Hi friends! Today we have a very exciting interview to share with you, which will actually be the first in a series of interviews! As you know, the #LoveOzYA Anthology was voted as our June Book of the Month, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled. This month is a celebration of all things #LoveOzYA, and between recommending our favourite Aussie YA novels on our various social media channels all month and being joined by real live authors at our upcoming Book Meet, we thought it would be great to get to know some of the amazingly talented authors who contributed to the #LoveOzYA Anthology! First up, we have the lovely Danielle Binks – who wrote a short story and edited the anthology. How cool is that?!
Why is #LoveOZYA important to you? What’s the first Aussie YA novel you ever read?
Supporting #LoveOzYA isn’t just about loving and celebrating the books we have now, but ensuring we keep telling stories for years to come. It’s making sure we have a national youth literature that’s being nurtured, so that the emerging voices of our future also have their stories told. To me, at the end of the day, #LoveOzYA is about encouraging Aussie teens to love their national youth literature, so that they grow into adults who support and love Australian stories.
That’s what happened to me – when I first read Ruth Park’s ‘Playing Beatie Bow’ I was in about Year 6, and it was the first time I can remember reading an Australian story, with a character who was about my age and it was set in Sydney, a city I knew … but it was magic. The city was a character unto itself that slipped back in time through some sort of child’s play, magical happenstance – I was captivated. I’d never read a homegrown story like that, where what was familiar to me suddenly took on new dimensions and possibilities. I was hooked. I’m still hooked.
What’s one #LoveOzYA book you would recommend to all readers?
Margo Lanagan’s ‘Tender Morsels’. It’s such a clever but bruising novel, set in two worlds – so full of magic and heartache … it’s Lanagan really pushing at the boundaries of genre and story, and while I will say you have to be *prepared* for it, I likewise think it’s a necessary and wonderful piece of literature.
How did you feel when you were asked to write a story for Begin, End, Begin, and had you written many short stories before?
I remember being very thrilled and honored and skeptical. In that order. I felt like a rookie playing in the big-leagues. But I had written short-stories before, most recently in 2014 I won the Yen Magazine Short Story Prize, and in 2015 I placed 2nd in the 2015 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction. So I knew I could do it, if I just let my nerves calm a bit, and in the end I let the theme ‘Begin, End, Begin’ guide me – and as editor I also told myself to step back and see what I could uniquely bring to the Anthology … which ended up being a sibling story. Then once I found my characters, I let them take over.
What inspired you to write the story that you did? Did you ever consider that idea for a full-length novel?
I do love sibling stories in YA, probably because I’m an only-child. But I love in Melina Marchetta’s ‘Saving Francesca’, the relationship between Francesca and her little brother Luca, also in Melina’s ‘The Piper’s Son’ the dynamic between Tom and his little sister Anabel. AND – shout out to the awesome Song Sisters in Jenny Han’s ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ series. I love them all – and I wanted to pay tribute to that very special dynamic of growing up with someone who has pretty much the same experience as you – but not – and what a unique relationship that is, particularly when there’s an age-gap and one of you gets to sprint ahead into adulthood and kinda pave the way a bit. So I wanted to write an ode to siblings. Then the idea emerged to open the story up by making it about small towns, but big friendships and bigger adventures still to come.
There’s no plans for a full-length novel *yet* … but honestly, the more people ask me about it, the more I keep thinking on it. It’d be about King’s year of travel, with epistolary-elements coming in the form of letters from all the people back home (so that King and the reader get a sense of what he’s missing out on, and what could eventually pull him back). I figure it’d be a little bit ‘Wanderlove’ by Kirsten Hubbard meets ‘Just One Day’ by Gayle Forman, and it’d 1000% be a romance.
… Yeah, the more I think about it … Maybe?
What inspired you to be a writer? Was there a specific moment in your life when you realised that writing was something you wanted to do with your life?
I was studying at RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing course, with the assumption that I’d come out the other side of that course and be a books editor. But then one of my teacher’s set us a short-story assignment that we all had to complete, and I loved it. I hadn’t written that freely since I stopped writing copious amounts of FanFiction a few years’ before. It was my first piece of ‘Own Fiction’ and I had a ball writing it. So much so that I submitted the piece to VOICEWORKS Magazine (for Aussie artists under the age of 25) and they published it, in Issue 81, ‘Birthmark’. I kinda thought it was a fluke – that my muse had come and gone for a one-off – so I tested this theory by writing another short story (and having a BLAST writing it, again!) and submitting that one to The John Marsden & Hachette Australia Prize – Express Media, and I came in 2nd. I started to figure out that the joy of writing my own fiction was making me brave and opening doors – so I just kept stepping through them. That’s all it was – enjoying the process of writing and getting braver with my writing.
Had you met all of the other contributing authors before being asked to write a short story for Begin, End, Begin? Who’s story were you most surprised by?
I was a fan of all of them – and had to keep pitching myself that these authors whose books I had read and admired were people I was now editing, and embarking on this grand project with. Forget what they say about meeting, let alone working with your heroes – it’s an honour and pure joy! And so funny that at the 2015 Reading Matters Conference, I had been hanging out and fangirling over Will Kostakis, Amie Kaufman and Jaclyn Moriarty – who were on the program – and then a few months later I was emailing them and saying “Hey – wanna work on this amazing thing together?!”.
The one contributor I hadn’t met in person was Gabrielle Tozer – but I’d read her books and LOVED them, and after starting work on the Anthology, we started corresponding regularly and hilariously. But we actually met in-person for the FIRST TIME EVER at Sydney Writers’ Festival, All Day YA event … and it was amazing. After working together so closely, when we finally met in-person it was instant connection and friendship rhythms.
How different is the story you wrote to your existing work? Do you normally write in the same genre, or were you trying something new?
No, this story is very much me. Contemporary YA is my lodestone, and themes around identity and family (blood relatives, and the family of friends you build for yourself) … It’s me to a tee.
What was the first book you ever saw yourself in? What parts of yourself do you see in the story you wrote?
Melina Marchetta’s ‘Looking for Alibrandi’. I wrote about this recently for Buzzfeed, when they were celebrating ’25 Years of Looking for Alibrandi’ … That book was everything to me. It still is. It was seeing a close-knit family – made up of first, second and third-generation immigrants – that was me and mine, on the page. I totally related to Josie and her grandmother, Katia and that dynamic – because my Austrian grandmother, my Omi, was someone who’d try to force-feed my high school friends salami sandwiches after school because they were all too skinny. She also had a not-so-nice husband, just like Katia did – and ended up raising her kids as a single mother. And I thought I *was* Josie Alibrandi, because when I read the book I was going from a public co-ed school, into a private all-girl school where I had a partial scholarship but nobody from my suburb (let alone my old school) was coming over with me. I related hard. And that book probably started my obsession with exploring family dynamics in my own writing, and unconventional family make-ups. It also made me realize that uncovering your own identity is intricately linked to your history, and the pasts of those you love.
What does your writing schedule look like? Do you like to write in a specific place, or at a specific time?
I wish I had a stricter writing schedule – but honestly, it’s probably stealing a couple of hours a day at the moment … and letting my mind wander when I’m on the train or traveling generally (resisting the urge to be plugged into a device, or checking social media – and instead just letting the story sink in, and let the characters walk around with me).
What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Do you feel as though there’s a big difference between writing short stories and writing novels?
Read everything. If you want to write YA, don’t just read YA. Read adult fiction. Read crime. Read romance. Read non-fiction and read poetry. There is something to be learnt from every form – whether it’s the cadence in a stanza, the suspense to be found in romance and crime, or the pacing of non-fiction … read everything. Don’t look down on any genre or readership – because they all have something to teach you. And this advice applies to novel-writing, as well as short-story writing.
What books have you already published? Are you working on something right now?
The anthology is my debut publication – but I do have something I’ve been working on, and hope to have an announcement soon. It’s contemporary. Focus on family. All the good stuff, I promise!
If you could write a book with one author of your choice, who would that author be and why?
Y’know what? I had so much fun working on ‘Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology’ – I’d pair up with any of the contributors again, in a heartbeat. All nine. We made something kinda magical here, and now that it’s over and on bookshelves – I’d actually give anything to go back and do it all again.
… Then again; maybe I should start thinking about a new ten Aussie authors to work with, on a possible next Anthology? …
Thanks so much for answering our questions, Danielle! If you’re in Melbourne this Sunday, don’t forget to join us at our Book Meet – Danielle Binks herself will be there! We can’t wait. Tickets are still available, so make sure you grab one here!
‘Slice’ image sourced from Gin and Co.