#LoveOzYA Q&A with Paula Weston
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 been writing stories for as long as I can remember. When I was still in primary school, I wrote and (badly) illustrated a picture book about a rebellious horse (a weird sort of foreshadowing of my teenage years, as it turns out.) I kept writing stories for fun all through high school, but only seriously sat down to write a full-length novel in my 20s – the first of a series of manuscripts that now live in the bottom of my filing cabinet.
Tell us about your new book.
The Undercurrent is a stand-alone speculative thriller about a girl with an electrical current running under her skin that she struggles to control, which brings her to the attention of a covert military unit. The story is set 10 to 15 years down the track, in an Australia where our government has turned to alternative investment opportunities to generate revenue. That includes outsourcing some military operations, imposing specific agricultural practices on farmers, and accepting nuclear waste for storage/dumping.
Here’s the official blurb from Text Publishing:
Eighteen-year-old Julianne De Marchi is different. As in: she has an electrical undercurrent beneath her skin that stings and surges like a live wire. She can use it—to spark a fire, maybe even end a life—but she doesn’t understand what it is. And she can barely control it, especially when she’s anxious.
Ryan Walsh was on track for a stellar football career when his knee blew out. Now he’s a soldier—part of an experimental privatised military unit that has identified Jules De Marchi as a threat. Is it because of the weird undercurrent she’s tried so hard to hide? Or because of her mother Angie’s history as an activist against bio-engineering and big business?
It’s no coincidence that Ryan and Jules are in the same place at the same time—he’s under orders to follow her, after all. But then an explosive attack on a city building by an unknown enemy throws them together in the most violent and unexpected way.
The Undercurrent features Australian locations including Brisbane, Logan City, Port Augusta and the Flinders Ranges – all places I’ve lived.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
Playing Beattie Bow by Ruth Parker is the first book I remember reading that had a speculative twist and was set in Australia. Up until then, all the books I was reading as a child had been set in Britain or the US. Then, from my early teens, I had horses and became totally obsessed with Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series and her adaptation of The Man From Snowy River (Jim Craig was my first book crush).
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
My parents both encouraged me to read, although my dad used to walk past my door, see me reading on my bed, and suggest we needed to call the ambulance to have me surgically removed from it, I’d been there that long.
I spent my teenage years in the Flinders Ranges, where we didn’t have access to bookshops or libraries beyond school (and ebooks were a few decades away). My older brother’s girlfriend (now my sister-in-law) was a voracious reader and would go to Adelaide regularly and buy the latest best sellers and then share them with me, so I spent hours reading her Stephen King and Peter Straub horror novels (and, let’s be honest, her raunchy Danielle Steeles and Sidney Sheldons).
Mum and Dad also encouraged me to write. Mum actually sent off my horse picture book to The Women’s Weekly, suggesting they publish it. They wrote a lovely letter back but of course didn’t put it in the magazine. :-)
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
For an Australian reader, it’s the sense of the familiar. Of reading stories in our own landscape and vernacular – told in a way that embraces and celebrates our diversity. I also think Australian YA tends to be grounded firmly in reality in a way that sets it apart from other YA – especially within our speculative fiction stories (e.g. Kirsty Eagar’s Saltwater Vampires and Night Beach).
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
I appreciate and support all bookshops and libraries! Two of my favourites are Brisbane’s Riverbend Books and Avid Reader (and it’s lovely sibling, Where the Wild Things Are). As for libraries, I have a particular soft spot for the Logan North Library in Springwood (Logan City) and the Victoria Point Library in the Redlands.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I’m currently reading and enjoying The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson, a well crafted YA novel about grief and cults. Ruby’s vulnerability is palpable and her misguided decisions unsettling yet understandable. I haven’t had a lot of time to read lately, but I’m hooked. Next on my TBR pile is Gabrielle Tozer’s Remind Me How This Ends.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
To be honest, I’m a one-trick pony. I do like to cook (especially baking), but I’m more into rustic, classic dishes than intricate masterpieces.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Best: Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft (I think Anne Lamott wrote that).
Worst: Don’t set a fantasy/paranormal story in Australia – people don’t want to read that type of story set here.
What do you love about OzYA?
It’s ours. Its diverse and inclusive, and our authors are not afraid to tackle difficult issues in meaningful ways (like Vikki Wakefield, Nicole Hayes, Melina Marchetta, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Fiona Wood, Chris Currie, Cath Crowley, Gabrielle Williams, Simmone Howell, Claire Zorn, Trinity Doyle, Ellie Marney, Chris Bongers, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Rebecca Lim, and Fleur Ferris…just to name a few!). We do humour especially well, and we’re not afraid to gently poke fun at ourselves (Steph Bowe does this beautifully, as does Markus Zusak in his earlier work).
We also write original futuristic and sci fi stories, like Jessica Shirvington’s Disruption duology, Marianne de Pierres’ Night Creatures trilogy, Justin Woolley’s The Territory series, and Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s blockbuster, The Illuminae Files series. Garth Nix and Isabolle Carmody are beloved OzYA fantasy writers worldwide. Rachael Craw (who’s technically a New Zealander but we claim her anyway) is making her mark with the popular Spark series) and of course Margo Lanagan – who defies genre categorization – is a legend.
I love OzYA because our writers are producing some of the best YA books in the world right now, and it’s fantastic to have the #LoveOzYA movement to ensure readers here in Australia are aware of our wealth of local talent and the breadth of reading choices available.