For Educators, For Readers 5 years ago

#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Suzy Zail

Suzy Zail is the author of many books, including YA novels The Wrong Boy and Alexander Altman A10567. Her latest book, I Am Change is out through Black Dog Books this month.

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

Happy to be 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 started writing as an adult but I’ve been making up stories since I was a kid, mostly for my own enjoyment. I’d sit in my bedroom, a barbie doll in each hand, and make up long, involved social dramas for them. I cringe now, but their complicated lives and backstories fed my imagination and sparked my love of story.

Tell us about your new book.

I Am Change is the story of a young girl who finds her voice and the strength to fight for change. It’s set in Ugandan and paints a picture of what life looks like when you’re a Ugandan girl growing up in a small, impoverished village. Lilian, the main character, has learned to shrink herself to fit other people’s ideas of what a girl is. In her village a girl is not meant to be smarter than her brother. A girl is not meant to go to school or enjoy her body or decide who to marry. Especially if she is poor. But Lilian wants more… 

The book was inspired by, and written in consultation with, the 30 Ugandan girls and women I interviewed while visiting in 2015.  

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

Not when I was a teen. There wasn’t a lot of Aussie YA back then and my parents, having lost their childhoods during the Holocaust, kept me busy with all the things they’d never got to do as kids… tennis lessons, ballet, piano. I caught up on Aussie YA later, devouring Sonya Hartnett, Tim Winton, Craig Silvey, Marcus Zusak and many more. The YA pile on my bedside table is huge. There’s so much great talent. Reading OZYA is like taking a masterclass in writing.  

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

No one in particular, but I grew up surrounded by books. Aesop’s fables, Dreamtime stories, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and Enid Blyton filled my bookshelves but what I really coveted was my friend’s massive stack of Archie and Veronica comics. I spent a lot of weekends at her place with Betty and Veronica. 

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

The diversity of characters, a strong sense of place, its wit and honesty. Aussie YA is raw and it doesn’t shy away from the tough topics. 

Do you have a favourite bookshop or library? 

I love my local bookshops: Thesaurus, Top Titles, The Avenue, Elsternwick and Readings, St Kilda. Friendly, super knowledgeable staff who will happily talk books and YA till closing time. I’ve also spent a lot of time at the local library, sprawled on the floor at story-time with my kids and later researching and writing.  

What was the last book you read and enjoyed? 

I’m halfway through Three Women by Lisa Taddeo which I’m LOVING but one of my favourites this year was Boy Swallows Universe by Aussie author Trent Dalton. A masterpiece of a book for adults and teens.  

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

I draw a lot of inspiration from other people’s lives, work and passion, so I spend a lot of time with friends who are creative and work in the arts, theatre and music.  I’m in a couple of book-clubs, a writers’ group and go to lots of festivals, just trying to stay open and curious. And because I’m sitting hunched over a computer most days, I try to balance that with time outdoors exercising, and then there’s the yoga and meditation to slow my mind.  And of course, reading.

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

One of the worst was ‘Write what you know’. I prefer to write about something I don’t know, something that haunts me. It’s not only my readers who have to learn something new, I need  to be changed by the process too. The best advice? ‘Slaughter your darlings.’ I’m a painfully slow writer. A paragraph can take me a day to write, so pressing delete is hard, but if the writing doesn’t move the story forward, cutting it always makes for a better book.  

What do you love about OzYA?

Our diverse community of writers, readers, teachers, librarians, bloggers, bookshops and bookstagrammers, our shared passion for YA and the way we support and champion each other’s projects. 

Find out more about Suzy and her writing by visiting her website and following her on Instagram: @authorsuzyzail



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