#LoveOzYA Q&A with Allayne Webster
Let’s go back to the beginning…have you been telling stories since you were a kid or was writing something you fell in love with as an adult?
Yes, I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I always had a pen in my hand, always scribbling something. In high school, I wrote an epic Days of Our Lives inspired romance in three 96 page workbooks. My poor English teacher had to edit them. She wasn’t giving me work—I was giving it to her! The story was passed around class and everyone wanted to know, What happens next? I even drew penciled portraits of my characters. I’d share an excerpt with you, but regrettably our house was broken into and they were stolen (along with $40k of gear!) I’d kept them inside a fancy lockable briefcase and the thieves must have thought, This is something special! and took off with it without bothering to check what was inside. I’ve often mused about burly buzz-cut men covered in tats, getting back to their lair, opening the briefcase, reading my saucy scrawl and laughing themselves stupid, critiquing it over a can of microwaved spag bog and a beer after a ‘hard day’s work.’
Tell us about your new book.
The Centre of My Everything has been a labour of love. I first conceived the story eight years ago, applied for an arts grant, won it, worked my butt off - long after the funding ran out. I was obsessed and couldn’t let it go. It’s set in Mildura, Vic, and told from four POV: Corey, Justin, Margo and Tara. As the story progresses, the reader discovers that not only are the lives of the four teens fatefully intertwined, but also their parents. It’s a story about love and loss, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
Came Back to Show You I Could Fly by Robin Klein. I loved anything that was realistic, gritty and contemporary. And sure enough, what do I like to write?
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
I grew up in a small country town in the 80’s, before internet, pay TV, etc. (Holy crap, I sound old!) My father left when I was five, divorced my mum, moved interstate. But he kept in touch, and one of his ‘I am still present’ gestures was to pay for a National Geographic subscription. The magazines were delivered monthly and their yellow spines lined an antique buffet in our living room. I read about all manner of things from international politics to space travel, from environmental activism to far flung places in the Amazon jungle or Ancient Egypt. Most of it was stuff I wasn’t exposed to at school, it was way beyond my academic comprehension level, and who knows if I even understood half of it, but the point was: I read it. I loved marrying what I was reading to the pictures (which were exotic and other-worldly) and it was my connection to the outside world; proof there was something amazing and exciting beyond the confines of small town life.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
Australian landscape is more often than not intrinsically woven through our stories and vividly invoked. I feel like we have a real connection to the land and our sense of place. I don’t always get that from OS novels.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
There are several Adelaide bookshops I adore! Dymocks in Rundle Mall have always been hugely supportive of me as an author. Shakespeare’s Bookshop at Blackwood (Adelaide) is fantastic, and Mostly Books at Mitcham have hosted me more than once. I love Dillon’s on The Parade too—their store layout is really functional and easy to navigate.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
My TBR pile is out of control. I consume books in feverish binges, and then only one or two over the space of a few weeks owing to work pressures. The last book I crazy-loved wasn’t actually YA or even Aussie. (A fellow YA author loaned it to me—does that count?) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman blew my socks off. I’ve never seen a more incredible exploration of character. I loved it inside-out, upside down. Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King rocked my world because of its ‘out of the box’ nature, but as for OzYA, I’ve recently gobbled up Everything is Changed by Nova Weetman, Exchange of Heart by Darren Groth, and In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black. My Life as a Hashtag by Gabrielle Williams was awesome, and Beautiful Mess by Clare Christian was unbelievable. I’m now munching on Take Three Girls and Words in Deep Blue simultaneously. I’m not a monogamous reader—I’m a total book tart.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I play guitar, sing, and write music. Whether or not I do this well is up for debate. I’ll be performing at my book launch for The Centre of My Everything with the muso, Bec Willis, who supplied the lyrics that appear in the book. Sometimes I paint or draw or do crafty things, but mostly I sing, because it’s a change of pace and temporary relief from writing torture!
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Worst? Write what you know. Um, well that has a pretty limited lifespan, doesn’t it? Read, venture outside your comfort zone, research, learn. Education is ongoing, self-directed and vital to fresh, relevant art.
Best? Sit your arse down and do it. (Actually, now I’ve converted my desk to a standing operation, this doesn’t exactly comply.) The point is, write. Procrastinate all you like—it’ll just take longer.
What do you love about OzYA?
The community. I suffer from Imposter Syndrome and feel like I’ve landed in the green room by accident, so anyone who makes me feel part of anything gets five gold stars from me! The YA authors I’ve had the honour of interacting with have been generous and inclusive. (And that’s when I get to interact! Living in Adelaide means I’m a bit removed from where all the action happens; I’m always watching everything enviously online—poor me!) That, and the passionate readers, bloggers, book tubers, etc, who vitalize the industry, keep us relevant and in business.