#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Susan White
Susan White is both a YA author and clinical geneticist. Her manuscript Cut was shortlisted for the 2017 Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award and her novel Take the Shot (Affirm Press) has just hit the shelves!
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 have always loved telling stories, but I stopped when I started studying medicine because I thought I needed to be a serious doctorly type person! It was exciting when, in my thirties, I realised there was nothing stopping me doing both. I studied creative writing, got some experience and confidence in my story-telling, and here I am!
Tell us about your new book.
My novel, Take the Shot, is a novel for younger YA readers (11-15) about a basketball-obsessed teenage boy, Bug, who discovers he has a rare genetic condition called Marfan syndrome which makes playing basketball potentially dangerous. In his own quirky and funny way, Bug tries to keep playing, by keeping secrets from his family and from his team-mates, but ultimately, Bug has to choose between saving his life and doing the thing that makes life worth living – or does he?
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I was a teenager in the eighties, and I gobbled up anything remotely YA that I could lay my hands on, but most of the novels were from US authors, and there wasn’t nearly enough OzYA. I kept reading YA into my adult years, though, and love it now. Having a medical background, I love books in the ‘sick-lit’ genre - such as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Zac and Mia.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
My sister taught me to read when I was four – she was in prep and I was at home and bored, so she was my first influencer when it came to reading. After that, I used to walk to school reading a book, a high-risk activity when you’re innately klutzy! In high school, I had several English teachers who encouraged me. One suggested I submit a story to a competition in the local paper, the Hampton Bugle, when I was sixteen, and so I did – and won! $150, which was a fair bit of money in 1984. Reading it now, the writing makes me seriously cringe. But at the time, I thought this writing business was a pretty easy caper.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
I love the emotional honesty in an authentic Australian voice. I love being able to immerse myself in that character’s story. It is exciting to see different Australian authors embrace what makes our stories unique and see where the story takes us.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
I hang out at the amazing Bargoonga Nganjin library in North Fitzroy, and Readings in Carlton feels like home to me.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
Right now I’m reading Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough and loving it! I also really enjoyed the incredible Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
Outside of my day job as a doctor and my fiction-writing, I don’t have a heap of spare time for other creative stuff. But I love playing the piano, and listening to music and singing along very loudly in my car.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
I initially found the ‘show, don’t tell’ advice confusing, because when I first applied it to my writing, I saw some very obvious ‘tells’, but when I cut all these out, my writing felt dry and lacked that emotional connection which was the reason I was writing in the first place! I realised I needed to be a bit more circumspect in how I applied this to my work, and there’s a time and place for showing, and for telling.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard from writing came from Charlotte Wood, who talked about finding the parts of the story with energy in the writing, and following that energy to see where it leads. I am using that at the moment as I edit a novel I’m working on, and it’s proving really useful.
What do you love about OzYA?
I love OzYA for its great stories about engaging, believable, authentic characters. I love the diverse voices and stories within OzYA and the way that it gives us a chance to think about the way we want to live, who we are and who we want to be.