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What does it mean to write about ‘home’ in Australian young adult fiction? Notes from Sydney Writers Festival

  • 6 June, 2022
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What does it mean to write about ‘home’ in Australian young adult fiction?

From cities to remote bushlands, where we grow up and live can define our personalities.

In the first event of #AllDayYA at Sydney Writers Festival, Felicity Castagna (Girls in Boys’ Cars), Zach Jones (Growing Up in Flames) and Jared Thomas (My Spare Heart) discussed how writing about home and a sense of place is tied to who their characters are.

Here, roving #LoveOzYA reporter Emma Hollifield captures their collective wisdom: 

On the meaning of home in YA stories

 

“In contemporary Australia there are so many different layers of home. We all have multiple homes that we bring to a space. People who live in the same community experience it differently. My characters find a home in each other by the connection they have being young women navigating complex issues: conversations with their families, boys, their bodies.”

  • Felicity Castagna

 

“People experience family and home differently. For some, it brings feelings of belonging and safety. For others, a sense of burden and obligation. I wanted to place with that tension, and explore what family means to the characters and what parts of their family they take into themselves and which parts they distance.”

  • Zach Jones

 

On writing regional Australia

 

“One of the things I found in Australia YA literature was that regional Australia had really been mythologised. Rural Australia as I know it was really different to that. There are phones, social media…it’s not all utes on dusty roads. I wanted to write about where I was living.”

  • Zach Jones

 

“When my characters reach crisis, they retreat. Colonisation means many of us are detached from our homeland, so people had to come to the city. But those people have a connection back to their country.”

  • Jared Thomas

 

“I’m interested in how people are grounded in the place they grew up and how that changed their story and the way they walk in the world. I’m interested in very urban girls getting out into regional Australia. The country was represented as a mythical place in the books I read as a kid.”

  • Felicity Castagna

 

“My memory of those rural spaces is that it’s really hard to escape reputations. People know you and they know your family. It’s hard to run away from things which brings a certain psychology to the space. People can’t wait to reach 18 and leave. I want to write YA of rural Australia that isn’t just red dust but also the people and the social aspects they have to deal with.”

  • Zach Jones

On the Australian Voice in YA

“The Australian voice in YA and other genres is defined by rebelliousness against authority. We have a love of the underdog and a sense of humour which is not always understood by other cultures.”

  • Felicity Castagna

 

“I live with a very different ideology as an Aboriginal man, so all of my characters have that ideology. It’s a unique insight into how people feel connected to their country and how that alters their behaviour and view of situations.”

  • Jared Thomas

 

“In many ways, Australia is a Young Adult country. It’s on the journey of figuring out its identity and how to honour its history, which mirrors the adolescent experience.”

  • Zach Jones

 

On writing YA

 

“Being a YA writer is about having a genuine curiosity about people and the world around them. I’m always listening and observing the rhythms of how young people speak and the complexity of their lives.”

  • Felicity Castagna

 

“I was a young adult in a very different time. As a self-conscious young woman growing up now, knowing people could look at me in so many spaces via social media, would have broken me.”

  • Felicity Castagna

 

“When writing fiction for young people, and hoping it gets into schools and into the hands of readers, I have to hold back a lot. I get frustrated I can’t write the full grit of life into my books.”

  • Jared Thomas

 

“Adolescence is such a transformational time.”

  • Jared Thomas

 

“I’ve had the chance to workshop my writing with groups of young adults. I’ve learnt to not try to write down or make it simpler because young people can interact with very complex issues.”

  • Zach Jones

On climate change affecting place

 

“While I was submitting my thesis, I had blocked out the world, locked myself away and turned off my phone. I was celebrating finishing my writing and looked up and my neighbours were on their roof. The bushfires were one kilometre away. Twenty minutes after finishing my thesis I was evacuating. I wrote a book about bushfires during a bushfire, my book launch was during a one in 500-year flood.”

  • Zach Jones

 

“The girls in my books are not aware of fires. Growing up in a very urban area there’s a real sense of distance from the environmental ramifications of climate change. It separated young people from understanding what it means to live in regional Australia, and I wanted to have that conversation through my characters.”

  • Felicity Castagna

 

“White Australia is beginning to realise how little they know about management of country with fire. The country is very, very sick and it needs our help. I hope non-aboriginal people are taking an interest and looking at the ways we manage country. We invite you in to help.”

  • Jared Thomas