#LoveOzYA Q&A with Emily Gale
Emily Gale writes junior and YA fiction. Her latest #LoveOzYA novel, I Am Out With Lanterns, is out this week.
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?
Writing has always felt like my most natural state of being - alongside reading - and my love of it got me through every essay-based subject at school; the more essays the better. I’d also write poems, song lyrics, and the beginnings of stories. I believed in that side of myself more than anything else I could do.
On the other hand, I don’t have stacks of charming stories composed as a child, so I’d have to admit that I wasn’t born a storyteller - that’s something I’ve worked on. I always had the desire, a knack with words, and I’m a keen observer, but I didn’t get cracking with fiction until I was well into my twenties.
Tell us about your new book.
It’s a spin-off of my 2016 novel, The Other Side of Summer. I’ve always wanted to write a linked story (sparked by my love of Fiona Wood and Jaclyn Moriarty in particular) but this is the first time it’s felt natural to do so. It can be read independently and is for a slightly older reader (definitely high school). Summer was only just 13 in The Other Side of Summer, whereas the characters in I Am Out With Lanterns are starting Year 10. There are six main narrators, though some have a larger slice of the pie. It’s about perception and self-image, using an art theme, and the characters show a range of neuro- and sexual diversity and family backgrounds.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I grew up in London and was a teen in the 1980s - I don’t remember very much YA and I don’t think a lot of Australian YA travelled at that point. But I do have a vivid memory of a turning-point for me, and an OzYA book was responsible for that - in 2000 an ex-colleague from my editing days insisted I read her copy of Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty. I remember inhaling the book in one sitting and afterwards declaring that I was going to write YA one day. I loved that book so much. It had never occurred to me before that moment that I’d want to write teenage characters. So it’s all Jaclyn’s fault, blame her.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
Yes, I was ludicrously fortunate in that respect. I had a bookcase in my bedroom, unrestricted access to my parents’ books, a grandmother who would take me to a bookshop regularly, and a gorgeous library just down the street. Books were always talked about, and I knew my grandfather and my dad were writing books (unfinished to this day but I’m sure a component to my ambitions).
On the other hand, I never imagined that ‘writer’ was a career I could aim for. That seemed like a dream for another special kind of human - I thought of published authors as otherworldly and never met one in real life. Writing fiction felt like something I would do ‘one day’ once I’d got a more sensible career up and running, and that was very much the message I got as a young adult.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
To put it bluntly, I think our smaller and less secure market means there’s less crap being published; I’ve just read five OzYA books in a row and loved them all. Perhaps the analogy is the difference between a lovely local deli and a huge supermarket - sure, the supermarket has a built-in deli but it also sells cheese-flavoured popcorn.
I’m not Australian, and I feel that OzYA (and Australian literature in general) has been a huge part of my learning about my second home. I think OzYA has a way to go before it reflects the real make-up of Australian society, but with recent and forthcoming novels I’m hopeful about that.
The Voices From The Intersection anthology, Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, and Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr are among the ones I’m looking forward to. I think the quality of the actual writing in OzYA is superb. I’m in awe and feel incredibly lucky to have made a career here.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
I worked at Readings (Carlton branch) for a few years and it was a life-changing job for me, so I feel very loyal to them. Living in Melbourne I’m spoilt for choice and I try to spread the love a bit when I’m buying books: Tim’s Bookshop in Kew is one I pass by regularly so I often buy books there, the Little Bookroom in North Carlton is a beautiful place to launch a children’s book, I can easily get carried away in Dymocks on Collins St, and I love the look and feel of the Hill of Content and Embiggen Books.
It’s also wonderful to see regional bookshops popping up, like Squishy Minnie in Kyneton, and I love the small and perfectly curated coastal bookshops like Great Escape Books in Aireys Inlet. There are many more I’d love to visit. You really know how to ask the difficult questions!
I often go to Hawthorn Library to write (I love their special displays) but there’s something magical about walking up the big steps of the State Library and finding a quiet corner to write for a few hours.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I recently finished Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough, which is full of great one-liners and a series of entertaining high school hoaxes. I was really charmed by it. It manages to be light-handed as well as packed with clever underlying messages. Just before that I loved Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood, Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell and Between Us by Clare Atkins.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I don’t do anything else seriously (apart from reading) but I love to dabble. I enjoy taking photos for Instagram but I’m rubbish at it - somehow I don’t let that bother me and crack on regardless. I love doing blackout poetry on the pages of old books; if the kids have a creative project for homework, I’ll get stuck into that with them; I get a massive kick out of dressing up in costume for Book Day, or any other reason! But I’m bad at fiddly craft. I started knitting squares for a blanket for my daughter to give her when she turned 11. She’s 14 . . . it’s nowhere near finished.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
I know it sounds basic but an old friend who isn’t a writer but is a total workhorse was once listening as I droned on and on about the desire to write and he said, ‘Just get on with it then!’ I told you it was basic! Honestly, it worked. I got on with it. I still remember his voice and that tone when I’m being a slacker.
I don’t know if anyone’s given me any bad advice. But there is a lot of it floating around out there! I think having too many writing rules discourages experimentation. And so much advice is about personal taste - for example, I know that not everyone will embrace my six points-of-view in I Am Out With Lanterns, but I adore multiple perspective stories, and I know I’m not alone, so I wrote one anyway.
What do you love about OzYA?
I love the humour (see especially Jaclyn Moriarty, Gabrielle Williams, Erin Gough), the quality of the prose (hello Cath Crowley, Vikki Wakefield, Margo Lanagan, Glenda Millard, Kirsty Eagar, Rebecca Lim, Alice Pung, Fiona Wood, Claire Zorn, Simmone Howell, and too many to mention) and the risky moves (Nova Weetman’s backwards narrative, Justine Larbalestier’s unreliable narrators, Clare Atkins’ incidental verse). I could do this all day.
I Am Out With Lanterns is out now with Penguin Books Australia. You can find out more about it here.