#LoveOzYA Q&A with Gabrielle Reid
Gabrielle Reid is an English-born Australian writer of contemporary fiction. She’s been dreaming of a writing career since she was seven, but took a few detours along the way. Gabrielle holds a Master of Creative Writing and a Bachelor of Arts with Diploma of Education. Her first YA novel, The Things We Can’t Undo, 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?
Definitely since I was a kid! I loved reading from a very early age and as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I was maybe seven or eight when I first decided I wanted to be an author, and tried my hand at writing a “chapter book” when I was in year five (I didn’t get very far though!).
Tell us about your new book.
It’s the story of two teenagers – Samantha and Dylan – and how their lives change dramatically after having sex at a party. Samantha says that Dylan forced himself on her, whereas Dylan thinks he’s innocent and his reputation is being rapidly ruined as he’s labelled a rapist on social media. To make matters more complicated, they had been a romantic couple for many months, but their entire relationship was a secret from Samantha’s strict parents, who don’t allow dating.
As a society, I think we’re getting better at talking about consent, but dare I say that the message is reaching girls more effectively than guys, especially those who think of themselves as decent young men who would never assault somebody. So it was important to me to get into Dylan’s head and look at what he believed about sex and how the word “rape” immediately put him on the defensive.
I also wanted to think about the negatives and positives of social media, because I think there’s often a black and white approach to it, and adults have a habit of focusing on the dangers. Sometimes we forget that social media is also a place where we can find a wealth of experience and empathy without the fear and embarrassment that comes from identifying yourself openly.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I must have been in about year nine when I first read Jaclyn Moriarty’s Feeling Sorry for Celia. I loved everything about it – the characters, the voice, the whimsy, the way it approached real problems, the uplifting ending, and the recognisable setting. I still love it just as much, except now I appreciate how much work it must have been to write!
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
I was lucky in that pretty much everyone around me encouraged it. My parents read to me when I was little, bought me books and took me to the library regularly, and “if you can’t find her, she’s probably in her room reading” was something they’d say with pride. I went to an academically selective high school, so most of my friends were also readers, and we had 50 minute lessons once a fortnight called “wide reading” where we were basically just given access to a box full of different books and told to pick something to read.
I remember an English teacher talking about the idea that “kids don’t read anymore” by saying someone only needed to look around the playground in the week after a Harry Potter was released to know that wasn’t true.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
There’s something very recognisable about OzYA, not just the physical descriptions of place, but the culture. I have a great writer’s group, but all the other members are American. I find it fascinating to see the little things that they question – like “what’s a newsagent?” or “high school kids don’t have recess”.
To return to Jaclyn Moriarty for a moment, one of the things I found I could instantly relate to as a teenager was the “private vs public” school attitudes as they play out in Sydney. I think most people like to see a bit of their own life in what they’re reading; it makes it a bit more natural to relate to the characters.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
Not really. I do miss Borders, I had a job at one of their stores while I was at uni, and it’s where I met my husband. I like large quiet spaces full of books (who doesn’t?) but having moved from Sydney to the country and quite recently up the coast near Newcastle, I haven’t been able to get too attached to an individual place. I’ve been to Harry Hartogs in Kotara and found the staff very friendly and a nice atmosphere, so maybe that will become a favourite in time.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I’ve just finished Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue and there is some really beautiful language in there. I love the idea of the Letter Library where people leave notes to each other inside second hand books, and even the minor characters had interesting personalities and histories.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I happily embrace pretty much everything when it comes to creative outlets. I sew my own clothes and clothes for my kids, and I love inventing new recipes to bake or moulding cake toppers out of icing. I used to play the trumpet and now learning piano – which I got into as a way to write music after years of dreaming up lyrics and melodies in my head. I do a little amateur photography and most recently, I’ve been playing around at painting. I don’t have time for all of this at once, of course! I tend to cycle through things every few months.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Oooh that’s hard. I don’t know if I could single out a who or where, but overall the best advice I’ve had is to keep going. It’s a resilience game, and everything you write is part of your training in becoming a better writer. Rejections are normal, harsh feedback and reviews are normal, so you can’t get too attached.
As for the worst advice, I think any “rule” can become bad advice when it’s taken in a rigid, black and white sense. I once had a critique from someone who said “the readers tend to like to read less and get more from their effort and it’s the writer’s responsibility to give what the readers want”. I think the sentiment probably came from a reasonable place, but this person attempted to rewrite my work and in trying to say things in the fewest words possible (he counted), he took all of the expression out of my story.
What do you love about OzYA?
I think a great community has built up around it, and everyone in that community is so friendly! Authors, but also bloggers, librarians, teachers, podcasters… Reading a book is a solitary activity, but there’s this whole social aspect to it as well, and that’s really lovely to be a part of.
I also think it’s great for younger writers to see home-grown literature and get the chance to meet some of the authors behind these fantastic books. It makes writing an achievable goal.
The Things We Can’t Undo is out now through Ford Street Publishing.