#LoveOzYA Q&A with Gabriel Bergmoser for THE TRUE COLOUR OF A LITTLE WHITE LIE
Gabriel Bergmoser is an award-winning Melbourne-based author and playwright. He won the prestigious Sir Peter Ustinov Television Scriptwriting Award in 2015, was nominated for the 2017 Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing and went on to win several awards at the 2017 VDL One Act Play Festival circuit.
In 2016, his first young adult novel, Boone Shepard, was shortlisted for the Readings Young Adult Prize. A film adaptation of his thriller novel, The Hunted, is currently being developed in a joint production between Stampede Ventures and Vertigo entertainment in Los Angeles.
Gabriel’s latest YA novel, THE TRUE COLOUR OF A LITTLE WHITE LIE, has been optioned by Melbourne-based production company, Pirate Size Productions.
Read his chat with #LoveOzYA’s Julia Faragher below!
What is The True Colour of a Little White Lie about?
Being fourteen can suck, and nobody knows that better than Nelson. A series of embarrassing misunderstandings have made him a laughingstock at school, his only friend has moved away, and his crush has just rejected him. But when his parents take over a ski lodge at a nearby mountain resort, Nelson realises he can reinvent himself – after all, nobody up there knows he’s a loser, and a couple of white lies never hurt anyone, right?
What made you want to set this story at an Australian ski resort?
I grew up at the bottom of Mt Buller, and when I was fourteen my parents – you guessed it – took over a ski lodge up on the mountain. My own experiences were nowhere near as dramatic as Nelson’s, but that winter always stayed with me. Mum and Dad were flat out busy and so every weekend up at the lodge, I could do whatever I wanted – I’d never felt so completely free. Plus, I was struggling at school so having this fresh start in what felt like a totally new world was overwhelming.
But the actual impetus to write a book loosely based on that time came from the fact that I’d never seen the Australian ski slopes depicted in any fiction before, YA or otherwise, and I felt like there was this really exciting opportunity to try and capture everything that’s unique and weird and amazing about our alpine resorts as the backdrop to a coming-of-age story.
I love that the book captures both the excitement and awkwardness of falling in love as a teenager. How did this become the focus of Nelson’s story?
Something that I think is so unique to the teenage experience – or at least, it was to mine – is the way that things can change so rapidly. How everything can be bleak and terrible and sad, then your crush smiles at you and suddenly you’re on top of the world. And the first time you realise that somebody you like likes you back – is there anything in the world as powerful as that?
But the other thing about first love is that it’s always, always awkward as hell. And I think that’s part of the beauty! We never forget our first love even if we choose to focus only on the good stuff, and I knew that for this story to have weight, we had to see all sides of the experience – including the fact that, more often than not, it doesn’t work out the way we’d hope.
Sometimes that’s our own fault and we have to learn from it. As much as the book is written to be light and fun, it was important to me not to sugar-coat anything or give it some contrived happy ending. Nelson screws up a lot and has to deal with the consequences. In a weird way, I think that makes what he goes through even more special; he won’t ever forget this winter precisely because he had something special and lost it due to his own mistakes.
There are a lot of movie references in the book, including a great scene where Nelson and Adele bond over their shared love of Star Wars. Why did you choose to make Nelson a movie buff and, more importantly, what’s your favourite Star Wars movie?
In its first draft, The True Colour of a Little White Lie was explicitly set in 2005 and packed with specific references to that year. Through editing, the references were toned down to make the book feel more timeless, but in my head, it’s still set then and consequently, I can confirm that the unnamed Star Wars film Nelson, Adele and Juliet see is Revenge of the Sith. Although luckily Star Wars films are still coming out so it really can be set any year we have a new one.
I think the centrality of Star Wars and the Hannibal novels does stem a lot from my own teenage obsessions (although let’s be real, they remain obsessions in adulthood) but also, I think there’s something universal about escaping into fiction when stuff gets hard. For Nelson that’s always been a coping mechanism, until the events of the book force him to live in the real world with all its real consequences.
As to what my favourite Star Wars film is, I am so sorry but you’ve opened a can of worms here. If you’d asked me five years ago, I would have said A New Hope, but I think I’m finally ready to admit my darkest secret: it’s Revenge of the Sith. That’s the one I rewatch the most and no matter how goofy it gets, it still pulls off this sense of epic tragedy that transcends the bad acting and silly dialogue. But then I also have to add that I think the most underrated and interesting film in the series is The Last Jedi, which doesn’t totally work but swings for the fences and makes some seriously bold choices that I don’t think the franchise will ever go near again.
You’ve written novels for an adult audience as well as novels for young adults. What do you like about writing stories for a younger readership?
Honestly, I think it’s the chance to let my guard down a little bit. My adult writing is predominantly in the thriller territory, and while I love writing that stuff, I also think in my YA work there’s a chance to be a little more myself, I guess. I’m really proud of The Hunted but it isn’t quite as close to my heart as True Colour because this one is so much more personal, written from a more raw and real place.
Plus, I really do think that our teenage years shape us so completely that there’s something cathartic about indirectly revisiting and exploring them through fiction. The reality is that the spectrum of human experience isn’t quite as vast as we all believe. Every embarrassment or heartbreak we experience reflects those of millions, if not billions of others. YA gives writers a chance to share those experiences and, hopefully, gives readers the chance to realise that they’re not alone in feeling a certain way.
What writing advice would you give to aspiring LoveOzYA writers?
I wish I had something original to say here, but the truth is that all the advice you usually hear – read a lot, write a lot, tell stories that matter to you – is spot on. Building a career as a writer is a war of attrition and you have to be ready to get up every time you’re kicked down because you will be kicked down a lot. But if this is what you’re meant to do, you’ll keep doing it and eventually you’ll find a way to break through.
I guess if there was one thing I could suggest that I don’t hear a lot, it’s to try writing theatre. Which I know sounds weird and out of left field, but writing for the stage taught me more than anything else, especially about dialogue and pace. When you’re sitting in a theatre, you can’t hide from the lulls in energy during boring patches or the stony silences that greet lines you thought were funny but aren’t. It makes you learn really quickly how to keep a story moving along. Plus, it’s relatively cheap and easy – find some actors and a director, you can perform literally anywhere. And if what you do is good enough, who knows where it could lead?