#LoveOzYA Q&A with Krystal Sutherland
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 was always telling stories, but mostly to myself. My favourite activities as a child were walking up and down my grandparents’ driveway, or bouncing on the trampoline in my backyard, for hours and hours as I wrote stories in my head. Sometimes it was fanfiction – I was a Jedi, or Harry Potter’s secret sister – but most of the time I made up my own worlds and loved nothing more than to slip into them and live there. It wasn’t until after I graduated high school that I realised I wanted to pursue writing as a career.
Tell us about your new book.
Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can’t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.
The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.
Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.
Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she’d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
Tragically, I didn’t read a lot of OzYA growing up – but I read a lot of Australian children’s books. Possum Magic, Blinky Bill, Snuglepot and Cuddlepie, Wombat Stew. I’ve tried to rectify my omission of OzYA over the last few years and have read and enjoyed YA books by Shivaun Plozza, Will Kostakis, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and Cath Crowley, among others. There are so many fantastic Aussie authors writing stellar YA these days!
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
When I was a teenager, I was kind of obsessed with Scott Westerfeld (the author of Uglies) – I read his blog religiously, and he was the reason I eventually decided to become a writer. I even wrote him an email when I was sixteen – and he answered it!
Ten years later, Scott and I had a joint book launch in New York City – him to promote Swarm, and me to launch Our Chemical Hearts. It was… pretty surreal, to say the least.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally? Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
Oh, well I’m actually a national traitor, because both of my books are set overseas! As a kid, I was obsessed with moving overseas, especially to the US. All the characters in the all the TV shows and movies I watched lived in America, and it looked so glamorous. Some of that has stuck with me, I guess.
I have two favourite bookshops: Harry Hartog in Bondi, and Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis. Harry Hartog because it’s just so beautiful and cozy, and Wild Rumpus because they have a menagerie of animals roaming the shop. On any given day you can find chickens, cats, rats, ferrets, birds and even a tarantula named Thomas Jefferson.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I’m currently reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and thoroughly enjoying it. It’s beautiful, and magical, and atmospheric, and the writing is incredibly sumptuous.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
As evidenced from my answer to the first questions, I need to be moving to be most creative. Walking, hiking, riding, even driving – my thoughts don’t seem to flow unless I’m in motion. Also, I find that interesting ideas always seem to drop into my head in museums, or when I’m listening to music.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Best: Finish what you start – beginnings are easy, endings are hell. You’ll only learn how to write them if you push on.
Worst: Don’t use contemporary references or your writing will seem dated in ten years. Please – you want your book to be grounded in time and place. Humans in 2017 use iPhones and laptops and Facebook; it would be weird if your characters didn’t.