For Educators, For Readers 5 years ago

#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Nina Kenwood

Nina Kenwood’s debut YA novel, It Sounded Better in My Head, won the prestigious Text Prize in 2018 and is published this month by Text Publishing! 

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 telling stories all my life. Mostly to myself, sometimes to other people. One of my earliest memories is my sister and I playing with our My Little Pony collection. My sister would be the ‘Queen’ and sit on the bed, and I would be the voice of all the ponies, having to think up various plots and issues that required them to constantly visit the Queen for advice. I started writing in earnest when I was a teenager, and my high school English teacher was the first person to tell me I was a writer, which is something I will always remember.  

Tell us about your new book.

My protagonist is Natalie, a neurotic, introverted, overly-analytical eighteen year old. The novel is set in the summer between high school and university, in that period when you are on the cusp of adulthood and everything in your life is about to change. It’s part coming-of-age and part rom-com, and it’s about family, friendships, first love, and the agony and awkwardness of being a teenager. 

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

Looking for Alibarandi by Melina Marchetta, Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden and the Obernewtyn series by Isobelle Carmody were all extremely important to me as a teen. I also loved lots of books by Maureen McCarthy and Margaret Clark.

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

I am privileged to be a product of great support systems. My mother is a big reader, and she surrounded me with books from an early age. I spent a lot of time in my small town’s local library growing up, and as I got older, I had really encouraging English teachers at high school and positive encounters with booksellers when I visited the city. So I guess you could say all four quadrants were covered: parent, librarian, teacher, bookseller. I was destined to be a reader, if not a writer. 

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

We have a particular flavour, and a distinctive sense of humour. My book is being published in the US, and I have definitely noticed this in the feedback from my US editor and the US copy editor. The US copy editor would leave comments in the manuscript like ‘why would the character say this?’ and my response would be ‘Because it’s funny!’. Australians are less prudish, and more open to flawed characters, I think. 

Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?

I work at Readings, so I am obviously biased! I love all the Readings stores (and the online shop!), although I have a special place in my heart for the Readings Kids shop, because I got to see it go from just an idea into a brilliant, bustling store filled with wonderful books for children and teens, with amazing, knowledgeable staff. 

There are so many wonderful independent bookshops in Australia. My two locals are the Avenue Bookstore in Albert Park and Coventry Bookstore in South Melbourne, and both are excellent. Even though I get a staff discount at Readings, I still find it impossible to walk into the Avenue and not buy something – it’s such a lush store, and their merchandising is top notch. 

Also, a shout out to the Queenscliff Bookshop in my home town of Queenscliff, which is gorgeous and lovingly curated. 

What was the last book you read and enjoyed?

I’m currently reading Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, and it’s as good as everyone says it is! Next up, I’m looking forward to reading This Is How We Change The Ending by Vikki Wakefield and The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim. 

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

To be honest, very little! I do not have many artistic talents. I would say my job – as marketing manager for Readings (although I am currently on maternity leave) – is creative in lots of ways. It requires a lot of creative thinking, and engaging with the creative talents of other people, such as authors, musicians, designers etc. Right now, though, my most creative moments are making up terrible songs to sing to my 10 week old baby. 

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

The best: keep going and finish the draft (I have abandoned so many manuscripts halfway through.)

The worst: when in doubt, just kill a character or blow something up (which is what my partner always said to me when I complained about my writing going badly.)

What do you love about OzYA?

The humour, the talent, and the bloody great stories. And the wonderful people involved on all sides, including authors, readers, booksellers, bloggers and more. It’s such a supportive community, filled with so many wonderful books. I’m really proud to be part of it. 

It Sounded Better in My Head is available now and you can keep up to date with Nina and her writing by visiting her website and giving her a follow on Twitter: @NinaKenwood

*Image credit: Liane Hingee



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