#LoveOzYA Q&A with Margot McGovern
Margot McGovern is a YA author based in Adelaide, Australia. Her contemporary YA manuscript, Neverland, was short-listed for the 2015 Text Prize and published by Penguin Random House Australia in April 2018.
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’ve always loved stories and make-believe. As a kid I wanted to be all kinds of magical things when I grew up—a witch, a vampire, a pirate. Later, I figured out that being a writer means that I get to be all those things and many more.
Tell us about your new book.
Neverland is a dark take on a traditional boarding school story. It’s narrated by seventeen-year-old Kit Learmonth, who is struggling to come to terms with tragic events in her past. She spent the early years of her life with her parents on her family’s private island, listening to her dad’s stories about the mermaids, selkies, pirates and sea monsters that inhabit the surrounding waters.
However, Kit’s parents drowned in a sailing accident when Kit was ten, and since then she’s been looked after by her uncle, Doc—a psychiatrist who’s turned the island into a boarding school for mentally ill teens. Kit has spent most of her high school years at boarding schools on the mainland, but when she attempts to end her life partway through year twelve, Doc brings her home to the island and places her in the care of his colleague, Dr Hannah Ward.
Once home, Kit finds plenty of distractions: clandestine drinking parties in the lighthouse, the Schools’ Cup sailing competition and a new boy who seems to understand her in a way no one else can. But the island isn’t as Kit remembers. The mythical creatures of her dad’s stories have become difficult to find and something far more terrifying has come to inhabit the island in their place, causing Kit to question everything she thinks she remembers about the events leading up to her parents’ deaths.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I loved The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody. I was quite young when I read it and I remember how sinister and unsettling it was. It’s one of those books that has shaped my reading choices well into adulthood.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
My parents, especially my dad, encouraged my love of storytelling. I have fond memories of him reading me the books he loved as a kid and of the stories he invented for me and my sister. In fact, I used this as the inspiration for Kit’s dad Francis in Neverland—only his stories have a darker motive. Sorry, Dad!
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
There’s a frankness and a wry humour that runs through our stories, and I think, perhaps because we’re a smaller market, we can afford to push the boundaries a little further. There’s also a strong sense of place—the setting, whether it’s one of the big cities, a remote town or somewhere invented—plays a key role in shaping the mood of our stories.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
The Glenelg Library and Dymocks Glenelg in Adelaide are my locals. I worked at Dymocks once upon a time in my undergrad days and the staff there now are absolutely delightful, plus they have a great YA section.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
The Centre of My Everything by Allayne Webster, Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza and Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell are all recent favourites.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
A bit of this and a bit of that: drawing, Instagramming, blogging, gardening, cooking. Also inventing games and playing with my daughter—parenting is basically one big improv. exercise!
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The best? Read. And be adventurous in your reading. The worst is being told that you can’t make a career out of writing. It’s difficult, yes, and it probably won’t happen the way you imagine it will, but it’s not impossible. If writing is what gives you purpose, then write.
What do you love about OzYA?
The stories, of course, but also the community. The way authors, readers, bloggers, book sellers, librarians and teachers have come together to support and shape our national youth literature and create a welcoming space to share their love of YA is something very special and unique.
You can find out more about Neverland here.