An interview with Susanne Gervay

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I interviewed Susanne Gervay - fabulous Aussie YA and children's author of, amongst many others listed below, That's Why I Wrote This Song - about what kind of superhero she'd be (a budgie, which is understated but original) and her views on Twilight (She and James Roy have similar ideas, which will not prove popular with 13-17 year old girls). Thanks, Susanne! Make sure you check out her blog!

1. List the books you've written. Which one are you most proud of? Which was the hardest to write?

My YA Novels:-
'That's Why I Wrote This Song' - my daughter Tory wrote the lyrics and music that are integral to the narrative, themes and characters
'Butterflies' - being flown to New York in August to talk about Butterflies and its inspirational impact.
'The Cave' - in the tradition of Catcher in the Rye, right out there male literature
'Shadows of Olive Trees' - love, independence, life.

My YA novels are all hard to write, because I live them. I cry and laugh and love with the characters and the emotions that engulf them.

I'm most proud of 'That's Why I Wrote This Song' because of my daughter Tory. We did it together. Her music and lyrics deeply moved me. It was emotionally tough working with my teenage daughter. Can't believe we survived the 3 years to get it published. She didn't speak to me a lot, as she thought I went too far. I did sometimes, but when you write YA novels, you have to be honest. She now says I could have gone further.

The video clip of her song 'Psycho Dad' was wild, funny, exhausting and creative. Her song 'I Wanna Be Found' breaks my heart - even today - because Tory felt alone and she thought I wasn't there for her. Our journey together creating That's Why I Wrote This Song has, in the end, made us closer. It was a gift.

Children's books:-
I AM JACK - to be published November 09 in the USA by Random House (Tricycle Imprint)
Jamie's A Hero
Daisy Sunshine

2. What three words would you use to describe yourself? (Don’t use the words ‘nice’, ‘pretty’ or ‘good’ because your Grade Six teacher will read this and be very disappointed)

Funny, emotional, thoughtful.

3. Complete this sentence: My teenage years were turbulent with parents who spoke Hungarian-English and worked all the time, leaving me and my sister alone with my teasing brother who I nearly killed - but luckily I didn't, otherwise I'd be in jail.

4. Have you always wanted to write for young people? Or did you set out to become a brain surgeon and wind up stumbling down this path? Was the road to publication rocky for you?

My brother was supposed to be the brain surgeon and I was supposed to be a teacher. That's what refugee parents pressure their kids to do. It's to make up for wars and the struggle. It's called PRESSURE on kids. Lucky for the world, my brother didn't become a brain surgeon otherwise there'd be a lot of zombies around. He became an engineer and builds bridges. I caved in and became a teacher. I liked teaching, but I was pathetic not to make my own choice.

I've always written. That's what writers do, even when they don't know they are writers. I only decided to become an author when my beloved father passed away. I wrote stories of him for him because I missed him so much. The stories were published in literary journals. Then I started writing for my kids. It's been really hard to get published but I love my writing friends, the community and my readers so much, I couldn't give it up now.

5. Who were your biggest inspirations and idols growing up and today?
My father was my biggest inspiration. He had great courage surviving Nazism, Stalinist Russia and the terrible loss of family and home. He didn't only survive but he saved others. He was a hero even though he didn't have medals. Later when he was a refugee with my mother, he and my mother worked really hard in Australia so the kids would have a safe life.

Tory's inspiration was EMINEM because he made it, even though hs father left and his drugged out mother was no mother, even though he lived in a trailer park and it was hard. Didn't matter what was thrown at him, he was going to make it and be a good father one day. Tory has EMINEM posters on her walls.

6. Who are your favourite authors and what novels do you love best?
I have so many favourite authors - all my Australian author friends and a few international ones too including Melina Marchetta, Markus Zusak, Kate Forsyth, Moya Simons, Jackie French, Jeni Mawter, Michael Gerald Bauer.... right the way to young authors like William Kostakis. International favourites include Ellen Hopkins, Jacqueline Wilson, John Boyne and others.

The novels that I love best are mainly young adult novels, even when they aren't called YA and include:-
-Khalid Hosseini's The Kite Runner, a young Afghan boy, his family, escaping the Taliban and finding freedom in USA.
-Ellen Hopkins Crank a verse novel about a girl descending into crank addiction
-John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a powerful parable about friendship and the devastation of war
-Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, a novel that stands the test of time revealing racism, family and courage.
- Jackie French's Hitler's Daughter
and many others.
And James Roy's Town!

7. If you were in a novel (any one you’ve read), who would you be?

Katherine in my 'Butterflies' because she is amazing - feisty and fantastic, despite or because of her flaws. She's in love with William. Me too, but I love her most.

8. Did you have an imaginary friend as a child? (Or today? Don’t worry; we won’t call the men in white coats on you)

Call in the men in white coats - nearly imaginary. I thought my dolls and teddies were alive. I'd put them in my bed and sleep on the floor. I was obviously a kind girl, but a bit dumb.

9. Complete this sentence: My life outside of writing is about running as fast as I can to catch up, and just being a bit slow. I get mighty tired.

10. If you were a superhero, what would be your name, power and costume?

Budgie. Power - tweet everyone into a good mood. Yellow feathers.

11. Xena Warrior Princess or Sabrina the Teenage Witch?

Xena Warrior Princess as I've always wanted to be fit.

12. Have you read Twilight? Did you enjoy it? Do you secretly believe your own books are better? (I know you do, don’t try to lie…)

I've read Twilight. I understand why early teenage girls love it. It's 'safe sex', well no sex, with lots of tension and the tall dark handsome guy making all the decisions and saving the heroine from every disaster. The splash of Dracula makes the tall dark and handsome hero even more of all that.

Twilight takes back Women's Rights 100 years. I want my characters to be empowered to make their own choices, be amazing and while they can and do love a guy, they also believe in themselves.

So you're right, I feel publically and secretly that my books are better. They're real and are about that power to answer those great questions - Who Am I? Where Am I Going? Who will I Love? 'Who Do I Want to Be?' However I wouldn't mind being as successful as Stephanie or half as successful or quarter as successful and have millions of readers know and love my books.
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