Girls Write Up Brisbane!

Monday, September 18, 2017

I'm thrilled to be running a character workshop as part of Girls Write Up in Brisbane! The event is being held on Friday 24 November from 8.45am to 3.45pm at the State Library of Queensland, and there's an awesome line up of presenters.
Girls Write Up is for anyone who has felt limited by their gender and wants to understand how language can not only constrain but also be used to liberate and empower. It is an inclusive event open to all teens aged 12–18. 
Over the day, authors,  journalists, activists, artists, poets and other creative thinkers will share the ways they have used their writing to define their identities and shape the world around them. The program of panels and practical workshops explores the relationship between language, gender and power, and the effects of unconscious bias on our sense of self. It unpacks the ways that the female voice has been devalued in literary and popular culture, and gives participants the opportunity to discover their own creative voice, equipping them with the skills and the confidence to use it.
For more details, and to buy tickets ($35), check out The Stella Prize website.

Come along to the National Young Writers Festival!

Monday, September 11, 2017

I'm excited to be attending the National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle later this month. The festival runs from September 28 to October 1 and I'm looking forward to attending lots of events! I'll be appearing on two panels and a roundtable (all free!) so do come along and say hi if you live nearby!

YYWP Session C: Advanced fiction
Friday, September 29, 2017 at 1:15 pm

1.30pm | PANEL: Diverse fiction
Do we write fiction to represent or to escape? Why not both? What does it look like when we include a spectrum of characters in our fiction? And how do we practise diversity responsibly? With Elizabeth DeLoria and Steph Bowe.

Creative Wordshop, 170/164 Hunter St, Newcastle NSW 2300

Writing for Kids and Young People
Saturday, September 30, 2017 at 10:00 am
What makes young readers tick? Four writers talk about what sets it apart, the challenges, and the practice of writing for younger readers.

#children #youngadult

Vinyl Cafe, 4 Perkins St, Newcastle NSW 2300

(Care)ering for Yourself
Saturday, September 30, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Care about your career but also care about your person? Do you want to? This roundtable is a place to share tips and tricks on how to survive the pressures and travails of this writing life and keep your mental and physical health while you’re at it!

The Royal Exchange, 34 Bolton St, Newcastle NSW 2300

YA Bookmeet at Sydney Dymocks this Saturday!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sydney friends! I'll be appearing at the YA Bookmeet at Dymocks Sydney this Saturday (September 2) at 2.30pm, to chat about Night Swimming!

Full details below! I'm super excited to be visiting Sydney and would love it if you came along! RSVP to eventscoordinator@dymocks.com.au.


Interview with Pip Harry, author of Because of You

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I know I never stop talking about the sheer wonderfulness of Australian contemporary YA, but I am genuinely astounded at the number of truly gorgeous novels written in this country for teenagers. Because of You by Pip Harry is one of them. It's a novel that focuses on the difficult and important topic of homelessness, and characters in terrible circumstances, but it's written in an incredibly thoughtful and uplifting and accessible way - I would highly recommend it to literally anyone aged twelve and over, and think it would be a terrific novel to study in schools. It's both really important and beautifully heartwarming, and puts friendship to the forefront, which I think we need more of in YA. If you would like to read some reviews that are far more articulate than I could ever be, you should check out the glowing reviews on Books+Publishing and the Readings website!

It was wonderful to have a chance to chat with Pip about her real-life inspiration and research that led to writing Because of You, her writing process, favourite novels and upcoming projects!

Steph: Because of You explores homelessness in a very thoughtful and humanising way, and focuses both on characters who are homeless and characters who work with homeless people. What motivated you to write a novel focusing on homelessness, and what sort of research did you undertake? 

Pip: I was motivated to write a novel about homelessness as I spent three years as a volunteer with a creative writing program in a homeless shelter in Darlinghurst, Sydney. I would go each week to the shelter and meet all kinds of people in the homeless community – both people who were homeless or in government housing, or those volunteering or working with them to rebuild their lives. When the time came to write a novel that fictionalised my experiences, I knew I didn’t want to preach or be heavy handed in my depiction of what it’s like to be homeless, so I’m very happy to hear you found my exploration of the subject thoughtful! As further research, I also spent time at the Rough Edges drop in cafĂ© in Darlinghurst. I met so many funny, interesting and intelligent homeless people during my volunteering and research, so I wanted to do them justice on the page.

Steph: I loved both of your previous novels (I’ll Tell You Mine and Head of the River) but Because of You is definitely my new favourite – one of those books you have to sit with for a few minutes after having finished it, because you’re still half in that world with those characters. I went through the emotional wringer reading it – was writing it an emotional process? (I found Tiny talking about her baby so heart-wrenching and tender and beautiful.) 

Pip: Thank you! It was a very emotional process to write Because of You. I found myself in tears while writing many scenes, having to go to places that were so bleak and tough for my characters. As I suffered from post-natal depression myself after the birth of my daughter, I could really relate to Tiny’s feelings of isolation and despair around new motherhood. To be honest, writing this book was so difficult that at the halfway point, I nearly abandoned the manuscript because I wasn’t sure I had what it took to finish the story. I’m so glad I didn’t!

Steph: I interviewed you after Head of the River was released, and asked you about how the experience of writing a second novel differed from the first, so naturally now I have to ask what your experience was like writing Because of You! Was Book Three easier? How has your writing process changed and evolved? Do you feel like you’ve hit your stride? 

Pip: No! I wish Book Three was easier, but it was the same hard slog, with feelings of uncertainty and imposter syndrome throughout. Of my three books, Head of the River was the easiest to write, and Because of You was the hardest. Having said that, I think my writing process is now more experimental. I’m less afraid to try new things (like poetry, who knew?!) and stretch myself as a writer. I also found the structural editing easier and I could slash, chop and kill my darlings with much more certainty and confidence.

Steph: The novel is told from the first-person perspective of two characters, Tiny (who is living on the streets in the city, far away from her family) and Nola (who is volunteering so she can pass Year 12 at her private school). How did you establish distinct character voices? Do you have any advice for writers writing from multiple points-of-view? 

Pip: Although in some ways I wanted Tiny and Nola to sound similar (they are both 18-year-old girls after all) I also wanted there to be a distinction between their voices. Tiny speaks in a simpler language, with more slang. “Nah” instead of “No” for example and “get a feed” instead of “go out for dinner”. Nola is more formal and sophisticated. Writing from multiple POV’s it’s important to really know your characters inside out and to establish early on their individual speech patterns, slang, vocab and dialogues. This helps he reader switch between voices more easily.

Steph: Something wonderful about Because of You is that it explores relevant real-world issues and contains beautiful messages about empathy without being didactic or talking down to teenage readers. Were you conscious of avoiding writing a moralistic or educational novel? Do you have any particular reader or audience in mind as you write? 

Pip: I was absolutely conscious of not talking down to my young adult readers. The issues contained in the book are complicated, confronting and multi-layered, but they’re more than capable of absorbing and exploring them. I try not to moralise or “educate” my readers. Instead, I present difficult issues from different angles, and allow the reader to make up their own minds as to how they feel as a result. I do think about my audience being aged from around 12 years, and keep that in mind in terms of language and content, but I also know adults find my work, too.

Steph: I love the back cover quote: ‘Books can save anyone. If they’re the right ones.’ Meredith, who speaks the line in the novel, runs a street library for the benefit of people like her son, who has passed away. Despite only appearing in a couple of scenes, she, like many other minor characters in the novel, is deftly and realistically drawn. How did you approach creating these characters, many of whom are affected by trauma and grief, and fleshing them out so authentically? 

Pip: I love that line too and I believe it with all my heart! Books are life-changing. Along with Meredith the book lady, there are lots of minor characters who make a big difference in Because of You, so each one had to be real and make an impression on readers. Fleshing out the smaller characters took time – to begin with they didn’t have backstories or depth, but in later drafting, I dug deeper to find out why they were important to the story.

Steph: The transformative power of books is a major theme in the novel, and one that I (obviously!) very sincerely believe in. What were the books that were the most significant to you, as a teenager? And what do you read – and love – now? 

Pip: I read tons of Judy Blume, who influenced my honesty in my writing (she wasn’t afraid to really go there!) I also loved Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, Homecoming by Cynthia Voight, Bridge to Terabithia by Catherine Paterson. Now, I voraciously read contemporary Australian YA, including your own funny and heartwarming Night Swimming and Cath Crowley’s gorgeous bookstore love story Words in Deep Blue. I’ve also fallen madly in love with verse novels, especially The Weight of Water and One by Sarah Crossan and Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai.

Steph: Having now read Because of You, I am looking forward to the next Pip Harry novel (no pressure!) – are you working on anything new at the moment? You’re currently based in Singapore – is that influencing your writing? 

Pip: Lately I’ve been thinking about a story set in the steamy city of Singapore, but that’s just in my head! On the page, I have completed a verse novel for middle grade readers with the working title The Little Wave. I’m still negotiating a deal, but hope to have more news on its release soon!

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To find out more about Pip Harry, Because of You and her previous novels, visit Pip's website.

If you live in Melbourne, you should attend the book launch for Because of You! It's on September 2, as part of Melbourne Writers Festival. Find all the details here.

We might be young, but we're not stupid

Monday, August 7, 2017

Originally published on Birdee Mag in July 2013.

Recently I had an article published in the Sun-Herald called ‘Parenting advice from a teenager’.

Now, hear me out: I don’t think teenagers are universally great or parents universally terrible – I think most people are just doing their best. And I don’t think that I am an expert of any kind.

I wrote my article on that topic because my new novel is largely based on a tricky mother/daughter relationship. I received many nice comments, but also a few rather incensed ones – largely based on the premise that it’s wildly presumptuous for me, as a teenager, to have an opinion.

The writings and opinions of young people are so often criticised – not based on their merit, but based on the age and perceived arrogance of the teenager expressing these opinions.

I don’t think that the opinions of young people lack validity by virtue of the fact that they are young. It’s actually incredibly important that they are able to express their ideas and work through concepts, even if their opinions may change with time, experience and age.

Are we supposed to emerge as adults with fully–formed beliefs without ever having the opportunity to critically examine and express our ideas? Are we supposed to just accept what we are told by older people to be the truth?

Putting your opinion out there is a fairly risky thing to do – people will eat you alive on the internet, and being told that your opinion is irrelevant can be pretty crushing. It can dissuade you from sharing your thoughts in the future, too. (Fortunately I’ve never faced anything especially bad myself.)

dont-judgeSo I’m not entirely sure why everyone feels the need to discourage critical thinking in young people.

There’s a tendency for people to assume my work as a novelist is invalid based on my age (I’m nineteen), and decide against reading my books as a result. Or, if they read my novel and don’t like it, they assume that it’s because of my youth. I don’t want to be treated any differently just because I was born in the 90s.

I’m not the kind of person who wants people to be kinder to me just because I’m young – and I didn’t want that when I was fifteen either – I would much prefer honesty. Preferably not ‘this is a good novel… for a teenager’ or ‘this novel is unreadable because the author is a teenager’. Really, I’d much rather just be seen as a ‘writer’ rather than a ‘teenage writer’, and avoid all the unfortunate assumptions.

I think it’s important that teenagers have access to safe forums and are surrounded by people who are supportive of their ideas. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have to accept criticism sometimes, but I do believe that the writings and opinions of teenagers should be judged based on their merit, not on the age of the writer.

It’s unfair to assume that what teenagers have to say is meaningless. Everyone deserves to be heard, and to be treated with respect. We’ve all behaved as if we know everything at some point, but we realise just how much we don’t know when we have the opportunity to hear someone else’s perspective. Really, we’re all just making it up as we go along, and nobody knows everything.

Though on the internet, we’re prone to acting like we do.

Stop buying stuff, you crazy kid!

Monday, July 31, 2017

You can buy the exact right combination of things – the perfect pair of jeans, a brand new phone, that very specific eyelash plumping mascara that costs $72 because it’s got that name in nice font on the side – and you will be complete. You will be sure of yourself. You will be beautiful. You will fit in.

You have been very effectively programmed. Thank you, advertising. Sometimes, you’re more effective than religion.

I don’t have these thoughts consciously anymore. I did when I was twelve, though. I genuinely believed black skinny jeans and high-tops would make me into some sort of tough, cool, emo teenager. They did not. Even once you’re aware that buying things will not change you, there’s still this sort of urge – this sense that you need to buy things – for the status! To be better-looking! To keep up with your peers! That weird pull; the feeling that you are just one purchase away from perfection. (But we all know the truth is that no matter how much clothing you have, it never seems like enough, and it can’t really instil any confidence in the cripplingly awkward.)

More is not better. There’s a certain point at which some specific thing you longed to buy stops being desirable, and it’s very shortly after you buy it. The sheen wears off. A new possession does not change you in any way, apart from making you a little bit poorer. And this specific thing is lumped in with all your other clothes in the corner of your room, or tucked away in the bathroom cupboard alongside all the other things you wanted so very badly, or shoved to the back of the closet to gather dust.

And it becomes stuff. Stuff is different to things. You don’t buy stuff. Stuff hangs around and gets in the way. It gets cobwebby, or becomes musty, or just goes out-of-date. Stuff eventually gets given away, or thrown out. Eventually it ends up on a rubbish tip somewhere. By this stage you’re focused on the next thing that will complete you, and you don’t think about that old stuff and where it ends up anymore.

I am not suggesting that you immediately cease purchasing things altogether and convert to freeganism (won’t someone think of the economy?!) but I think we can all benefit from thinking a bit more critically about what motivates our purchases. Mindlessly buying into consumer culture is probably not the greatest idea – the immediate gratification is an addictive thrill, but the joy of a new purchase is not a lasting one.

The more you get caught up in this cycle, the more your life is dedicated to the acquisition of money to spend on all of these things, and if that’s the sort of life you’d like, that’s fine! I’d much rather try to tackle these things head on – think critically about how advertising influences me, cut back on the things I buy to things I truly need – and have more freedom, and time. Be less distracted from the things that actually matter, like, for instance, other humans I like? Following my dreams? Which, you know, generally don’t involve the purchase of skinny jeans.

Whenever you want to buy something, think realistically about how much you’ll use it (maybe work out cost per wear, if you’re keen on maths), whether something else you own can serve its role, where it’ll eventually end up. Don’t default to shopping when you feel sad or bored. Remind yourself that acquiring things doesn’t change you, only you can do that – and you’re pretty alright at the moment anyway. Think about what experiences that money could pay for instead.

Challenge yourself not to buy anything new for a week. Luxuriate in your radicalness! You’re practically destablising capitalism, you crazy kid.

Originally published on Birdee Mag.

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.
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