#LoveOzYA Q&A with Kate Gordon
Kate Gordon is the author of six books, including her latest novel ‘Girl Running, Boy Falling’, which is out now through Rhiza Edge.
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?
Oh, no, I’ve absolutely been telling (and writing) stories for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting at our kitchen bench writing comic books. It was before I started school, so I was maybe … three, I guess? I read really early and for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to emulate what I read. So, the bulk of my earliest writing is Robin Klein rip-offs, followed by Ann M Martin rip-offs, followed by Tamora Pierce rip-offs. I hope I’m finally writing something that’s a bit more “me” (and less blatant plagiarism!).
Tell us about your new book.
[Girl Running, Boy Falling] is probably the most personal book I’ve ever written. It’s set in my own town and my friends will recognise many of the main characters (with names lightly changed!). It came from a place of enormous sadness and anger, after losing friends to suicide – both as a teenager and more recently – and the cone of silence that I felt was placed over it.
The main character – Resey – is not me, but she and I have very similar experiences and I feel like writing her helped me to process a lot of my own grief. It’s a story about first love, friendship, small towns, fractured and found families, grief, mental health and football. It’s definitely got a lot going on – and it examines some pretty weighty issues – but I hope at its heart it’s a book of hope, joy, love and forgiveness.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
Like most kids of my era, I was obsessed with Robin Klein. She is a singular talent in Australian literature and has the ability to write books that (perhaps unusually for the time) were often about quite dark and complex subject matter, but with a lightness and accessibility that meant that her books were enormously popular and a pleasure to read, as well as being intelligent and important.
I loved Came Back to Show You I Could Fly so much, as well as one of her more light-hearted novels, Halfway Around the Galaxy and Turn Left – I think that was one of my first speculative fiction loves!
I also loved Gillian Rubinstein, James Moloney, and John Marsden (of course). Later in my teens, I became obsessed with Sonya Hartnett. I still try to replicate her style a bit in my own writing. I loved Steven Herrick’s verse novels, Nick Earls’ comic stories that felt quite a lot like my real life (despite being set in Queensland, when I was in Wynyard, Tasmania), and Brigid Lowry. Oh, and Libby Hathorn. Sorry, too many to pick just one!
Was there someone who encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
Absolutely my wonderful dad, who’d take me to the school library he managed, set me up in the corner with a beanbag and a stack of books, and a instruction that for every Babysitters Club book I read, I had to read one work of “literature”, too. Hence, I think, my love of both fun, fluffy books and more serious subject matter!
Also, my high school English teacher, Mr Wilson, who was the first person to really engage me in intellectual discussions about books (which often led to argument – which I loved), and treat me like my views on literature were valid and interesting.
And my college Literature teacher, Amanda Muruste, whose feminism came through in her book selections and the way she taught and who instilled in me to this day a commitment to writing books from a feminist perspective. Though even she couldn’t quite get me to love Cat’s Eye.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
To be honest, what I am most proud of in Australian YA is how diverse our stories are. We are such a multi-cultural country (as well as being home to the most ancient civilisations on Earth, whose storytelling culture goes back over thousands of years). There is no “one” Australian narrative and I think the era of trying to tell the “quintessential Aussie story”, of drovers in Akubras and cattle stations and kangaroos, is long gone. Thankfully, since that reality is only truth for such a small percentage of us!
I love that we have a thriving speculative fiction community, a strong poetry community – and a brilliant YA community, of course. That said, I think Australian YA has always been at the forefront of examining tough issues in the sort of uncompromising way that is only just now becoming more acceptable in US literature (with books like Dear Marlon and The Hate U Give).
I feel like I learned so much from Australian YA fiction, as a kid, and we are still unafraid of pushing boundaries and shining a light on “taboo” subjects. I’m so proud to now be a part of what I really do consider a “movement”, and I’m proud of, and excited about, the new generation of kids who are growing up reading it.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
My local Dymocks is my second home. The staff there are beautiful people, so knowledgeable and passionate about books, I always feel inspired after visiting their shop. And they have always been so welcoming to my small daughter, and encouraging of her love of reading. Not all bookshops are as happy to have little kids grabbing books off their shelves and reading them aloud in their loudest voice! I can’t speak highly enough of them.
I’m also a huge fan of my local library, which is, likewise, a home away from home for me and my daughter. She walks in there like she owns the place and the staff are just gorgeous to her. When she was four she won the primary age group of their summer reading program and I have never seen a prouder kid!
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I just finished (and completely lost my heart to) What if It’s Us, by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. A beautiful, sweet romance, set in New York City, starring two very different boys, who are maybe thrown together by the universe but then (as with every real relationship), have to fight hard to make it work and to stay together. I loved it so much it hurt.
I also recently read and adored Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Girl Reporter, which was adorable, like all her stuff. I can also highly recommend Unspoken Rules by Lora Inak, and Finding Kerra, by Rosanne Hawke – more brilliant Australian YA! Sorry, it really is impossible to pick just one!
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I read (which I also believe is a creative act), I play with my daughter, I draw, I take photographs and I make my own perfume!
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The best was from my Literature teacher, in college, who told me I overthink things and that I needed to just let go and let the words happen. I’ve done that ever since and I try to just let my first drafts flow out of me, organically. Which often means my first drafts are mostly rubbish, but if I let my anxious brain be in charge, I’d write nothing because I’d want it to be perfect.
The worst was from another writer who told me I shouldn’t worry so much about being respectful of cultures that aren’t my own, when I’m writing. He said that it’s not a writer’s job to be the “PC Police” and that it *was* the writer’s job to provoke, even if it meant offending people.
I blinked at him and forced a smile and walked away, yelling “nope” at the top of the voice inside my head. Maybe some writers want to do that, but it’s not me. I don’t write to be “PC” or “worthy” but equally I would never be so arrogant as to presume that my voice on a topic is more important than the voices of the people from that culture or living that truth. I would *definitely* never write anything with the intention of hurting people who are already marginalised. I have never read another one of that writer’s books, by the way. Too many other great books to read!
What do you love about OzYA?
The diversity, the passion, the sense of community, the camaraderie and support, the vibrancy of our many voices and our commitment to writing books that change minds and lives. I’m so proud to be writing for this demographic and to be part of this community.
Girl Running, Boy Falling is published by Rhiza Edge.