Q&A for Readers, Teachers, Writers

#LoveOzYA Q&A (round two!) with Kate O'Donnell

  • · 5 days ago
#LoveOzYA Q&A (round two!) with Kate O'Donnell

Kate O’Donnell is a writer specialising in children’s and young adult literature. She has a BA in History and French from the University of Melbourne and studied Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. Untidy Towns was published in 2017.

Kate's latest book is This One is Ours (UQP), out 29 September!

Let’s go back to the beginning. Tell us about your journey to becoming an author.

From a child scribbler and voracious reader, I became a greedy-reading bookseller who then got waylaid by becoming an editor and took seven years to write Untidy Towns (placing it with Kristina Schulz at UQP around the six year mark, I think) and three-ish more years to write This One is Ours. Now here we are. I hope there’s more books to come.

Tell us about your new book.

This One is Ours is a love story of sorts, but I’m also trying to capture that feeling we’re all feeling – that the world is full of worrying things right now, and it’s hard to know what to do about them, or even if there is anything you can do. Sofie is sixteen and heading away from home for the first time on a foreign exchange in Paris. She is dreaming of art and of romance – but quickly discovers that Paris and the world have more than this in mind.

I began writing the story that would eventually become This One is Ours way back in 2006, the year I lived in France. It started with the May ’68 movement and my fascination with the barricades, the anger, the poster art and the way the students’ action sparked industrial action across France. But it wasn’t until the past few years that the fully-formed character of Sofie turned up and demanded her story be told. Greta Thunberg and the global School Strike for Climate movement breathed life and determination into the book.

Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?

I had so many. Let me just mention Killing Aurora by Helen Barnes (Penguin, 1999) and how it tells the story of Aurora and Web, whose friendship is fractured and fierce, but they’re both just trying to make sense of family, and this sharp-edged world, and who are both powder kegs. Because that’s what teenage girls are. It’s extraordinary, and 21 years on is still powerfully relevant.

What’s your favourite experience connected to a bookstore or library?

When I was in primary school, I was obsessed with the Baby-Sitters Little Sister books (and subsequently the regular Babysitters) and I have such a distinct and happy memory of selecting them from the shelves at the public library in Ocean Grove. My mum ran a bookshop when we were growing up, we never lacked books, so the library pleasure is sort of surprising. I was at the same library recently (over the last summer, to work on edits of This One is Ours) and felt that same pleasure I felt as a kid.

If you could reside in any fictional universe, what would it be?

I image it’s not far from reality, and it won’t be so alluring to others, but Joanne Horniman’s evocations of Lismore NSW in her books Mahalia, Secret Scribbled Notebooks and About a Girl draw me to this place. I think it’s also the way she breathes life into the young women (and men) coming of age in this town. I want to sit in one of the shabby cafes she writes about, drinking a flat white, and talking love and poetry and the blues.

What recent OzYA book would you like to shout out to the world?

I really enjoyed Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley. It’s such a compelling and immersive exploration of living with ASD and ADHD (among other alphabets), with an instantly enchanting and complex protagonist in Peta. A bit sexy, a bit romantic, but full of self-reflection and growth, with the bonus of brilliant platonic friendships too. I’m looking forward to more offerings from Anna.

What advice would you offer to your younger writer self?

Write more! No, wait. That’s my younger writer self’s advice to me now. I’d tell her to read more widely. Read outside her comfort zone. (I also remind myself of this now from time to time.)

What is a new habit/hobby/practice you didn’t have before COVID-19?

I’ve become more dedicated than ever to the daily/twice-daily Panic Walk. The creek by my house is too crowded these days, so I’m making an attempt to walk every street within a few kilometres of my house. I like to walk with a friend, either on the phone or by my side at an appropriate distance, but walking with only myself for company (no music, no podcast, no nothing) is wickedly useful for ideas. Honestly, it’s like some kind of witchcraft.

What do you love about OzYA?

I love the books which offer glimpses into the lives of Australian teenagers. I crave the slang and the pop culture references and the food. I love the community, who is working hard to widen the scope of the books and the writers and the readers so OzYA can be a better, more representative, and more interesting place.

To find out more about Kate and her writing, visit her website and follow her Twitter and Instagram.

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