#LoveOzYA Q&A with Kate Emery on THE NOT SO CHOSEN ONE
Kate Emery is a journalist and author based in Perth, Western Australia. Her debut YA novel, The Not So Chosen One, was shortlisted for Text Publishing’s Text Prize in 2020 and will be released on 5 July 2022.
Kate chats with #LoveOzYA's Dayna Smith about the book and how writing fiction differs from her day job as a journalist.
For those who haven’t read The Not So Chosen One, what’s it all about?
OK, I’ll try to do this without spoilers because I hate when you go to the movies and the trailer tells everything that’s going to happen. The premise is that Perth high schooler, her name is Lucy, she finds out, page 1, chapter 1, that she’s pregnant. This is not a good thing as you can probably imagine. Then on the same day that a) that magic is real and b) that she’s been accepted into a magic school and the rest of the book is her experience juggling these two things and things at magic school don’t go how she hopes they will. A classic magic school epic story, I guess.
Was there another magic school that inspired you?
Oh, there’s so many magic schools. Everyone always thinks of Harry Potter and Hogwarts, obviously, but one of the first fantasy series I ever read was Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books. It was just a trilogy then because this was back in primary school. Oh, gosh, now I’ve forgotten the name of the magic school, but the young guy Ged gets sent off there. That was a very inspirational series. I absolutely love Lev Grossman’s Magician’s series with Brakebills, that was so, so good. But I also think it’s just one of those wish fulfillment things where any kid who’s grown up reading a lot of fantasy books or even into chosen one stories, like Star Wars, always has this dream about how amazing it would be if your mundane life was going to become a lot less mundane. It hasn’t happened yet, unfortunately.
We can but dream! I found it really interesting, this pairing of something that is more of a feature of contemporary fiction, unplanned pregnancy, and pairing that with the fantasy of a magic school. What prompted that?
Yeah, that’s a really fair question. I’ve had a few friends ask if I had an unplanned pregnancy in high school that they didn’t know about, and that did not happen. I think it was just wanting to combine these two huge big things and the idea of someone who is struggling with, one the one hand, with this magical dilemma that we’d all kind of like to have, of how do you handle magic school, and on the other hand, this other, real-world dilemma that lots of people that age, would not like to have. And perhaps to add some real-world stakes to this light-hearted and fantastical story.
You’re a journalist by trade. What was it like writing a novel as opposed to factual stories?
It was brilliant! You don’t have to fact check. You don’t have to call people up on the phone who don’t necessarily want to talk to you. It was really fun. I actually wrote the first draft a couple of years ago when I was on maternity leave with my daughter. I suddenly wasn’t working so I wasn’t writing during the day and I felt like I had creative energy that I wanted to get out and I missed doing writing, so I wrote the draft while she was napping and it was so much fun. Like many authors, I’ve probably written all my life, but it was just a real blast.
The manuscript was shortlisted for the Text Prize. What was it like to apply for the prize and what impact did that have on writing the book and how it contributed to being published?
It was such a funny, spur of the moment decision to enter. I was online, probably on social media, and I saw an ad for the Text Prize for Young Adult Fiction, and I thought it was interesting. I had this manuscript that I’d taken out and had another look at reasonably recently, but it was just going to sit on a USB drive and do nothing. It had never actually occurred to me that it was Young Adult, for some reason, even though it was all about high school kids, and I thought “Oh, maybe I could enter that?”. And so I had about a month, and I read through the manuscript. I went through and, I thought, tightened it up a lot, but as it happened, after I was shortlisted, I went back and read it and was a little bit embarrassed by some of the bits where people would change names, they’d change ages, there were a couple of plotlines I didn’t quite get around to wrapping up, but obviously Text saw something beneath the muddle of the manuscript; they saw a good story if I could just prune away the rest. They rang me up and told me I was shortlisted. I was very excited, this was actually during the 2020 lockdown, and I was quite bored and restless, so it was very exciting. It was quite a long process, and then maybe a month or two after that, I got another phone call and they told me the bad news is that you didn’t win the prize, but the good news is, we want to offer you a book deal anyway. That was, for me, the dream because that was what I wanted anyway. And then it was a process of cutting down the book - it was about 90000 words and it ended up being closer to 60000 words, so quite a big change. A few tweaks here and there, cutting away plotlines that the more I looked at it, weren’t necessary. And then, yes, it was all done and now it’s going to be out in the world!
You mentioned in the acknowledgements about working with your editor. Was that part of the book deal with Text?
Yes. It was actually a slightly unusual situation. So Samantha Forge was the editor who signed me on and she was lovely, and still is (she hasn’t passed away), but in the middle of this process, she left Text. I’m assured it was nothing to do with my book - she’s lovely and still in touch. And so I had another editor take over at Text who was Ian See, who is also extremely lovely and so he’s done the bulk of gently suggesting to me that maybe I don’t need to use the same word 50 times in this paragraph, and possibly I need to learn how to use a comma, and other things that has made it a much better book.
Do you have plans to write other books in the future?
Oh, obviously. I have semi-recently finished another book. I haven’t shown it to my editor yet, I thought I’d get Number One out of the way first. Who knows if it will ever see the light of day? But definitely. I mean, I always have that drive to have a creative outline, even now I’m not on maternity leave and back at work. It’s just a whole different energy, without sounding like too much of a hippy, it’s a different energy to doing journalism. It’s a whole lot of fun and what I do in my spare time, when I can sneak away from the kids or have a holiday. I will definitely keep writing things and whether they’re any good or not, I guess we’ll find out.
Well, I think people will enjoy The Not So Chosen One. I certainly did.