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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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Ideas come to me at all times of the day and night. They drift into my head as odd words, random phrases and fragments of story. I have found that the best ways to channel ideas are: to go for a walk or a run; to catch a train somewhere far away; to drive out of the city, heading into the wide blue sky; and to lie awake at night, burning with insomnia. The best ideas come to me when I can’t write them down.

Anywhere. Everywhere. In the screech of a sulphur-crested cockatoo perched high in a tree. In the smell of burnt toast. In episodes of Home and Away. In movies. In the houses that line the streets of Adelaide. In the stories people tell me about their lives. In the feelings inside of myself: of happiness, or sadness, or wonder. In the regret I have for the things I haven’t done. In the sense I have, deep inside of myself, that something is incomplete and needs to be told.

None at all. I don’t know how to write. Most writers don’t. We just write. The process is like something that's a cross between a miracle and a curse. When we finish whatever we’re writing, we take a deep breath and wonder how we did it, and if we can ever do it again.

But here are some things that have helped me along the way to becoming (and remaining) a writer:

  • not having a rigid writing schedule, or forcing myself to write each day
  • going for a walk when I’m stuck for words
  • having another job – because life is about living, not just writing; and because you have to pay the bills
  • writing for myself, and for no one else
  • writing with pen and paper first, and saving the computer for later drafts
  • reading. Reading some more. Reading all kinds of books – not just books for young adults. Reading every day.
  • ignoring other writers’ words of wisdom. They scare me and make me feel inadequate.
  • never assuming that I have another book inside of me. The well of stories inside me is unquestionably finite.
  • not having deadlines. Taking my time. Each book takes exactly the time it takes to write – no more, no less.
  • cultivating freedom from envy and freedom from jealousy. Seriously! Every writer has to follow his or her own path. Some writers will write one or more books a year and every one of those books will be a success. Other writers will write a book every ten years, with varying degrees of success. It's a mystery. The whole process is a mystery.
  • spending time with the people I love, and reminding myself that writing is only one part of my life. It’s less important than, say, laughing at a joke, or sharing a meal with someone I love, or calling a friend up on the phone, or going camping in the bush, or watching plants grow.

If you would like to know more about how to write, I suggest you learn from the experts. Here are some books I have found helpful:

  • A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
  • Escaping into the Open: the Art of Writing True, by Elizabeth Berg
  • Making Stories, by Kate Grenville and Sue Woolfe
  • The Faith of a Writer, by Joyce Carol Oates

An excellent book specifically aimed at young writers wanting to learn more about writing is:

  • Juicy Writing, by Brigid Lowry

For some fascinating essays on the art of writing, the use of commas, and how to go about living the writing life, try:

  •  Farther Away, by Jonathan Franzen

You can also try other resources, including: your local library, your favourite author’s website and the internet in general. Or you can do the most important, most obvious, thing: start writing, keep writing and learn as you write.

In my bedroom. In the kitchen. On paper. On the computer. In my head. In our tent at Yorke Peninsula. On the train. Wherever I happen to be when an idea strikes me.

But Virginia Woolf was right, all the same. Writers do need a room of their own – even if they don’t use it all the time.

I don’t. I write for myself.

But the wonderful thing about young adult books is that they can be read and enjoyed by anyone from the age of 12 to 112. Perhaps I am just attracted to such a potentially huge readership …

Honestly? I don’t know. It’s in my nature to want to describe the things I see, and experience, and hear; and then to want to transform that description into something else entirely: something beautiful, something of my own. I try to see beauty in all aspects of my life, wherever I go and whatever I experience. Writing is a part of that process.

It sounds hackneyed, but I think I always knew. I spent many years, from childhood onwards, writing short stories, but I was always afraid that I didn’t know how to write a whole book.

I’m still afraid. Actually, probably even more than I was when I first began.

At the age of 30, I finally persuaded myself to attempt writing a whole novel. When I had finished the manuscript (or so I thought), I entered it in a couple of competitions, and won the Varuna Award for Manuscript Development. Then I found my literary agent, Barbara Mobbs. A few months (and another rewrite) later, my book was accepted for publication.

My first few years as a writer were blessed with no rejections. I'm currently working on my third manuscript, and yes, I have had some rejections. Still, I'm  hopeful I'll find a publisher for this manuscript one day soon.

It is a privilege to have written the books I have written, and I am grateful for the writing journey I have been on so far. I know that gratitude and humility will get me through the rest of my journey, wherever it takes me.

I have a special bookcase filled with my favourite young adult books, collected over the last fifteen to twenty years. Each of these books has changed my life – as a writer, as a reader, and as a person.

Here are just some of the books crammed into that bookcase:

  • Two Moons in August, by Martha Brooks 
  • Beige, by Cecil Castellucci
  • Michael Sweeney’s Method, by Sean Condon
  • The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain, by Cath Crowley
  • After January, by Nick Earls
  • My Heartbeat, by Garret Freymann-Weyr
  • Sanctuary, by Kate de Goldi
  • The Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale
  • Mahalia, by Joanne Horniman
  • Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
  • Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta
  • Feeling Sorry for Celia, by Jaclyn Moriarty
  • How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff
  • Nothing Like You, by Lauren Strasnick
  • All I Ever Wanted, by Vikki Wakefield
  • Camphor Laurel, by Sarah Walker
  • The Killer’s Cousin, by Nancy Werlin
  • Fighting Ruben Wolfe, by Markus Zusack

Yes! Some other books that I also love, but that aren’t strictly for young adults are:

  • Through the Narrow Gate, by Karen Armstrong
  • How to be a Bad Birdwatcher, by Simon Barnes
  • Tell me I’m Here, by Anne Deveson
  • Wasted, by Marya Hornbacher
  • The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis (and all the other Narnia books)
  • American Rust and The Son by Philipp Meyer
  • Five Children and It, by E Nesbitt
  • How to Breathe Underwater, by Julie Orringer
  • Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • The Noonday Demon, by Andrew Solomon
  • Amy and Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  • Paper Planes, by Allayne Webster

There are many, many other books I love. My life would not be worth living without good books to read.

If you'd like to know more about the kind of books I love to read, hop on over to my blog, twenty-one words, where I talk about the books I'm reading week by week.

Of course, I go on reading and finding more books I love. Here, you'll find some of my favourite recent reads. Some of them are Young Adult novels and some are not. Check them out for yourself:

  • Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler
  • A Corner of White (The Colours of Madeleine), by Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Swords and Crowns and Rings, by Ruth Park
  • The Summer I Learned to Fly, by Dana Reinhardt
  • Unbearable Lightness, by Portia de Rossi
  • Creepy & Maud, by Dianne Touchell

Watch this space for more recent 'good reads'.

I am always working on something – I just don’t like to talk about it! I am afraid it will jinx me.

Books that are floating around in my head, as yet unwritten, include: more young adult books, a ghost story for children, a non-fiction book about the experience of recovery from an eating disorder, and an adult coming-of-age novel.

I don’t know if I will ever write these books. But it doesn’t hurt to dream …

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