For Educators, For Readers 6 years ago

#LoveOzYA Q&A with AJ Betts

AJ Betts is the author of three YA novels, the third of which, Zac & Mia, won a slew of prizes and has been adapted for American television. Her fourth novel, Hive, is out now. 

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?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been making things up. I recall dressing up to play characters and constructing cardboard ‘televisions’ with revolving reels of crudely drawn stories. As a primary school student, I loved writing stories, though these were often imitations of stories I admired.

Tell us about your new book.
Hive tells the story of Hayley, a 15-year-old beekeeper, who discovers something she isn’t supposed to: a drip of water falling from a ceiling. It doesn’t make sense in the world that Hayley’s grown up in – a world in which 300 people live happily, oblivious to the existence of anything beyond their walls. For Hayley, the drip is just the beginning of other discoveries that will change her life, and the world as she knows it.

Hive is the first book of a two-book series. The sequel, Rogue, will be out in 2019…and I better not say too much more. This series has completely engrossed me for over five years. I became obsessed with research, worldbuilding, characters, and the limitless possibilities available when writing a story set in the future. Hive is neither dystopian nor science-fiction: I would call it speculative fiction, with a realistic bent.

Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I didn’t have favourite books (I still don’t) but my favourite Australian authors were Robin Klein and Victor Kelleher.

Did you have anyone who encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
My mum encouraged my reading by buying me books on the rare occasions we drove to ‘the big city’ of Cairns. (There were no bookstores in Tully!) When I was at high school, I had an English Teacher who encouraged my creative writing by sharing it
with the class and urging me to keep writing (and giving me good marks, ha ha).

What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
I think they’re often more authentic and raw. By that, I mean they’re less artificial or clichéd than other books might be. I think Australian YA authors aren’t afraid to get to the heart of what it means to be a teenager, even when it’s not pretty; especially when it’s not pretty.

Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
Many, including Paper Bird Books (Fremantle), The Lane Bookshop (Claremont), and Beaufort St Books (Mt Lawley). I often shop at local Dymocks stores and airport books stores, as I can’t resist an impulse buy.

What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I’m just finished reading the atmospheric JF book The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang. I’m about to start Ellie Marney’s White Night, and after that I want to read James Bradley’s Ark.

Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I think living is a creative activity! We make choices, solve problems, and get things done. I don’t really separate my ‘creative life’ from the everyday.

At the moment, I’m enjoying being a consumer of art – books, films, TV shows, music – rather than a creator. After an intense time of writing, I feel the need to open myself up to the world and let it in.

What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Best: “Just write.” (As advised by author Liz Byrski. I felt, at the time, I needed to do further study into creative writing, or to make myself ‘better’ somehow. But no, the answer was – and always is – to just write and work it out from there.)
Worst: “Write about topics that scare parents and schools so they’ll feel they have to buy your books.” (A YA author told me this years ago. But I don’t want to write from a position of fear or ‘issues’ – I’m more interested in possibility. I want my stories to expand outwards, rather than drill down into a predetermined idea/stance.)

What do you love about OzYA?
I love the network of amazing, generous, and passionate people, whether they’re writers, supporters or readers. It really feels like a community of people who seek to build each other up – and therefore build the culture of local storytelling. I also love the diversity of stories, styles and voices that are shared.

Hive is out now through Pan Macmillan Australia. You can find out more about it here.

Visit the website of AJ Betts here, or say hello on Instagram or Facebook.

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