#LoveOzYA Q&A with Scot Gardner
Scot Gardner became a writer after a chance meeting with a magazine editor while hitchhiking in eastern Australia. Magazine articles led to op-ed newspaper pieces and eventually novels. His many books, including Happy as Larry and The Dead I Know, have found local and international favour and garnered praise and awards. His latest book, Changing Gear, is out now.
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?
Both. I grew up in a family of professional storytellers. My dad worked for the biggest storytelling organisation in the Southern Hemisphere, which at the time was called the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. My mum can murder a joke from 20 paces and her dad wore drag before it was cool. Mum and Dad know how to spin a yarn and much of what I know about pacing and foreshadowing, diction, emphasis and humour I learned at the dinner table. I was 28 when I realised that skillset was transferrable to those things with pages.
Tell us about your new book.
Changing Gear is a story told by 18-year-old Merrick Hilton. He’s supposed to be studying for his final exams when his existential shit hits his existential fan and he does a runner. His postie motorbike breaks down in the Little Desert and he meets an old bloke who has been walking and living on the side of the road for 35 years. Victor has an outsider's view of society and its machinations, a view that challenges and inspires Merrick in his search for meaning.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
No. I read non-fiction. Mostly stuff about aboriginal bushcraft, zoology and botany. The stuff we were made to read at school was from America and reading it felt like a mild form of torture. Bizarrely, the first novel that snuck under my bullshit radar was My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, about a boy with a pet falcon surviving in the wilderness. I found myself on the page.
Did you have anyone who encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
No. That would have been weird. My parents forked out for the school book club and surrounded us with writing about the things we were interested in, then sent us to bed at 8:30. I liked Mrs Stephens, my year eight English teacher, and she liked my writing. In a sense, she was my first conscious audience. We had a male librarian, Richard Gubbins, who matched me up with My Side of the Mountain when I was 17. That guy knew my tastes better than I did.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
Australian YA is less idiosyncratic than it used to be, more urbanised and homogenous, which is a fair reflection of the Australian people. There’s a kind of cultural imperialism that drives us as writers to play down our uniqueness in exchange for mass-market appeal, meaning a lot of Australian YA I read feels like it’s Australian by publication only. Invariably, the stories that sing to me are the ones where the landscape is a rich and nuanced character and swear words can be used as terms of endearment.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
I love Elizabeth’s bookshop in Fremantle, the one in South Terrace near the market. And my favourite libraries are poles apart – the State Library of Victoria for the reading room, and Geelong Library for the view.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton. A new gold standard for Australian YA.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I grow things. Plants, fungi and fish. I make music: flutes and percussion. I take photos. Animals, landscape and people.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Worst was from an editor at a major publishing house: ‘You should write about footy.’
Best was from John Marsden, back in the day: ‘You should try writing in the first person.’
What do you love about OzYA?
The people and the books. In that order.
Changing Gear is published by Allen & Unwin. You can find out more about it here.