#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Davina Bell
Davina Bell is an award-winning author of books for young readers of many ages. She writes picture books (including All the Ways to be Smart and Under the Love Umbrella), junior fiction (Lemonade Jones) and middle-grade fiction (the ‘Corner Park Clubhouse’ series). Davina lives in Melbourne, where she works as a children’s book publisher. Her latest YA book, The End of the World is Bigger than Love is out this month.
Welcome to the LoveOzYA blog, we’re so happy to have you here!
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 was always the kid in primary school who wrote twenty pages in creative writing class when we were supposed to write one, so it’s no surprise to anyone who knew me then that I ended up being an author. I really lost confidence and stopped when I was around twelve, and I only wrote angsty poetry for a while. And after that I didn’t write anything creative until I was in my twenties. But actually, I’ve just remembered that a line of that angsty poetry is in my book! It stuck in my head all these years. I wonder if anyone will be able to pick it.
Tell us about your new book.
No jokes, this book is set during a global pandemic. What are the chances?! I started writing it in 2012, and it’s insane that just as I finished the final edits, COVID-19 happened. But obviously it’s about more than that. The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love is told from the points of view of identical twin sisters who are fifteen and living alone on a remote island. Summer is chatty and intense, and Winter is gentle and restrained, and a lot of the book is about their love for each other and how they escape from that love.
It becomes clear really early on that their stories – about how they ended up there and what’s happened to the rest of the world – don’t match up. The truth of what actually went down is a puzzle that the reader is trying to solve right to the end, when (hopefully!) all the pieces fall into place in a really satisfying way, like a Tetris piece landing in a really good spot.
It’s also about grief and first love, cyber terrorism and Big Tech, mental illness and a talking whale and the joy of re-reading the books you love. Above all, it’s about letting go of the past so you can write the story of your future, and accepting the truth of who you are – in all its facets, with all its darkness.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I was John Marsden crazy – so much so that I was interviewed on Radio National about whether I thought his books were too bleak for teenagers. (At the time I thought this was a completely insulting question!) The Tomorrow When the War Began series was my generation’s Harry Potter, and I would stay up reading all night as soon as I got my hands on the latest book. I remember the exact angle of the streetlight coming in my window at 3am and the feeling in my chest, so tight with suspense, as I finished the third book, which I think was my favourite – The Third Day, the Frost.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
When my dad was a boy, his grandmother would take him to the local bookstore on the first day of every school holiday as a treat. He continued that tradition with me and my siblings, and those visits together felt so special, because he was a really busy businessman and we rarely spent time with him alone. Walking into the bookshop holding his hand felt solemn and sacred – like we were entering a cathedral. So, though I never met her, I think that my great-grandmother was the person who connected books and reading with something precious in my mind, and my love of writing grew from there.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
The Little Bookroom in Melbourne is my favourite bookshop. What they do to support books and creators and readers and the publishing community and the local community is mindblowing. And the New York Public Library is my favourite library. Some of my novel was actually written there, in the Rose Reading Room, which is the one with those crazy beautiful ceiling clouds. What a different world it was then! Poor old New York.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
Last night I picked up Franny and Zooey again, hoping to find the comfort and familiarity that might get me out of my current reading slump. I loved JD Salinger’s stories about the Glass family so much when I was younger – and they even feature in a weird dream sequence in The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love. I’m happy to report that this worked a treat. If you’re interested in child geniuses and existential questions about why we exist, this is the book for you. It’s like the YA that existed before YA was invented.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I’ve recently become obsessed with the Bon Appetit YouTube channel, and it’s reminded me how much I love cooking, and how creative that can be. #IWDFCFTBATK
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The best was from the author Martine Murray, who said, ‘Write the book that only you can write.’ Hearing that made me realise for the first time that I might have something unique and interesting to say, even though I didn’t think I was a particularly unique or interesting person. My latest novel is a really intense interpretation of that – it’s like a constellation of everything I’ve ever loved or thought or been fascinated by. (Mountain climbing! Phosphorescence! Anne Frank! Jealousy! Bonne Maman chestnut spread!)
The worst advice was from an editor who I paid to read my novel and write a report. She really didn’t like the book, especially the voice, and she really wasn’t into the talking whale. I’m so relieved I ignored that and kept him in anyway, because he’s everyone’s favourite character. From that experience, I realised that even an expert’s point of view is pretty subjective. And that not everyone will like what or how you write, and that’s okay too.
What do you love about OzYA?
I was lucky enough to be a judge in the YA category of the Victorian Premiers Awards a few years ago, which meant reading all the Australian YA books that had been published that year. I was face-smacked by the breadth of themes and ideas that were covered, and the huge range in the tone of what we were creating. To me, Australian YA is smart, raw, brave and authentic. It’s not saccharine. It doesn’t speak down to its readers. There’s a no-bullshit quality that I really appreciate.
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