Today we have another excellent #LoveOzYA interview with an author we love – Mark Smith! Read all about his recent YA release, how he writes, and what some of his favourite #LoveOzYA novels are. We hope you enjoy!
We loved you novel, The Road To Winter, and it’s sequel. Why did you decide to focus your novel on such a serious topic?
I didn’t really set out to write a serious book. First and foremost I wanted to tell a gripping story because, as a reader, that’s what I look for in fiction. The development of the characters in the dystopian setting I create allows me to explore some deeper issues around violence, the treatment of asylum seekers and climate change. Being an educator, I know one of the best ways of engaging young people in an issue is to personalise it – create characters they feel a deep empathy for, then look at the way they deal with conflict, cruelty and a changed world. Younger readers will relate to them by putting themselves in the characters’ shoes and thinking about how they would deal with such a situation.
What type of research did you have to undertake to ensure that your novels were received well?
I work principally with fifteen year old boys, many of them reluctant readers. So I began by surveying them about their reading habits and putting together a list of what they look for in a novel. Not surprisingly, they wanted suspense, humour, a twist (or three), unpredictability, mystery, a deeper story, thrills, action, a strong climax and not too much description. I added strong female characters, a sixteen year old protagonist and a blooming romance – and I had the framing for the Winter series.
Why do you think supporting the #LoveOzYA community is important?
Younger Australian readers need to see themselves reflected in the stories they read – and that is best done by Australian writers. They also like to be able to put what they are reading into an understandable cultural context. #LoveOzYA supports and promotes Australian stories that reflect the changing nature of our society. In many ways I think they are leading the industry in this regard. We are seeing more characters and writers from culturally diverse backgrounds, more representation of LGTBQI characters and more challenging of the stereotypes around what young people should be reading. As writers and readers we should be loud and proud about who we are and where we come from. This is the job the #LoveOzYA community is doing so well.
Why did you decide to start writing? What type of writer are you?
I started writing because I thought I had stories to tell that readers would be interested in. I’ve only been writing for about five years. I wrote a heap of short stories to begin with (learning my craft, I guess) – I would describe them as literary fiction. More than twenty of them were published in journals, magazines and anthologies. When I thought I had established myself as a short story writer, I decided to try writing long-form. The Road To Winter was my first attempt at a novel and I was lucky enough to be offered a three book deal by Text Publishing on the back of the manuscript.
As for the type of writer I am? I certainly wouldn’t limit myself to one particular genre – in the same way as I read across all genres. I’m a total pantser when I sit down to write – I try to find the flow of a story and allow myself to be caught up in it. Both The Road To Winter and Wilder Country ended up going to places I never anticipated when I began them.
Did you read much OzYA throughout your teen years? If so, do you have any recommendations?
In presentations at festivals and schools, I always begin with a confession – up until I was fifteen I hadn’t read a book! I was a total outdoors boy who loved adventuring, climbing, riding my bike, riding horses and generally running wild. At that time, reading had no interest to me. But when I was fifteen I had a couple of very serious accidents, breaking my neck twice within six months. I had to wear a hideous neck brace and spend a lot of my time lying on my back. With nothing else to do, I started reading – and never looked back. Being fifteen, I skipped straight to a lot of adult reading like Catcher In The Rye, Steinbeck and Hemingway. I remember books by Colin Theale and Alan Marshall Mum had tried to get me to read when I was younger but I’d just look at the cover, flick through them and head outside! Fast forward to 2017 and there are too many great OzYA titles to recommend but I’d start with Robert Newton, Sophie Hardcastle, Steph Bowe, Emily Gale, Alison Evans, Jack Heath, Cath Crowley, Zana Fraillon – and I could go on….!
Mark lives on Victoria’s Surf Coast. His debut novel The Road To Winter (Text, 2016) was shortlisted for the Australian Indie Book Awards, the Readings YA Prize and the Queensland Literary Award. It was published in the US and UK in June, 2017. The sequel, Wilder Country, was released in September, 2017. Mark is also an award winning writer of short fiction, with credits including the 2015 Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize and the 2013 Alan Marshall Short Story Prize, and his work has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Review of Australian Fiction, The Big Issue, The Victorian Writer and The Australian.