On coffee table breakfast shows they fret over how out of control the teenagers of today are, yet if they genuinely cared about teenagers there’d be a whole lot less ‘It wasn’t like this in our day!’ and a whole lot more ‘Here’s how we can actually tackle drinking culture / sexualisation of young people / mental illness.’

I believe the media engineers negative stories about teenagers to increase fear and ad revenue, which is a great disservice to both young people and older people – surely we’re bright enough not to accept at face value the line that is fed to us. Surely we’re bright enough not to believe grandiose statements about entire sections of our population. Surely adults can remember being teenagers themselves: making mistakes, and being treated as less-than, simply because of their youth.

Comparatively, Generations Y and Z have a lot more of a voice than Generation X or the Baby Boomers did, which is great, but that voice is still massively under-represented in our media.

I would love to see a bit more truth and a bit more objectivity in the media – less hyperbole, and some actual statistics every now and then. Maybe some statistics that show us how things are improving? For example, how there are now more young people achieving higher education qualifications than ever, or that this generation has lower rates of teenage pregnancy.

I want to hear more about the great things young people are doing. I know so many teenagers who are passionate about equal marriage, and equal pay, and equal rights. We’re heading towards a much more egalitarian Australia, and that’s a wonderful thing.

I like to think that in forty years I won’t be ranting about the unsavoury youths and their blasted devil music, or believing everything I see on TV (or whatever hologram or brain implant we get information through in the future).

I like to think I’ll remember that hating on teenagers is timeless (if parents in the sixties had issues with how much young people loved The Beatles, I hate to think what their opinion of today’s music might be), and that even if technology changes, the experience of being a teenager is inherently the same.

It’s confusing and tricky. You feel distinctly at-sea and do some idiotic things, but there’s no other way to work it all out. Everyone goes through it and does their best, and I think this generation is doing a much better job than the media gives them credit for.

Originally published on Birdee Mag.

The upside of video gaming

Monday, July 3, 2017

Growing up, I obsessively played the video game The Sims.

And by ‘growing up’ I mean I played it a great deal from the age of about 8 all the way through until yesterday, when I played it for four hours before I became really, really frustrated with the lag (it’s all those damn expansion packs) and annoyed by my own lack of productivity. ‘You should be accomplishing something, Steph! You have so little time on this earth! Whatever happened to carpe diem?’ is on constant replay in my head (my internal guilt trip narrator would never use the word ‘yolo’, even ironically).

People idealise childhood as this magical time in their lives, when they didn’t have a care in the world. I think the further you move away from being a kid, the easier being a kid seems. I feel like I am still just young enough to remember things as they were. Sure, you don’t have to worry about finding a career and earning money and eating properly when you’re a kid – you’ve got your parents to look out for you. And there are lots of fun times (before you get all weird and self-conscious and emo).

But, gosh, being a kid can be downright terrifying. You’re pretty much powerless. You’re at the mercy of parents and teachers and older siblings. As you get a little older you gradually realise there’s so much terrible stuff in the world – people starving and wars going on – that you can do nothing about. It’s depressing.

Personally, I found being a kid really frustrating, largely because people treated me like a kid, and I was aware of lots of stuff I could do nothing about. Which was why I loved video games so much. I’ve never really understood action games, or those first person shooters – why on earth would I want to run over someone? Or shoot anybody? (To this day I am baffled by Grand Theft Auto.)

But the world-building ones, and the family-creating ones? I loved them. I created narratives for my characters. I lost hours and hours and hours to The Sims. It seems like a huge timewaster now, but back then, it helped me. It gave me a sense of control over a reality, even a tiny little pixel-driven one. The satisfaction of achieving something, that sense of success, was what kept me playing; it’s very hard to stop once you’re involved. There is always something else to achieve.

People claim kids being to addicted to video games is a sign of the coming apocalypse. Well, maybe they don’t use terms as dramatic as that. But still, violence has always been a problem. Apathy has always been a problem. Poor health has always been a problem – only the causes and distractions differ from decade to decade.

Video games aren’t the root of all evil, like television isn’t, like rock and roll isn’t.

I don’t think devoting years of your life to video games is a good idea, but I don’t think losing years to reading is a good idea either – I think having balance in your life and not reaching the point of addiction is important. Trying to escape into other worlds shouldn’t be what motivates you on a daily basis (perhaps that’s a bit hypocritical, as someone who, as a novelist, is pretty much a full-time escapist).

Despite all this, my video game obsession has helped me as a writer. Even though I was channelling all this imagination and creativity into a very unproductive virtual world, I was still using that imagination and creativity. I was still thinking in narratives and making up stories in my head. Eventually the limitations of video games started to frustrate me, and more of my attention was put into writing stories down. The obsession was transferred to something slightly more productive.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Mario Kart tournament play. Very important stuff.

Originally published on Birdee Mag.

I'm not impressed by remarkable youth

Monday, June 26, 2017

People are always so impressed when young people accomplish great things.

If you do something cool and you happen to be a kid, the attention isn’t focused on whatever cool thing you've done, but on the fact that you're a kid. You are a writer / musician /s martie at just 16!

On the surface, this isn't such a bad thing: we're recognising awesome young people. But if you think about it more deeply, there are a few problems with fetishizing young people’s achievements. By being surprised at the awesomeness of one particular young person, in a way, we’re assuming that most other young people are unimpressive. That one kid might be an exception, but young people generally? Well, they're lazy and entitled, right? I don't think this is the case.

Personally, I'm impressed by remarkable whoever. I don't think there's excellent young people and excellent old people – there are just people. So, in order to avoid further asking, here are some reasons why I'm not impressed by remarkable youth.

1. Age should not our primary defining characteristic. Human beings are incredibly complex, and we generally see ourselves that way - different to everybody else… unique. But obviously we can't see everybody like this (brain limitations, or something - that old 150 people theory), so we have to start categorising: women, teenagers, Twilight fans. We expect things of people at certain ages, as dictated by our society’s teachings, our upbringing, and what we’ve come to expect from previous generations, and of course this varies between towns, cities and countries. Trying to work out what you want to do with your life in your early twenties is a pretty standard ‘thing’ in middle class Australia, but in other places, 21 might be an age where people are already becoming parents. Although age is sometimes relevant, often it really is not.

2. Don’t always compare yourself to people who are the same age as you. Everyone has a different journey, and everyone has different expectations for their life, depending on their family, culture, attitudes and beliefs. There are so many different levels on which we mature as we age. Being inspired by other young people accomplishing the things you might dream of doing is awesome, but just because they've achieved something by a certain age doesn't mean you're a failure if you haven’t, too. A successful young person doesn't just 'make it' – there’s still plenty of stuff they're working out, just like you. There is no leveling up in real life, fortunately or unfortunately. You're on your own path, and your version of being 18, 27, or 103 is going to be different from everyone else's.

3. Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you're not capable of great things. I refuse to believe that young people who do amazing things are the exception, and that the rest of us are lazy and useless. I believe media coverage is too often focused on out-of-control youth, which skews people's perceptions of what it’s like to be young. You don’t magically transform from an obnoxious little kid into a capable adult: you are yourself the whole time, and I think your capacity for excellence is proportionate to how much faith you have in yourself, and often how much faith you have in yourself is as a result of how much faith other people have had in you. Anyone who believes in you, whether they’re your parents, teachers, friends or mentors, is invaluable.

Originally published on Birdee Mag.

Guest Post: The YA Character Trope is becoming extinct

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I first met Tamasine Loves at a writing event I presented at in Melbourne several years back, so it's awesome to be be hosting a guest post from her today as part of the blog tour for her debut YA novel, Remhurst Manor. She's an Australian author who's now based in Northern Ireland. I hope you enjoy her post about the extinction of YA character tropes!


As infuriating as they are, if a character in a YA novel is a trope, a storytelling shorthand for a concept that the reader will recognise and understand instantly, their inclusion in a narrative serves a function. This is because stereotypes and tropes are narrative devices. They’re there because they have a job to do, and most of the time, across all media forms, for better or worse, tropes get the job done.
YA character tropes have been around as long as YA, lending themselves particularly well to a genre where word count is everything – young adult novels are shorter than their ‘adult’ genre fiction counterparts. Plots have to move faster and have fewer words with which to build a character. Now, it’s not impossible to effectively make a wonderful, rounded character, and develop them, in a plot with 60,000 words or less. It’s been done loads of times. It’s an impressive thing to be able to do. Not all writers can or want to do it, though, and so phone-in-a-trope means a half-built character from the get-go. The inclusion of a trope means reliance on a reader's prior knowledge of that trope and the connotations that go along with it.
Their use has widely gone uncontested, seeming like a lot of YA fiction readers sort of resign to their inclusion in the books because after all, when you love something, you are more likely to overlook flaws that would otherwise be obvious. But lately, the number of YA character tropes being cast in new releases in young adult fiction have noticeably been on the decline. Sure, there’s still Chosen One’s a-plenty, and heroine’s left, right, and centre are still ‘letting out breaths they didn’t know they’d been holding’. But the numbers are dwindling.
It seems as though authors aren’t using character tropes as often because the surety of their effectiveness as a narrative device is becoming more and more shaky. 
What has changed is that now we’ve got things like Goodreads and Tumblr. With the advent of platforms like these, book readers have become more vocal and have proven that you can be part of a fandom but also think critically about themes within novels that don’t sit quite right with your own views and values.
Readers of YA can be excited about the absence of character tropes in their fiction because of what that means: space. That space is a promise and opportunity for more diverse content in YA fiction, richer casts of characters that are more representative of books’ target audiences and their concerns.
The extinction of YA character tropes may be slow, but it is also inevitable: because they were not made to survive in the world of YA. The very nature of Young Adult Fiction and the trait that sets it apart from genres of fiction (other than intended age range) is the freedom to challenge current societal norms. 
Yes, it’s true that tropes and stereotypes have their place as a storytelling device. Using them doesn’t immediately equate to offensive sterotyping, and there are instances where they’re used masterfully. But, it is becoming increasingly evident that the place for tropes and stereotypes is not in modern young adult novels.
YA books are transformative in every sense of the word, and the genre moves fast, with roughly 10,000 books being published every year. It’s incredibly influential, and its ideas are increasingly becoming more representative of its readership. YA readers want their fiction to reflect their state of affairs; a global community. This globalisation of young peoples’ peer groups via online forums like Tumblr (specific to YA fiction is Bookblr) instils hope. 
This community of young people, who are already thinking critically and holding socially-aware understandings of their world, are focused on the traditional YA-novel theme of ‘understanding your place in society as a whole’, but are focused on making the society they’re trying to understand a global one. Their interests are reflective of their want to make the world in their immediate surroundings, and the young adult novels immediately available to them, reflect the way they see the online young adult community – a global, reciprocal, critical, varied and ever-progressing and expanding, organism. That, I think it is safe to say, is pretty hopeful for the future of the world at large. 

About Remhurst Manor:
There is a mystery that lies in the grounds of Remhurst Manor; a mystery concerning the unsolved 19th century murders of four teenagers. 

Laine Brimble is slipping between two lives. Her life at home in present-day Australia, and the life of a nobleman’s daughter living in 19th century England’s Remhurst Manor. 

Until now, Laine was able to keep her two lives separate and secret. But, Laine is about to find out that though centuries past and oceans over, Remhurst’s mysterious history is about to get a lot closer to her than she expected; a dark presence has arrived in her hometown, seeking to settle a centuries-old vendetta. 

Between home and school and the 19th-century, not to mention a blossoming relationship with new-boy-in-town, Laine struggles to keep past and present on parallel paths … but it seems as if they are on a collision course where the inevitable outcome is death. 

Will Laine unearth the mysteries lying in the grounds of Remhurst Manor? Can she be the one to finally put Remhurst’s past behind it? Will she do it before a deadly history repeats itself?

You can find Remhurst Manor on Amazon, or find out more at the book's site. You can also find Tamasine on Twitter.

NIGHT SWIMMING publication day!

Monday, April 3, 2017

I'm incredibly thrilled that my third YA novel, NIGHT SWIMMING, is published in Australia and New Zealand today! It's a novel I'm really proud of, and that I really enjoyed writing - and I hope you enjoy it, too.

If you're in Brisbane on April 4 (tomorrow!) or in Melbourne on April 20, I'd love to see you at one of my launches! Details at the links.

Want to read it?
You can find it at ReadingsDymocksAngus & RobertsonQBDBooktopia, and wherever else books are sold! (You can also order it through my publisher, Text Publishing, who offer free shipping in Australia.)

The ebook is available on AmazoniTunesBooktopiaeBooks.comGooglePlay, and Kobo.

And if you post photos of NIGHT SWIMMING, I would love to see and share them! Feel free to tag me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. (I'm also on Tumblr. And Snapchat, as stephmbowe. But I'm sort of confused by Snapchat. If you want to explain to me how to Snapchat, that would be helpful.)

You can add NIGHT SWIMMING to your shelves on Goodreads, too.

Here's the blurb:
Steph Bowe is back. Night Swimming is a love story with a twist, and a whole lot of heart.

Imagine being the only two seventeen-year-olds in a small town. That’s life for Kirby Arrow—named after the most dissenting judge in Australia’s history—and her best friend Clancy Lee, would-be musical star.

Clancy wants nothing more than to leave town and head for the big smoke, but Kirby is worried: her family has a history of leaving. She hasn’t heard from her father since he left when she was a baby. Shouldn’t she stay to help her mother with the goat’s-milk soap-making business, look after her grandfather who suffers from dementia, be an apprentice carpenter to old Mr Pool? And how could she leave her pet goat, Stanley, her dog Maude, and her cat Marianne?

But two things happen that change everything for Kirby. She finds an article in the newspaper about her father, and Iris arrives in town. Iris is beautiful, wears crazy clothes, plays the mandolin, and seems perfect, really, thinks Kirby. Clancy has his heart set on winning over Iris. Trouble is Kirby is also falling in love with Iris…

And here are some of the nice things people have said about it so far:
‘A funny, diverse, authentic story of family, love, musicals, crop-circles and goats.’ - Lili Wilkinson

‘Night Swimming is at once sweet and serious; a love-letter to outsiders, the kooky and complex—it’s an ode to first times and best friends…but above all else, it’s a reminder of how lucky we are to have a writer like Steph Bowe in our midst.’ - Danielle Binks, Alpha Reader

‘Steph Bowe’s latest novel is the utterly charming story of two best friends, the small town they live in and the girl they both fall for. It is a tender and humorous tale of family ties, friendship and first love.’ - Erin Gough

‘This bittersweet comedy of romantic misunderstanding, life management and family relations is poised at the emotional intersection between forgiveness and self-acceptance. Despite its whimsical tone, Night Swimming tackles serious themes of mental health, family upheaval and sexual coming-out with commendable delicacy and humanity.’ - Readings

‘Night Swimming is a sweet story of coming of age, family and first requited love. There is a genuine-feeling desire in the story to see the good intentions in lightly sketched but complex characters, which gives the book a lot of heart. It will appeal to fans of realistic Australian YA and to readers searching for sweet and hopeful queer love stories.’ - Books + Publishing
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