For Educators, For Readers 5 years ago

#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Elizabeth Stevens

Elizabeth Stevens writes for both adults and teens and is the author of over twenty books! She’s currently completing her PhD and lives in Adelaide with her husband, cat, not-so-little lap dog, four chickens and one lazy turtle. Her latest YA novel Popped has just hit the shelves.

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 been making up stories for as long as I can remember. Back when my ‘typing’ was still mashing random keys on the keyboard, I used to create pages worth of story in my mum’s office, have her print them out, then I’d take them home to my gran to read them to her. I remember being really excited one time when I realised I’d typed a real word. As I got older, my stories became more readable and more involved. I was making up picture books when I was seven, and got my first rejection letter when I was twelve! But it was always more of a hobby until I was an adult and I stopped justifying my need to write and just did it with no apologies. And I haven’t stopped since.

Tell us about your new book.

Popped will hopefully give readers a laugh. These days I write very tongue-in-cheek, and Popped is no exception. I really like playing with clichés as they give me a chance to look at more serious problems from a comfortable distance, so I’ve started calling my books parodies, although people tell me they’re deeper than that which is nice. Popped is pretty much a culmination of all those YA movies we love. In it, two very different people, Bash and Paige, make a bet about each other but without knowing it and hilarity ensues until it inevitably blows up in their faces. There’s laugh-out-loud humour, comedic romance, two very important sidekicks on each team, a boy with a romance book obsession, a comic book theme, and a little bit of a lesson in the happily ever after. I really loved writing it – Jendo and Rufio were a couple of absolute treasures to write – and can’t wait to dive back into the world with the three upcoming sequels.

Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?

So many! Isobelle Carmody’s Obernerwtyn series is totally responsible for my decision to be a writer. Once I read the first one, I just knew I wanted to do what Isobelle had done – I wanted to write a book. I (even now) religiously read Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest books – although that might be more Middle Grade. I loved Gillian Rubenstein’s Space Demons trilogy when I was at school. And Melina Marchetta can write contemporary and fantasy amazingly well. I read John Marsden’s Winter quite a bit too – I always remember the bit with the blackberries. I discovered my other Oz faves when I was a teen, but I think they fall more into adult – Kate Forsyth’s Witches of Eileanan series for example.

Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?

Books and reading, yes. Writing…so-so.

My mum has always been a huge encourager of books. When I was little, the first thing we’d do on most trips to the supermarket was pick up a Golden Book, and then I’d ‘read’ it (upside down usually) as she shopped. I still have them all on my shelf. Writing’s not something I’ve ever been discouraged to do, but it was only encouraged as a hobby while I got a ‘real job’. I remember my dad once said I’d never finish a book – which sounds way harsher than it actually was – so of course, I did and only partially to prove him wrong. And that was over twenty books ago now. He also told me I’d never get a PhD; I’m currently in the progress of proving him wrong there, too.

Teachers have always encouraged my writing. I was that kid in the class who always wrote 5,000 words for a creative writing assignment instead of 1,000. But even though that meant my teachers had to read five times more than they needed to, they never made me write to word count for creative writing. I sometimes wonder if that was a bad thing though, because it’s taking some real training to write shorter pieces now. I was also one of the kids in the advanced reading group through primary school so I was always being encouraged to read, and the librarians were always super helpful with great book recommendations.

What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?

As Australians, we see so much of life in other countries through movies, TV, books, music, etc. But most every international reader I speak to tells me there is no vice versa – they mostly only know their own little pocket of the world. So, I think it’s being able to enjoy a story set in a place that’s foreign-but-similar to other places. Australian culture is such a mix of so many different ones that there’s always something new to learn and experience – even just from state to state. And it’s great for Aussie readers too; it’s refreshing to read about our favourite characters hanging out somewhere we recognise. I’ve only recently started putting specific places in my books (specific movie theatres and burger places) and local readers love it!

Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?

One that has books in? No, but serious now. I don’t really these days, no. My book appetite is sadly too big for my wallet to justify buying print books all the time, so I tend to buy mostly eBooks these days. There are certain authors I will ALWAYS buy print copies of, though, but I usually get them from Kmart and sneak them into the basket when the husband isn’t looking. I also like the ease of buying books online and then having them arrive at my door – anything that saves me the annoyance of pants is always preferred.

What was the last book you read and enjoyed?

That’s an excellent question. It feels like forever since I read a book that wasn’t for study or written by me. But I think it was Christina Benjamin’s The Accidental Boyfriend. Lucy and Jaxon were so adorable and it was right up my alley. I mean, it’s got unicorns, Harry Potter and a guy who literally sweeps you off your feet. What more could you want? If you need something to put a smile on your face, a pep in your step, and a fuzzy warmth in your heart, give this book a go.

Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?

I like the idea of gardening – the execution is still a little elusive, but I’m getting better every year and managing to keep more things alive – we recently saved a dwarf banana tree from Bunnings and it’s flourishing, although the dog keeps accidentally digging up the passionfruit plants when he talks to the chickens. My main other creative outlet is book cover design. It started out as purely a cost cutting measure and now I can’t stop. I love it. I make all my own and I’m having an amazing time learning how to do all the cool things with Photoshop – like adding tattoos or flames, and changing all the colours. And because I don’t have enough RSI from writing, I’m also knitting. I can really only make a toy hippo that I can personalise a little, and I’ve just made my Christmas-themed one. I’m trying to make a reindeer at the moment, but it is not going well. I’m also about to start those guitar lessons that I was supposed to start a year ago – I’ve already got the guitar and everything! It’s blue 😊

What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?

WORST: If I had to pick one, it would have to be the idea that I should have a day job and that writing couldn’t be it. As soon as I let myself believe I could do it as a job, it became my job and I love it. I hope it’s less of a problem for teens these days, where it’s more acceptable to be ‘entrepreneurial’, but it was such a downer to think the thing I wanted to do could only be a hobby. So, after starting teaching twice, I decided to stick with writing and did a Masters in Publishing and Editing to help me do it all myself.

BEST: This is difficult. There is so much great advice out there (there’s a lot of terrible advice too, I suppose), and I can’t always remember where I heard something. A few bests stand out: write drunk, edit sober – which basically just means relax and let the words flow without too much worrying about getting everything perfect to get the words on the page, then worry when it come to editing; which goes hand-in-hand with Sir Terry Pratchett’s advice of ‘ the first draft is just you telling yourself the story’; and probably the one that opened up my writing process was that you don’t HAVE to write a book chronologically – you want to write chapter 13 first, then 20, go back to 5, and write the first one last? Go for it. So, I guess the absolute number one piece of advice I’d always pass on is that – there’s no right way to write a book, you get to do it however you want, in whatever order you want, in whatever timeframe you want.

What do you love about OzYA?

Everything! A welcoming community, awesome readers, great stories, brilliant writers, and not least of all an amazing setting to tie it all together. What’s not to love?

To find out more about Elizabeth and her writing, visit her website and give her a follow on Facebook and Instagram: @writeriz.



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