#LoveOzYA Q&A with Mark Smith
Mark Smith's novel Wilder Country won the 2018 Indie Book Award (Young Adult) and was a 2018 CBCA Notable Book. Wilder Country is the sequel to Smith's acclaimed debut novel The Road To Winter. Land Of Fences, book three in the trilogy, will be released in 2019.
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 always loved telling stories and I grew up in a family of storytellers – from my grandparents, to my parents and extended family. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time on an Indigenous community in NT and I’m in awe of their oral storytelling tradition. For me, the writing came later – as an adult.
Tell us about Wilder Country.
Wilder Country is the second book in the Winter trilogy. It picks up the story of Finn and Kas as they travel into country controlled by the Wilders (bounty hunters and slave traders) in a post-breakdown Australia. This book grapples with issues of violence, relationships and loyalty when all law and order has broken down. But mostly it’s about ordinary kids being forced to deal with extraordinary situations.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I wasn’t conscious of a lot of OzYA when I was growing up but my kids introduced me to it through John Marsden’s Tomorrow series and The Ellie Chronicles. Since then I’ve discovered what a wealth of talent we have writing YA in Australia.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
Yes, my mum has always been an avid reader and birthdays and Christmases always meant new books. I was an outdoors boy and – I have to confess – a reluctant reader, but that just goes to show that writers can come from any background.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
There is a distinctive Australian-ness to YA in this country. I think it has to do with setting and the way it imbues the narrative with a familiarity readers love. If you look at books by Cath Crowley, Sophie Hardcastle or Robert Newton, they all have distinctive Australian settings. The setting for my first book, The Road To Winter, is a small coastal town called Angowrie and I love the fact that readers can relate to it so readily because they’ve all been to a town just like it at some stage.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
My favourite bookshop is Great Escape Books in Aireys Inlet (Vic). It’s a little oasis of sanity where I can go and sit and read and talk books with the owner, Nicole. She knows my reading tastes and I rarely need to browse the shelves – she has my next book ready and waiting for me.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I’ve read some awesome books this year – Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut, Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach and Laura Elvery’s short story collection, A Trick Of The Light. In terms of YA, I’ve loved Claire Christian’s Beautiful Mess and Kate O’Donnell’s Untidy Towns. And I’m looking forward to James Bradley’s The Buried Ark – the sequel to The Silent Invasion.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I find a lot of creative expression through surfing. I’ve been doing it all my life and getting out in the water on a good day allows me to burn off a lot of physical energy and express myself at the same time.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The worst piece of advice (and I should acknowledge it might be the best piece of advice for someone else) is that you need to write every day. If I’m in the midst of a novel, I pretty much have to but at other times the best thing I can do for my writing is walk away for a while. It could be a week, or even longer, but I know I’ll come back fresh.
The best piece of advice: keep it simple, stupid! Don’t overthink it, don’t overwrite it and don’t write to impress. It’s all about the story.
What do you love about OzYA?
I think there is a distinctive Australian voice that comes through in OzYA. We are bold and audacious and we’re prepared to take stories into dark places – but still, somehow, find the light.
Wilder Country is published by Text Publishing. Find out more here.