#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Elizabeth Foster
Elizabeth lives in Sydney, Australia where she is hard at work on the third and last novel in the Esme series. Much of her inspiration comes from nature, especially the ocean.
Her first novel, Esme’s Wish, for kids aged 10 - 14, has been enjoyed by readers around the world. Esme's Wish recently won a Purple Dragonfly award, an award which recognises excellence in children's literature.
Welcome to the LoveOzYA blog, we’re so happy to have you here!
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 loved writing poems when I was in primary school, and my aunt kept a story I wrote about a girl with magical spectacles. In those pre-Harry Potter days, glasses weren’t cool, and I detested my owl-like frames – so I guess even back then I was trying to deal with things through story! Then there was a long gap where I did no writing at all. It was only when I started reading stories to my children that I decided to try writing one of my own.
Tell us about your new book.
The Esme trilogy is an MG-to-YA series for younger teens and the second instalment, Esme’s Gift, has just been published by Odyssey Books. Esme Silver turns sixteen in this book, and has to master her Gift – the ability to observe the past – in order to help her mother. She also goes on a quest around Aeolia with her friends, Daniel and Lillian. However, most of the story is set in the canal city of Esperance – think Venice, with touches of Ancient Greece, and magic – where Esme attends school.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I honestly didn’t read much in my teenage years. However, I read widely as a child. In fact, when I was ten, my godfather gave me the complete works of Shakespeare – maybe as a bit of a joke. Back in the 70s, there wasn’t a wealth of OzYA books available, like there are now. If books by authors like Melina Marchetta had been around, I would have lapped them up. I feel a bit sad about those non-reading years but I’m catching up fast.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
Unfortunately not. I was the bookworm of a family more into politics than literature. No inspiring English teachers either. As a result, I have been very encouraging of my kids’ creative talents. My son Chris is a writer, too.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
OzYA stories have a singular identity – there’s something real and honest about them, whatever topic they address. There’s a certain fearlessness to OzYA, a willingness to confront difficult issues, whether through contemporary or speculative fiction or other forms.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
Harry Hartog in Sydney has a great atmosphere – there’s even a boat in one of their stores, filled with books! But honestly any bookshop appeals to me. Books seem like living things now that I’ve written my own.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I was moved by Jenna’s Truth by Nadia King, a short but important book about cyberbullying with a hopeful ending. I’m currently enjoying The Ivory Gate, the second in Julian Barr’s Ashes of Olympus series, an epic retelling of Virgil’s Aeneid. Greek mythology runs through the Esme series – it’s something I’m naturally drawn to – and in his series, Julian portrays the gods and the puny humans they interact with very well.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to enjoy your creativity?
I came to writing from painting and while I miss painting very much, I find writing all-consuming and too exhausting to put my hand to anything else – at least for now. I do, however, appreciate the creative works of others. I love to visit art galleries and enjoy the local culture in Sydney, as well as travel, when I get the chance. It all feeds my creativity.
What was the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The worst advice, though well-intentioned, was to turn my manuscript into a chapter book. Getting published is tough, especially when your book is in a ‘missing’ category. There used to be a publishing category for the in-between years, 10-14-year-olds, and it’s been subsumed by those categories above and below. I’m glad I stuck to my original intended audience – especially as the series progresses and I explore more YA themes.
The best advice, courtesy of Steve Martin, and pinned to my noticeboard for years, was to “be so good they can’t ignore you.” As I polished my manuscript over and over, and experienced a number of rejections, I decided that I wouldn’t put Esme’s Wish in a drawer, but work at it until it was the best it could be. Serendipitously, when Odyssey Books took me on, they had the very same quote pinned to the top of their website!
What do you love about OzYA?
It’s exciting and rewarding to be writing about teens and for teens, at a time where teenagers are taking charge and doing amazing things. Take Greta Thunberg – her words and actions have sparked a grassroots environmental movement worldwide, and teenagers are leading the charge for positive change in the world. It takes a lot of bravery to not only navigate adolescence – everyone comes out with some scars – but to also stand up for what’s important on a societal level.