#LoveOzYA Q&A with Clare Atkins
Clare Atkins is a scriptwriter and the author of the award-winning novel, 'Nona & Me' (Black Inc). Her second book, 'Between Us', is out now with Black Inc.
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’ve loved writing stories since I was a kid. I used to write long rhyming poems, short stories and what would now be considered an early form of fan-fiction using the characters from my favourite novels, particularly Astrid Lindgren!
Tell us about your new book.
Between Us is the story of a 15-year-old Iranian asylum seeker called Anahita, who is allowed out of detention to attend mainstream high school during the day. At school she meets a boy called Jono, a music-loving skater who is also the son of Kenny, one of the guards in the detention centre. The novel is from the three perspectives of Anahita, Jono and Kenny, and plays with what they do and don’t know about each other.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I had so many. I loved John Marsden, Victor Kelleher, Isobelle Carmody and more. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta will always have a special place in my heart because it was the first time I saw myself – a young woman living between cultures – on the page.
Did you have anyone who encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
The teachers at my schools – both high school and primary school – were extremely encouraging and often went out of their way to give me extra feedback and support. My mum had a partner while I was growing up who used to play a lot of word games and write funny long rhyming poems with me – he was definitely a good influence in that regard!
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
It’s an obvious answer but only Australian YA can really portray our society – our unique mix of cultures, the politics, the environments and social norms. I think it is so important for Australians to be able to read and reflect on the country they live in – fiction with a brutally honest lens or a social or political backdrop is a unique opportunity to explore that.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
I live in Darwin so my favourite bookshop is The Bookshop in Smith St Mall. The staff there know books so well – it’s a joy to go in and have something recommended. When I’m in Sydney my favourite bookshop is Better Read Than Dead in Newtown – they are doing amazing work linking writers with readers by way of events like author talks and book launches.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
The last book I read and enjoyed was The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein. It is so evocative, emotional and well written, and I loved peeling back the layers of the story. Highly recommended even though it’s not YA!
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I like drawing and making up stories with my kids. I also like cooking and dancing. Creativity takes so many forms – I also get a kick from coming up with creative solutions to everyday problems!
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The best piece of writing advice is something I read in a Nayyirah Waheed poem recently – to write the thing you are most afraid of.
The worst advice is probably to write what you know. I think it’s true to an extent – drawing on personal experience is fantastic, but can also be limiting. I think a better way to look at it would be to write what you emotionally know – or can emotionally relate to on a deep level – and then fill in the factual blanks with good research.
What do you love about OzYA?
I love the community. OzYA authors are vibrant, intelligent, fun, brave and supportive, which flows through into the types of stories they tell too. We are so lucky to have a thriving OzYA community!