#LoveOzYA Q&A with Cath Crowley, Fiona Wood and Simmone Howell
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?
CATH: I always told stories, and loved to read. But writing stories is something I fell in love with as an adult. I don’t know why it took me so long. I’ve always been a dreamer, though.
FIONA: Both. I wrote my first finished novel, Mystery at the Manor, in Year Eight, (we had to do it for English) but I didn’t think about writing as a career until I was thirty, had my first baby, and started doing some freelance journalism. I went from that work to RMIT to study screenwriting, wrote scripts for years, and eventually got around to writing my second novel, Six Impossible Things.
SIMMONE: I was always surrounded by books and started writing stories as a teenager - possibly inspired by Jo March …? I hung around my local library and was always entering their writing competitions. I never entertained any other kind of career, and have always worked the kind of jobs that would save my brain space for writing.
Tell us about your new book.
FIONA: Take Three Girls is a story about an unlikely friendship - between Kate, Clem and Ady - that is sparked in a Wellness program that St Hilda’s has created in response to the environment of online bullying and misogyny. It’s co-written by Cath and Simmone and me.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
FIONA: I was not aware of any OzYA writing when I was a teenager. And ‘YA’ certainly hadn’t been coined as a category. So my teen reading was all regular adult fiction.
SIMMONE: I loved Robin Klein’s books but I mostly read American teenage fiction - Australia didn’t seem to have books about the teenage social minefield. When I was sixteen I found Sonya Hartnett’s first novel Trouble all the Way and it made me think that young people could write about young people…
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
CATH: My dad encouraged a love of reading. He took me to the library every Saturday.
FIONA: We also visited the library every Saturday. I was lucky to grow up with books and reading very much part of my daily life. I saw my parents reading, and I still think that is the best way to have children who are readers: to model reading.
SIMMONE: My parents always gave me and siblings books as presents. And our version of the latchkey kid was that we hung around the library until our parents finished work.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
FIONA: It’s a generalisation, but I do think Australian writers are happy to be rule-breakers, and to write into ‘difficult’ areas, so there’s a certain energy or flavour that comes with that.
SIMMONE: Hmm. I’m not sure. Maybe we are less sure of ourselves and so a kind of honesty comes through in the work? When my first book came out in the US one of the reviews called it ‘unvarnished’ … sometimes I think of OZya like that, a bit rough-around-the-edges, but maybe more real for it.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
CATH: The Sun Bookshop! And Readings Hawthorn.
FIONA: I love The Avenue, and Readings, and Dymocks, Collins Street, and I always enjoy visiting the SLV, though I’ve haven’t worked in there since I was at university.
SIMMONE: Readings for a ‘new’ shop. My favourite bookshop in all the world is City Basement Books. If anyone wants retro OZYA they’ve got shelves and shelves of it.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
CATH: I loved My Life as a Hashtag by Gabrielle Williams. Also, One Would Think The Deep by Claire Zorn.
FIONA: Last book? The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. It’s as good as everyone says it is – ie wonderful. On the local scene I'm also a big Hashtag fan, and I’m excited to recommend two books that aren’t out yet, Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell, and Between Us by Clare Atkins. Also, looking forward to reading Pip Harry’s new title, Because of You.
SIMMONE: I loved Moira Burke’s Losing it and was supercharmed by Steph Bowe’s Night Swimming. I’m very behind on my reading and need an extra day in the week AT LEAST.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
FIONA: I like cooking and drawing, though drawing has been sadly neglected for some time.
SIMMONE: I like making maps and mixtapes.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
CATH: The worst advice was someone telling me an idea would never work and I should forget it – before they’d read the book! The best advice I’ve read is from Rebecca Solnit: ‘The road is made of words’. There’s no other way to get there but to write.
FIONA: Best advice: Finish it: You can only start making something better once it exists. The world is full of people talking about their book ideas and film ideas, but it’s only the people who finish writing, and get started on rewriting, who will be published, or produced.
Worst advice: The worst advice I got was to write something in the first person that I knew should be written in the third person. The thing about advice is you’ve got to listen to your gut.
SIMMONE: Best from Tim Winton: ‘It’s just a f***ken book.’ (context - he was talking about the ladles of stress he heaped on himself while trying to write Dirt Music)
Worst: Write what you know. I would amend this to Write what you want and be open to mystery. Not everything has to be explained or answered.
What do you love about OzYA?
FIONA: The community – the writers and readers and commentators who keep creating and discussing and reviewing and enjoying and sharing YA fiction.
SIMMONE: I love reading about familiar settings - always have - and hope to see more of it. I love writing that is idiosyncratic and inimitable and I think we have some brilliant writers in the YA community. I feel like there’s lots of love and support out there, and it’s fertile ground.