#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Rebecca Smee
Award winning author Rebecca Smee writes powerful, punchy fiction for teens and adults who have a fascination for dark and twisted fantasy. She is an actor and screenwriter who injects danger and theatricality into her speculative fiction. She works as a freelance copywriter, and has written for theatre and short film. Her books include YA novel The Peanut Gallery, and adult novel Human Growth. She has studied manuscript editing, speculative fiction, fantasy YA, screenwriting and YA fiction at Writing NSW. Her YA novel Dancing Stones – under the working title TEYA – was shortlisted for both the Harper Collins Varuna Award and the Society of Women’s Writers Award for best unpublished novel, and it won the Random House Varuna Publishers Award.
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’ve been writing short stories since I was a kid, and even dabbled in poetry. I was a pretty isolated and painfully shy, and so writing became a real haven for me. Also, we didn’t own a TV until I was twelve, as mum was a bit of a hippy and thought it would poison our minds, so I probably spent more time being creative because of that. I desperately wanted to be an actor from an early age, so narrative was a big part of what defined me.
Tell us about your new book
My new book, Dancing Stones, is about an Australian teenage girl who has had a terrible trauma, and who is beginning to manifest some mental illness. Mental illness seems to run in her family – or does it? There’s a terrible secret that she can’t even think about, tied up with the recent disappearance of her Peruvian father. Her mother sends her to Peru in an effort to heal her. In South America she encounters a mysterious boy – James Dean of Peru they call him – and even though he seems dangerous, she is utterly drawn to him. He seems to be into some pretty weird stuff – black magic and gangs. But things begin to get seriously frightening when she treks to Machu Picchu. She is plagued by hallucinations, nightmares and sinister black birds. Is she just crazy, like her father? Or is magic real? Dancing Stones is about the problems of colonialism, and the generational impact of the loss of culture. But it’s also exciting, romantic, and full of magic!
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
My favourite OzYA book growing up, was Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park. It was the first YA book I read, and I read it countless times. To this day it stands as one of the finest YA books ever written. It captures the sense of otherness, isolation and longing for membership that so many teenagers feel, and it made me feel so much less alone. It’s the reason I wanted to become a YA writer. And the experience of immersion into Sydney’s historical past was absolutely captivating. It taught me to love Sydney. It taught me to love history. It taught me to feel ok to be me. And it infected me with an obsession for time-travel!
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
The person who encouraged my love of books was my mother, Margaret Smee. She read to us prolifically. She also read every word I ever wrote, including every painful early version of Dancing Stones. She is a font of creativity and intelligence herself, and showed me the joy or making things.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
Australian YA stories have an immediacy and a no-nonsense quality about them. Australian characters are often rule-breakers, often tough, and go their own way. I also love the connection that Australian narrative has to place and environment. We have such extraordinary natural resources, such beauty to be tapped into, and often the environment becomes a whole other character in the story.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
My favourite library is the Balmain Library, five minutes from my home. It’s a wonderful, historic building, and always feels like home. My two children adore it, and it’s a number one destination on rainy days. The staff are incredibly tolerant and helpful, and it just really feels like a community.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
The last book I read and enjoyed was Dark Emu. What an eye-opener!
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I am an actor and dancer. I recently came back from LA where I performed my one woman show at the Lee Strasberg Theatre. I dance several times a week. Anything creative with my two kids keeps me energised – I love making graphic novels with my son, and my daughter has my love of dance, so we do a lot of cavorting and capering.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Best piece of writing advice I’ve received was to strip back, cut all unnecessary descriptions, and to throw away ego. Story and character are paramount, so get to that stuff and don’t waste the readers time with demonstrations of virtuosity. Worst piece of writing advice was from my year seven English teacher who told me to use more adjectives to make my writing more exciting.
What do you love about OzYA?
OzYA is a brilliant arena for connecting readers with writers in the YA genre. It’s incredibly accessible, welcoming and easy to use. I love that it encourages diversity in Australian youth writing, and opens doors for young people to the incredibly rich, dangerous and fascinating world of literature. It’s helping to build a new generation of free-thinking, intelligent and powerful young people from the ground up. Well done!
To find out more about Rebecca and her writing, visit her website.