#LoveOzYA Q&A with Kate O’Donnell
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?
Less a storyteller, more a lover of words. I’ve always loved making books and writing words down on the page (with accompanying drawings, of course). I like the way words look. I’ve read voraciously ever since I stood on the toilet and announced the very first word I was able to read: BRENT. (The toilet’s brand.)
Tell us about your new book.
I wanted to write about the pressure of finishing high school, and how the world won’t end if you don’t get into your first choice of degree at 18.
I wanted to write about friendship that transcended years and even generations.
I wanted to write about smart and strange and funny teenagers who felt like real people.
Untidy Towns is a quiet kind of book, I guess (quiet books are my favourite kind – about people and feelings and the small things in life). It’s about a girl called Adelaide, country towns, friendship, families, trains and finding yourself. And kissing.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
When I was in grade 6 our teacher read Isobelle Carmody’s The Gathering aloud to our class. We were enthralled. With a couple of friends, I snuck into the classroom at lunchtime to read ahead – we just couldn’t wait. And the chapter we read ahead to WAS THE MOST HORRIFIC THING I HAD EVER READ IN MY TENDER YOUNG LIFE TO THAT POINT. You know what part I’m talking about. One day I want to break readers’ hearts that much.
I also loved Margaret Clark, John Marsden, Robin Klein, and in Year 12 I gave every single one of my friends 48 Shades of Brown by Nick Earls for their birthday.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
My mum. She managed a bookshop for pretty much my entire childhood, was part of the CBCA and helped run the Geelong Children’ Book Festival for something like 20 years. She forced me to read books I judged the covers of, and I nearly always loved them.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
In many ways, nothing! (I mean this in a good way.) The books published locally come out fighting and easily hold their own alongside international titles – it’s brilliant to see so many Australian books published into foreign markets! But in other ways, Australian YA is so unique, because they’re a reflection of this unique, contradictory, terrible and amazing country we live in. Our writers are bold and accomplished.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
I am completely biased, but my favourite bookshop is The Younger Sun (Yarraville, Victoria). Not only has it been my place of employment (on and off) for the last ten years, it’s a bookshop that honours its customers, loves the children and offers them the space and enthusiasm to love reading. Bookclubs, events, the general camaraderie, the village feel of Yarraville – it’s just magical.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I read Pip Harry’s Because of You, which is set in and around a homeless shelter in Sydney and is told from the perspective of two girls: one a privileged schoolgirl doing work experience and the other a troubled teenager who’s been sleeping rough. I’m a bit obsessed with books that are plumping for social change (in contemporary or genre fic, overtly or otherwise) and Pip’s book does this nicely.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I sing in a pub choir (they performed at my book launch!) and play guitar (quite badly).
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Worst: Force myself to write X amount of words a day. This will work for some people very well indeed, but it will just make me freeze.
Best: Somerset Maugham’s advice to a woman whose son wanted to be a writer. Maugham told her: ‘Give your son a thousand dollars a year for five years and tell him to go to the devil.’ By this he meant (as he says later in the recording): “Life is the novelist’s business and he can only know about it and write about it with truth and significance if he participates in it.”
What do you love about OzYA?
What DON’T I love?!