#LoveOzYA Q&A With Vikki Wakefield
Vikki Wakefield is the award-winning author of All I Ever Wanted, Friday Brown, Inbetween Days and Ballad for a Mad Girl, and her new novel, This is How We Change the Ending is out this month.
Welcome to the LoveOzYA blog, we’re so happy to have you here!
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 was a great reader (my family joke that I devoured so many books as a child, it was only a matter of time before one came out), but I was not a fine student. I didn’t have any faith in myself, I rarely finished anything, and I lacked the perseverance and ambition I needed to get results. Writing came much later. I had a bunch of strange and unfulfilling jobs that led me to become a writer—it’s almost as if I landed here by some weird twist of fate. Writing novels is such a long game and one with no guaranteed success, but eventually I learned that writing was something you could do for the love of it—without expectations, qualifications, or any reward other than the process itself.
Tell us about your new book.
This Is How We Change the Ending is about being sixteen, that in-between age when you feel as if you have no control over your own life. Nate McKee is a third-generation welfare legacy with a violent, unpredictable father. Nate worries about everything—he’s just trying to stay afloat until he washes up somewhere else. The local youth centre is only place he can find peace and safety, but there are rumours the centre will be shut down. Keeping afloat—and being invisible—is hard when Nate has a best friend with a death wish, a weed crop in his bedroom, and a head full of ideas that could destroy his family if he dares to dream of a different future.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
Like so many Gen-Xers, I pretty much skipped YA (which was a limited category) when I should have been reading it. I loved Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South trilogy and Playing Beattie Bow, but by age 14 I was reading mostly adult books. I came back to OzYA when I realised that the novel I had written (All I Ever Wanted) was almost certainly YA. That’s when I discovered Joanne Hornimann, Melina Marchetta, Jaclyn Moriarty, Alyssa Brugman, Simmone Howell, Cath Crowley—so many incredible voices.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was surrounded by heroes and cheerleaders—
my nan, who taught me how to read ‘in my head’
my parents, who never nagged me to put down a book and go play outside
my Year 10 English teacher, who said I had a beautiful mind and one day I’d shut the hell up and listen to what it had to say
my Year 12 English teacher, who said I was smart enough, but my execution sucked and I was trying to impress the wrong people
—but I was too busy trying to impress the wrong people.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
I’m not sure if it’s just my experience, but I think Australian YA writers are given more freedom to write outside the norm and beyond market demand (or what sells). We have tremendous scope and depth in our stories, a complexity that reflects our complex society (rather than an idealised version of it), and we have faith in our readers. One thing that stood out to me when I edited my novels for the o/s market: there’s a lack of trust in the reader, as if publishers think they need a CliffsNotes version. Or maybe it’s just that Australian stories are still ‘other’.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
Alas, there are no longer any great bookshops close to my home. Dymocks Adelaide and Shakespeare’s Bookshop in Blackwood are both amazing and so supportive of authors, but they’re far away. I mostly order online. (My postie and I are in a serious relationship.) Tea Tree Gully Library is my local, but whenever I set foot in a library I’m overcome with sadness for the forgotten books. I can’t really explain it. If ‘bibliocholy’ isn’t a real word it should be.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I’ve just re-read Eleni Hale’s Stone Girl. This is such an accomplished debut—honest, authentic, uncompromising and emotionally devastating—and it deserves wider acclaim. I think it must have taken an extraordinary amount of courage to write.
Also, I’ve recently finished two books I’d like to send back in time to ten-year-old me: Nova Weetman’s Sick Bay and Judith Rossell’s Withering-by-Sea. Both are exquisite.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I draw and paint. I watch Portrait Artist of the Year and shows about people building cabins in the wilderness. Sometimes I write song lyrics (I don’t have a musical bone in my body). I walk my dogs and daydream. I’m such a dag, really.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The worst: write every day. It doesn’t work for me. I understand the sentiment—writers are world-class procrastinators and we’ll find any excuse to avoid turning up, and when you’re starting out it’s good practice to settle into a routine. But so much of writing is not writing. It’s thinking, watching, reading, dreaming and planning; it’s the inexplicable urge to clean the fridge or rearrange the pantry so you can think; it’s searching for a sentence or an idea to spring from. For me, writing is more like waiting patiently for cells to divide than turning up at the same time every day to lay a thousand bricks.
The best: don’t tell ‘em (your readers) everything. Hold something back. And it’s so true—there’s a sweet spot where the reader’s imagination meets the writer’s pause.
What do you love about OzYA?
‘It’s the vibe of the thing.’ I love the sense of community and collaboration. I love that I can recommend a LoveOzYA or MG novel—for any kind of reader—quicker than I can snap my fingers, because we’re truly spoiled for quality and choice.
LoveOzYA has come a long way since it started (with a rumble of discontent—shout out to Ellie Marney!) and it has brought so many people together in support of Australian books for young people. I’m happy LoveOzYA is back and in the hands of passionate volunteers. Thank you for everything you do.