#LOveOzYA Author Q&A With Jane Godwin

Jane Godwin is the highly acclaimed and internationally published author of many books for children and young people, across all styles and ages. Children’s Publisher at Penguin Books Australia for many years, Jane was the co-creator with Davina Bell of the Our Australian Girl series of quality historical fiction for middle readers. Jane’s books include her novels Falling From Grace and As Happy as Here (a CBCA Notable Book), and picture books Go Go and the Silver Shoes (illustrated by Anna Walker), The Silver Sea (with Alison Lester and patients at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne) and Watch This! (with designer Beci Orpin and photographer Hilary Walker). Jane is dedicated to pursuing quality and enriching reading and writing experiences for young people, and spends as much time as she can working with them in schools and communities and running literature and writing programs.

Jane’s latest novel When Rain Turns to Snow is out this month.

Welcome to the LoveOzYA blog, we’re so happy to have you here!

Thank you for having me!

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 been a keen reader, and I’ve always been interested in stories, but no, I didn’t write, or tell a lot of stories when I was a child. I read a lot, and I think I had stories in my head, and daydreams, so I was telling stories to myself, but I didn’t really think to write them down! Then after I finished uni I got a job in a publishing house (Penguin) and I kind of fell into writing. I’m very glad I did.

Tell us about your new book.

My new book is called When Rain Turns to Snow. It’s for the same age group as my book published last year, As Happy as Here, ie young teen.

It’s a story of a thirteen-year-old boy, Reed, who runs away from home. He has a baby with him (you’ll need to read the book to find out why!). It’s the middle of winter, it’s cold, it’s wet, it’s dark, Reed doesn’t really know where he’s going, and he has also never cared for a baby before. Enter Lissa, a fourteen-year-old girl who discovers Reed, and tries to help him. But Lissa has problems of her own. The girls at school are hiding something from her, and there’s stuff happening online, to do with her older brother, Harry. I won’t say anything more about the story or I’ll give too much away!

The title comes from one day last winter I was at my son Wil’s place. He lives near Daylesford, in Central Victoria. His house is in a clearing surrounded by forest. I was standing on his deck and it was raining hard, loud on the tin roof. It was a very cold day, and as I was standing there, the temperature dropped that couple of degrees, and all of a sudden everything was quiet, no more loud rain on the roof, and the rain itself slowed down, became soft and gentle because it had turned to snow. And it was like this magical moment in time, when all that was harsh and loud transformed into something graceful.

When Rain Turns to Snow is about fate, families, friendship, and the perils of social media.

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

Lol there weren’t really any Australian YA books when I was growing up! Back in the 1970s it kind of went from middle reader to adult books. But there were a few that featured teenage characters. I loved Ivan Southall’s books, but really most of the YA material at that time came from overseas. I loved the American writer Paul Zindel, I loved The Outsiders by SE Hinton (this was probably the first YA book I read, and some say it started the whole genre of YA fiction) and the other books in that series: That was Then, This is Now, and Rumblefish. The Twelfth Day of July by Joan Lingard was another one I loved, and its sequel Across the Barricades. I enjoyed Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen, and Go Ask Alice (that was very risque, and banned in many schools!) and Robert Cormier, too. The Chocolate War was one of my favourites. Interesting that nearly all of these books are still in print, over forty years later! They have stood the test of time.

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

Not really one person in particular. My parents had books in the house, and they read to us when we were little. I do remember teachers in my primary school reading us chapters from books every afternoon for half an hour, and this was my favourite time of the day.

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

Australian YA writers take risks, explore, are original, and are not afraid to tackle challenging topics.

Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?

I have several favourite bookshops! The Little Bookroom, Readings, Squishy Minnie, The Younger Sun, Lorne Beach Books, just to name a few.

What was the last book you read and enjoyed?

Recently I’ve read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, which I loved. Also a brilliant and intense memoir called Heavy, by Kiese Laymon. That book really taps into a lot of the issues America is facing right now. I set myself the task of reading Anna Karenina (which I had never read) during isolation. I’m about two thirds of the way through. There’s a lot of politics, a lot of agriculture, and some pretty intense relationships. It feels very modern for a book published in 1878. I’m loving it. Next on my list is Davina Bell’s The End of the World is Bigger than Love, which I read (and loved!) in its early manuscript stages about four years ago. Can’t wait to go back into that rich, imaginary world and see where Davina took that story. Also on the pile is Danielle Binks’s The Year the Maps Changed. I’ve heard good things about this one, and I also wrote a book set on the Mornington Peninsula so I’m interested in this setting as well.

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

I read a lot, I walk in the forest or on the beach, I do cryptic crosswords, I knit (badly), and sometimes I play the piano (also badly). I also cook and since coronavirus I’ve become one of those annoying people who is obsessed with making sourdough bread.

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

I have received so much advice – lots of it good and some of it bad (although sometimes bad advice makes you think, and can clarify aspects of writing for you – so maybe it’s not that bad after all.) It’s hard to decide on one of each! Okay, one of the worst pieces of writing advice I think is: Write what you know. I understand what this advice is trying to say, but I think it should be Write what you’re interested in. Explore, find out why something interests or fascinates you by writing about it. Take yourself on that journey of discovery. Okay, to the good advice now! Well a few years ago I received some advice from a book that said something like, When you get stuck with a plot, you need to go back to the point in your story where the character stopped acting authentically, to where you were forcing the story on them. Go back to where you lost sight of what your character would have inevitably done. The more I think about writing, the more I believe that you have to build the action out of character. If you’re stuck with a plot, it’s often because you don’t know your character well enough, so you simply don’t know what they would have done next. The more you know your characters, really deeply know them and see them as real people, the more everything else will come together.

To find out more about Jane and her books, visit her website.

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