#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Bonnie Wynne
Bonnie Wynne studied Writing and Cultural Studies at UTS, and completed her law degree at the University of Sydney. After a brief stint in legal publishing, she now works for the Australian government, deciphering ancient law tomes.
She lives in Sydney with her cocker spaniel, Percival Hector (Canine Inspector). When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found playing video games, booking her next holiday, or elbow-deep in flour.
The Ninth Sorceress (Talem Press) is her debut novel and the first book in her series, ‘The Price of Magic’.
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?
Oh, I’ve been writing forever. Some of my earliest memories involve writing ‘books’ (written on printer paper, stapled together) and trying to sell them to my neighbours. The marriage of my two great loves: writing and money.
Tell us about your new book.
The Ninth Sorceress is Book 1 in my series, ‘The Price of Magic’. The story follows Gwyn, a seventeen-year-old apprentice herbalist who’s spent her life hidden away like a dark secret. She’s never been inside city walls, or had a friend, or been able to make any decisions for herself. But when she discovers she’s marked out by a goddess and pursued by the sinister wizards of the Syndicate, Gwyn must step out of the shadows and take charge of her destiny – even if the price is her own soul.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I love love love Isobelle Carmody’s ‘Obernewtyn’ series. The way she mixes fantasy and sci-fi was really inspiring to me as a teen writer, and I loved that Elspeth wasn’t a typical, plucky heroine. She was someone more like me: a bit reserved, a bit uncertain, a bit of an outsider. I was lucky enough to meet Isobelle a few years ago at a Writing NSW event, but I was too shy to say anything.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
My mum has always been my biggest supporter. She’s never suggested I was wasting my time with writing, or that my books would be anything less than wildly successful. I always tell her that when I make J. K. Rowling money, I’ll buy her a castle (although I hope she’s not holding her breath for that one).
I also had great teachers who encouraged my writing, loaned me books to read, and didn’t give me detention when they caught me drawing book characters in my notebook margins. They always made me feel like writing was a viable career choice and not just something to do in my spare time.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
Hmm, great question! I think that Australian YA stories often have more of a focus on the natural world than their overseas counterparts. I’m thinking of books like Obernewtyn and Tomorrow When The War Began, where the environment is almost a character in itself.
And this is a big generalisation, but I feel like Aussie YA writers are a bit more willing to laugh at ourselves and to show our main characters as vulnerable or misguided or dorky or selfish. In international YA, and maybe especially American YA, it seems like the characters have to be unstoppable badasses, throwing quippy one-liners left and right, and if they’re flawed then they have to be flawed in a cool way. Maybe it’s the Marvel movie influence. Aussie YA authors seem more willing to explore the idea that their characters are just plain wrong about things.
But like I said, that’s a big generalisation. There’s plenty of nuanced American YA fiction out there as well.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
I do most of my reading on Kindle these days, which is hard to beat in terms of convenience. But in Sydney, I always pop into Better Read Than Dead in Newtown and Gleebooks in Glebe. Just down the road from there is Sappho for second-hand books, and they also have a cute courtyard and café.
For libraries, you can’t beat the Bodleian in Oxford. It’s so beautiful, and the rare manuscripts they have are just mind-blowing. A must-see for any book lover!
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I read Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo when it came out last year, and I loved it! I’m a sucker for secret societies and university culture.
Yesterday I started reading The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith. I’m almost finished, and really enjoying it! I picked up an ARC of Book 2, so I’m looking forward to diving into that one soon.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I do a bit of drawing for fun. My dad is a professional painter. I’m not that good, but it’s a nice thing to do while you chill and drink a glass of wine and listen to some music. I guess it engages a different part of the brain to writing.
I also play a lot of video games. I like ones where you can build a base and show off your creativity that way. I hate to think how many hours I’ve sunk into gaming, but at least I had fun.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The best writing advice I ever got, and the thing I always repeat when I’m asked for tips, is be specific. I don’t mean you should bury everything under mounds of description. You can’t be specific about everything. But you should include those small, crunchy details that make the world seem real; that create a mood or advance the plot or illuminate the character or suggest a time or a place or a cultural milieu.
The worst advice is ‘Never use “said”, because it’s boring.’ They teach you that in primary school and it’s terrible advice. ‘Said’ is invisible. A whole book of people shouting and whispering and exclaiming and thundering would drive the reader up the wall.
What do you love about OzYA?
I think the commitment to diversity of stories and authors is a big strength of Australian YA fiction. It’s something that’s still developing, and I think the work is far from done, but I can see that drive to showcase more queer stories, more Indigenous stories, more migrant stories, more disability stories. There’s a real openness in the Australian YA community, which I find so inspiring. Hopefully we continue to see more and more diverse books in the coming years.