#LoveOzYA Q&A with Allayne Webster for THAT THING I DID
Allayne Webster is the author of several award-winning novels for young adults. Her most recent work, THAT THING I DID, was released in March with Wakefield Press.
#LoveOzYA’s Alice recently chatted to Allayne about finding the light side of the dark, the #LoveOzYA community, and more. You can find the full interview on our YouTube channel.
The book has a lot going on within it. There’s an ensemble cast, there’s various locations. But can you tell us a little bit about what at the core is the underpinning theme, idea or message?
At the end of the end of the day, it’s an essay on life and death and love. What really drove it was that I nearly died six years ago, I was in intensive care for five weeks. And it wasn’t the first time I’d almost died, I think it was the third time. So I guess when you’re in that situation, you have a lot of time, you’re bed bound, and you can’t go anywhere. But your mind is working perfectly fine, you have a lot of time to ruminate on what on earth is it all for? What have I done already? What do I want to do? Who have I said what to and what do I still want to say? Also at the core of this novel is a teen suicide and the people left behind – how do they process that? Without answers and being able to ask, if there was no note or anything like that. How do they make sense of that? When I was writing it, I was thinking about the numerous people throughout my life who have taken their own lives. But when I was finishing writing this, my son lost his best friend, he took his life. And that was deeply painful, because I’d known Jed for his whole life. And it really cemented for me the need to have stories like this out there.
It’s quite unusual to see a character in print who’s Daisy’s age, and also one so sexual and that rude. Can you speak a little bit to your decision to craft her in that particular way?
All of these characters are born out of something that you’ve experienced and witnessed or been part of. And I think if I really think hard about it, some of her comes from back when I was 15 years old, and first entered the workforce in casual jobs, like service stations, pubs and bakeries. And I encountered women in their 60s, early 70s, who had grown up in a completely different era, who were really salt of the earth women; I had a rural background. So these women were hard labour women, had hard backgrounds, and they were really just really forthcoming in their opinions. And they had to be because they had to give as good as they got. They were working behind bars and pubs and copping a lot of shit over the bar. But they also had a protective and loving nature toward young girls, and I just felt mothered by every single one of them. My grandmother was a different kettle of fish in that she was very educated, but she was always being cheeky, always telling me bad jokes, always being rude when she shouldn’t. I think they all went into Daisy. I think we underestimate the interactions that we have with people in our lives, no matter how short a time they’re there for. And in this book, Daisy’s in Chloe’s life for only a couple of days, but boy, does she make a hell of a difference to Chloe and how Chloe feels about herself. We just relegate our oldest society. We don’t give enough credit to our older people and what they’ve been through and what they can teach us and be part of. I think it’s really important to portray old people as real, multifaceted, multi-layered people. And not just the old person that bakes a cake, you know?
It was the humour that was built around Daisy that got me laughing the most.
I’m really interested in, and I think a lot of people are interested, in how you incorporate comedy and humour into a serious subject and or a novel with serious subjects. Do you have any tips when it comes to writing humour?
Writing humour is a tricky beast, because obviously, humour is subjective. And what you find funny and what I find funny may well be two completely different things So I guess the first thing is to just accept that you’re not going to reach everybody, but that’s the same with anything. This is obviously black humour and dark humour – I think in the darkest of situations, there is always that light somewhere, and there is always something weird and funny that occurs that’s just completely absurd and can’t help but sort of lighten up. I had to think hard, as did my wonderful editor, Joe Case, about what might be too much and become offensive. There’s a lot more thought that goes into it than what you might think. There’s also some toilet humour – at the end of the day, I’m attempting to connect with a teenage audience, and they love their toilet humour. Let’s face it – we all love a good fart joke. So don’t be too highbrow about it and try and be a bit free. There’s so much so much misery in the world at the moment and we all need a good laugh.
To wrap up, what does the LoveOzYA community mean to you?
The community is made up of so many different people. The author network of LoveOzYA authors is brilliant. I’ll never ever get past that excitement of seeing names of people I know and that I interact with behind the scenes. And these are the same people that are incredibly supportive, because it’s not all beer and skittles, it’s hard work sometimes. It can be demoralising at times and exhausting. So that support that that we have going on is, is brilliant, and it’s just worth everything today. And then the extended network of readers and bloggers and lovely people like yourself that support what we do means we can do what we do. You help us to get the word out there, you celebrate what we do, you help us to reach our audience. And that’s just so crucial and important. And we don’t always necessarily know – sometimes I’ll have someone come up to me who’s never contacted me through social media or sent me a letter or anything but says they’ve read every single one of my books, and I’ve got no idea just how many people I’m reaching. It’s just so important to have those people supporting us and what we do. Because again, you invest so much of yourself emotionally that at times it can drain you and get you down and it’s literally the injection that comes in from that community that pushes you forward and makes you create more stuff. Couldn’t do without it.