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

Melbourne Book Launch for NIGHT SWIMMING!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Hey, Melbournites!

I'll be having a Melbourne launch for my new novel, NIGHT SWIMMING, on Thursday April 20 at 6.30pm!

It's on at Readings Kids (315 Lygon St, Carlton) and I'll be in conversation with the amazingly talented Lili Wilkinson!

It's free, and there's no need to book - everyone is welcome and it would be wonderful to see you there!

Details are on the Readings website.

Brisbane Book Launch for NIGHT SWIMMING!!!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Brisbane and Gold Coast friends!

I am having a book launch for NIGHT SWIMMING (my first ever book launch!) in Brisbane on Tuesday April 4.

It's at Where The Wild Things Are (191 Boundary St, West End - the kids' bookshop next door to Avid Reader) and it's on from 6pm to 8pm.

I'm thrilled to have the amazing Paula Weston, author of the Rephaim series, helping launch it - there will be a Q&A! There will be wine! There will be speeches!

It would mean the world to me if you came along. Just register with the bookshop at the link below! I hope to see you there!

Register at the Where the Wild Things Are website. Everyone is welcome! Please come along!

The cover of NIGHT SWIMMING!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day!

I am super excited (and nervous!) that NIGHT SWIMMING is only six weeks away from being published! Here is the immensely gorgeous cover. I can't wait to see it in the real world!

Here are some of the really lovely things some writers I admire have said about it:

‘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

All the info about NIGHT SWIMMING can be found on my publisher's website, where you can also preorder!

Hexenhaus by Nikki McWatters

Friday, December 2, 2016

A powerful novel about three young women caught in the hysteria of their own times.

In 1628, Veronica and her brother flee for their lives into the German woods after their father is burned at the stake.

At the dawn of the eighteenth century, Scottish maid Katherine is lured into political dissent after her parents are butchered for their beliefs.

In present-day Australia, Paisley navigates her way through the burning torches of small-town gossip after her mother’s new-age shop comes under scrutiny.

While I'm not a big reader of historical fiction, Hexenhaus intrigued me. Hysteria! Witchcraft! Three interconnected stories! It's dark and compelling, and once I started reading, I had trouble putting it down. Knowing its basis in real events made this novel especially disturbing - Veronica, Katherine and some of their family members and other characters are based on real historical figures, and the horrifying 'hexenhaus' (a witch prison, where Veronica's parents are killed in the novel) is based on a place in Bamberg where witch trials were conducted and about a thousand people died. It's awful.

The strongest parts of Hexenhaus are Veronica's and Katherine's stories; the historical fiction seems well-researched, reads easily, and has a strong sense of time and place. While Paisley was a likeable protagonist and her town felt well-drawn, I never quite bought her story; the townspeople's horror about witchcraft isn't something I could imagine in present-day Australia. If their loathing of Paisley's mother was instead motivated by some other social difference (cultural or socioeconomic, perhaps) or financial goal (like some other businessperson wanting the prime real estate of the new-age shop), then it would have been easier to understand. I still enjoyed Paisley's story, but it didn't gel quite as well as the other two. Veronica was my favourite character, and I found her story the most compelling, though Katherine's voice was engaging.

I love the narrative through-line that connects Veronica's, Katherine's and Paisley's stories, and felt that the three worked well together. I think this novel will appeal most to readers of historical fiction. And it is straight-up historical fiction - those put to trial as witches are mostly politically inconvenient, or killed for the economic gain of the witch finder, as it was in reality. No witchcraft here. It merges the historical well with the contemporary, though I would've been more intrigued to read Paisley's story had it been set at a different point in Australian history - perhaps during the early 20th century, when a fear of witches in a rural town might be more realistic. Paisley's story adds a certain lightness - while Veronica's and Katherine's stories are full of death and suffering and tragedy and injustice, ultimately there is hope, through Paisley (it'll make sense when you read the novel). This is a bit of a spoiler alert, but if you're worried Hexenhaus ends too tragically for you to want to read it, rest assured the ending is uplifting. For at least one character.

Hexenhaus is a dark but enjoyable novel which really shines in the historical sections. Well worth a read if you're particularly interested in witch trials, and a nuanced exploration of mass hysteria.

Hexenhaus on the publisher's website.
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