Now that is a really cool title for a novel.
The premise of the book sounds amazing, but to make this a bit more interesting, why don't you watch the book trailer? I'm sure you'll love it.
1. When and how did you start writing?
I started thumping an old typewriter when I was about ten. That clunky machine gave me a way to externalise parts of my life that were hidden inside somewhere. I had lived through a lot of violence and abuse when I was very young and it made me distrustful and isolated. Writing about it, and destroying the pages immediately, was my way of ‘telling somebody’.
2. Could you tell me a bit about your novel?
My novel is about a teenage boy named Clem. Clem’s mother died when he was born and he’s always carried the blame for her death. His vulnerability results in further trauma, in part from a pedaphile when he was ten years old. He gets into trouble with the police and is at war with himself and the world.
The novel opens with a very angry Clem starting in a high school for hard to handle boys. The school counselor asks him to write letters to his grandmother, and the title ‘They Told Me I Had To Write This’ is the first sentence of his page rage.
Clem’s journey is tough, but is ultimately a celebration of finding a future.
3. What inspires your writing? Are there any authors who particularly influence your work?
Most of my writing is short stories and is inspired by things I see in people’s lives. I don’t write about those people, but I see things like resilience under pressure, or failure through pettiness, or how a family celebrates itself. My stories are mostly about how the characters cope with trauma, whether it be real or imagined.
William Golding is probably my favourite author, and some of my writing has references to his work much as a jazz musician will add in a line of a famous tune. Golding had the ability to write around a subject so the reader formed the story in his or her own thinking.
I also like reading current Australian YA as it keeps me up to date with teen language and thinking.
4. What are you working on now? (if you're working on something)
There is a character in my novel who has a powerful part to play but he disappears half way through. He likes burning things down – something that the cover art suggests. My work in progress is that boy’s story.
I’m also working on an adult novel set in the early days of colonial Australia. It starts with a murder that is kept hidden. The novel tells how the energy of that crime works itself out in the life of the murderer’s family. The trouble is, it’s the family of the murderer’s brother who suffers.
There are more short stories in the pipeline, and a book of disgusting poems for ten year old boys. That’s fun.
5. Do you write with music on or off? Have you ever made a "writing playlist"? (a playlist you listened to while writing certain book) If so, share it!
It’s music off for me. I don’t handle distraction very well and music draws me into itself too much.
6. Name 3 books from last year that you loved/really liked.
‘After’ by Sue Lawson. Australian YA.
It’s the story of a city boy sent to live with his grandparents in the country. They don’t like him, and everyone in the town seems to know more about him than he knows of himself. The reason for him being sent away slowly emerges, and as it does so some of the social fabric of the town starts to disintegrate. It’s a powerful work.
‘Auto Fiction’ by Japanese author Hitomi Kanehara.
Not YA but the narrator is a teenager in the second half of the book.
The story starts when the MC in her twenties and her life is dissolving around her. Each subsequent chapter is from an earlier part of her life, going back to when she is fifteen. We understand the dissolution of her life more fully as each layer is peeled away. This is the first ‘back to front’ book I can remember reading.
‘Dream Rider’ by Barry Jonsberg. Australian YA.
This is an extraordinary book. The character is the fat kid in high school who is always being bullied. He escapes the trauma by falling asleep and dreaming. He can almost do it on command. The trouble starts for the reader when we get a bit confused about what is real and what is dream. Things come to a crescendo and we realise that Jonsberg has created a character of greater power and evil that we ever suspected. It is as if every layer in the story is transparent, and we thought ‘this layer is built on that layer’ and we’ve got those layers totally wrong.
6. What Aussie YA author(s) do you think people should read more of? (Authors that most of us don't know, since we don't live in AU, and it's hard for us to get ahold of their books).
Names like John Marsden and Isobelle Carmody and Tim Winton are the stuff of legend. But there are other names that should be broadcast into the YA world ‘out there’. Here are a few.
Bill Condon’s books have taken my time recently. He has a deft touch with teen issues.
Barry Jonsberg I’ve mentioned.
Michael Gerard Bauer wrote his first YA novel, ‘The Running Man’, in his fifties I think. It sold like crazy, enough for him to move into full time writing. He’s got two very funny books in the Ishmael series and I imagine there’s more yet.
Hazel Edwards is a prolific children’s and YA author. She has just co-authored a YA novel called ‘f2m’ about female to male gender change. Her first children’s book is now thirty years old and still in print.
Shane Thamm’s recent first novel, ‘My Private Pectus’, breaks new ground on boys and body image.
Justin D’Ath has several books in print. His ‘Hunters and Warriors’ should be required reading for high school boys.
Jack Heath is an interesting writer. He wrote his first novel at sixteen, published at nineteen. He’s now at university and book 4 in the series has just been released. It’s teen fiction about a boy who was genetically engineered in a laboratory to be a super-spy - James Bond meets the Bionic Man.
Paul Collins is my publisher, but he also writes YA fantasy, lots of it, good stuff.
There, that should do it.
Thanks Kim for that awesome interview!
Thanks Kim for that awesome interview!