For Educators, For Readers 5 years ago

#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With K M Levis

K. M. Levis has a deep love of fairytales and her work is inspired by the Filipino fairytales she grew up with. Her latest magical retelling, The Search for Adarna, book three in the Engkantasia series, 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’ve been writing since forever. I think my mom still has my old journals stashed somewhere in the house. When I was in uni doing a communications course, I wrote a short story about this I idea I had. Back then I thought I was the most brilliant writer ever to come up with the idea that pyramids came from aliens (LOL).

I never took writing seriously but I did send one of my short stories to my literature professor. He said that it had potential and that I should prove my uncle wrong (he was the former dean of the communications department) – that journalists can also write fiction.

Over the years I’ve written short pieces that I never published anywhere. It was only when my daughter was born that I started writing fiction based on my Filipino heritage in the hope that one day when she’s old enough she will read them.

Tell us about your new book.

The Search for Adarna is the third book in the Engkantasia series. It is a retelling of a classic Filipino tale, Ibong Adarna. The story is about these three heiresses who hate each other’s guts. When their eccentric multi billionaire father becomes ill with an incurable disease, he gives them a task to find a mythical bird that is said to be able to cure all illnesses. Whoever takes the bird home inherits the whole empire.

I was inspired by the retelling of all the western classic fairytales over the years (my fave is the Lunar Chronicles). But I wanted to do a story that’s never been done before. The series was supposed to be just a duology but then I joined Nanowrimo for the first (and last) time. When I finished The Search for Adarna for Nanowrimo I realised the book was still in the same universe as the first two books. So instead of a duology, it is now a quadrilogy with the fourth book set for release in 2020.

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

I only migrated to Australia 16 years ago so I didn’t really grow up here but since then I’ve read soooo many Australian YA books. I can’t remember them all but they’re listed on my Goodreads account. But if I have to choose, I will have to pick the Begin, End, Begin Anthology. My friend recommended it and it was just so amazing. I could not put it down!

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

When we were growing up in the Philippines, we couldn’t afford books. I remember owning a super torn copy of Alice in Wonderland as a child. That was it. But my mom would make up bedtime stories for us and there was this one particular story that we would ask her to tell us over and over again.

When I started writing fiction, one of the first ones I wrote and self-published was that story – The Dragon and The Lizard. I wrote it because I wanted to preserve the story that my mother made up before we all forget it. I had to ask my sisters what they remembered so that I could piece it all together.

In gradeschool, my mom introduced me to the public library near her office. That started my love affair with novels. I couldn’t stop reading because finally I could borrow instead of buy! I remember when I was in Year 6 my teacher told me to go outside with the other kids instead of reading in the classroom on my own during breaks. So I took my book and read outside!

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

The Aussie YA flavour is so distinct from international books. The points of view of the stories, the setting, the multicultural aspect, the indigenous stories – there’s really nothing like it. Sometimes when I just randomly pick up a book, I can tell if it’s Aussie before I read up about the author.

Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?

There’s a library near me, Campie Library, that’s been revamped recently. I used to take my daughter there when she was little to hang out. I also had a photography exhibit there ages ago. It’s a good space to write – spacious and near a shopping centre so you can eat and then go back to the library.

What was the last book you read and enjoyed?

It changes every week. I made a rule a long time ago to only read books I like. So each week, the book I last read and enjoyed would be different. Right now, it’s The Last by Hanna Jameson. I love end of the world books that’s character driven and this one kept me up most nights. Not good when you have a day job.

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

I’ve done probably every single hobby known to man! My hubby jokes I have creative-hobby ADHD. I crochet, knit, draw, paint, play the guitar, create bento lunches, sew, make plush toys, photograph and dabble in digital stuff. I’ll let you know if a discover a new one soon.

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

Best: Do not follow anyone else’s writing habits. Learn what everyone else is doing and find what fits your life best.

Worst: To be honest, I can’t think of anything. When I hear about an author’s process, I pick and choose which one suits my life and situation. So if it doesn’t work for me then it doesn’t work for me, but at the same time it doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else.

What do you love about OzYA?

The community. The brilliant writers. The stories. There’s nothing like it.

To find out more about Kristyn and her work, visit her website and give her a follow on Twitter: @kmlevis, and Facebook



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