#LoveOzYA Q&A with Cally Black
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?
I started off as a kid just telling a lot of stories. Or more accurately maybe... blurring the lines between made up and real. Then in high school I wrote all the time, because it was more fun than studying, really. I left high school, went to work and didn't write for maybe 15 years. So I have come back to it as an adult and I really fell in love with it, especially with SF and with searches for identity and who we are becoming.
Tell us about your new book.
In The Dark Spaces is set in space, and won the Ampersand Prize at the end of 2015. It's quite unusual, and we all say genre-smashing, because it has the world building and action of science fiction and the character-driven plot of a contemporary. It's about a girl in the future who is kidnapped by aliens and learns their language, and gets caught between two worlds as she searches for her little cousin. It's also about the importance of family and modern human society and its warped values.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
No. I believe I was deprived of local fiction completely. We didn't own more than a few books. Dune was one of them. I did pick up The Changeover by Margaret Mahy (which of course is NZ and so am I) as an adult and loved it.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
Writers always get asked this question, and they always seem to have flourished under the guidance of someone. But not me. I went to too many schools, you see. I'd be there for six months maybe a year and it was clear I was a good reader so they left me to my own devices. I was always borrowing books at the school library though. I remember being so happy to pick whatever I wanted and take it home. The school library was the one place I could choose anything I wanted. I didn't have to go without or wait for hand me downs. One school even let me keep a stack for the summer, which meant I didn't have to fight my brothers for Dune!
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
What I love about Aussie YA is the honesty. The honesty of voice and emotion, and the willingness to experiment with prose and delivery. I think the UK and the US can get a bit stuffy about what is good literature, like it must fit neatly into a box they've established after reviewing all the available criteria, and Aussies are the opposite of stuffy. Good literature is anything that tugs at your heartstrings, connects with you, and gets you thinking and feeling. Australian YA is open to that, the writers, the readers, and luckily for us, the publishers.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
Them all! I like the warmth of my local Oakleigh library and, of course, the grandeur of the State Library in Melbourne, and I like The Younger Sun for the friendly faces and the little village atmosphere outside it.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
Like everyone else, I've been going on about Gemina. I bought it ages ago and I'm always wary of second books in a series so I was a bit slow in getting to it, but it was like everyone involved had hit their stride and understood exactly what they were dealing with. It was less constrained by convention than Illuminae and so much fun.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I read. I used to do everything, but now I throw it all my creative energy into writing.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The worst is when you've been convinced you need to go to all the courses (which are all really similar by the way), have all the social media, connect with all the right people, and you end up doing that at the expense of time and space to work on your writing, and just experiment and find your style.
The best advice from Neil Gaiman: “...as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell — because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you … but you are the only you.”
What do you love about OzYA?
This concept: Brilliant. It's great for local books to have their own conversation so they don't get lost and drowned out by international titles. The people: Aren't you the loveliest most inclusive group ever? The books: It's fantastic to see our lives, our humour, our values, and our settings as backdrops for amazing stories. And there are so many quality stories. Australian YA is very exciting right now.