#LoveOzYA Q&A with Megan Jacobson
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?
I’ve definitely been telling stories since I was tiny. My poor parents had to deal with all the family secrets being mined for my short stories. I’d tell friends about fairies living in the trees or dolls coming alive at night. I wrote poems and short stories and picture books I’d adorn with drawings. As soon as I realised that people could tell stories for a living, I knew that I wanted in, and set myself a goal to be a writer, even though I’d only just learnt to spell.
Tell us about your new book?
It’s about a seventeen-year-old girl called Iliad, who’s named after war and angry at the world. She grew up with a violent father and abused mother, and subsequently has learnt never to say sorry or to let love in. Since her father’s imprisonment she’s been at boarding school, but the story starts when she moves back with her new age, wellness-expert mother and hard-edged nan to finish year twelve in Darwin. She’s embattled in a prank war with the boy next door, Max, and only has one weird friend at school, and she takes her armour off for nobody until she meets Jared, the principal’s son, a guy who’s as complicated as she is. At heart, it’s a story about love, in all its guises – romantic love, selfless love, controlling love, unconditional love, love for yourself and love for family.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book growing up?
I absolutely loved Looking for Alibrandi and Puberty Blues when I was a teenager. They were the first books I read where I could see my own world in print, and where I could relate to even the tiny details, like our slang, or the food we eat (shout out to chiko rolls!). I saw parts of myself in Josie, and I saw parts of my sea-side town with its surf culture in Puberty Blues.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
I grew up in a house full of books, and parents who loved to read, so they encouraged our love of stories. In Darwin where I went to primary school, there were only two TV channels, and especially when the Olympics were on I only had sports or the ABC news to choose from, so I retreated into books instead. In year three I loved writing poetry, and my teacher would lend me poetry books and talk to me about poems without any condescension. He also saw how I loved writing plays, so he organised a performance hour every Friday afternoon. My classmates would all beg me for roles, but I’m pretty sure I always cast myself as the lead! My high school English teacher was amazing as well. She organised for me to study four-unit English even though I was the only student taking it, and she never accepted mediocrity from me. Teachers are wonderful and so underrated, they changed my life.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
It’s so important to see ourselves and our culture reflected back at us, so we need OzYA stories. I think we’re internationally renowned for tackling topics authentically and unflinchingly, no matter whether it’s a contemporary or a sci-fi or a historical drama, there’s always a strong sense of truth to the storytelling. Aussie humour is so dry as well, I love seeing that in OzYA books, it’s like nothing else.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
I love Beachside Books in Avalon, I wish I had a car so I could go there more often. It’s just across the road from the ocean so it’s perfect for grabbing a book to read between swims, and the place is decorated like a book-lovers delight, and Libby and all her staff are so passionate about reading and they’re such wonderful supporters of OzYA.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I just re-read Kirsty Eagar’s Summer Skin, to try to distract myself from the winter cold. She wields words so beautifully and I just want to jump into the pages and make Jess be my best friend.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I’m so inspired by the natural environment, it has such a strong pull for me, even as a kid I’d love to read books in the high tree branches or somewhere overlooking the ocean. When I’m trying to come up with a story, or just to recharge my batteries, I’ll go for a walk in the bush or along the sea-side in Sydney, or if I can get a lift I’ll go to the Blue Mountains or Royal National Park. In Darwin I love going camping in the outback. Nature is the most beautiful artist there is.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Best: To read widely and critically, and to write by listening hard to your own personal truths.
Worst: ‘These stories seem to be popular, try to jump on that bandwagon’. I think audiences can tell if you’re trying to copy a successful trope, rather than telling the story that comes from inside of your soul. Besides which, by the time your book comes out, something completely different will be in vogue!
What do you love about OzYA?
Apart from being brilliant books, I love the OzYA community. I’ve been overwhelmed by how generous all the other authors are with support, advice and friendship. It really is a community. And the readers too. They’re so passionate and supportive and they make my heart swell. Bookish people are the best.
Speaking of which, thanks so much for having me!