You had your novel When Courage Came to Call published this year, at the age of 16. It even came with James Patterson’s recommendation on the front cover. Has this changed your life significantly, or is day to day life much the same as before your novel was published?
Day to day life, surprisingly, has actually not changed much at all. At first, a lot of people came up to me at school to congratulate me, and the people I was around talked about it a lot – I suppose because my writing had been so secretive, and they’d never really thought of me as a writer before. But now, things have settled down. Although my friends and family mention my writing more often than before, they don’t treat me any differently so my life is almost normal.
You have said that you’ve been writing fiction since childhood. How would you describe your childhood approach to writing fiction?
My childhood approach to writing fiction was to write what I wanted to read. I’ve read in a lot of places that you should “write what you know” – but I hated that advice, and completely disregarded it. What fun was there in writing or reading about something you had already experienced? Instead, writing was an adventure, a challenge, and the things I wrote about allowed me to travel outside my normal world. I didn’t write thinking that someone else would read it: my writing was purely for my own entertainment.
Has your approach changed much since your childhood writing?
It has, in a sense, but not dramatically. Now I write knowing that my words will someday be read by others – but I still write what I would love to read.
What were some of the most important aspects you considered in order to make the story of When Courage Came to Call work well?
At the time, I didn’t consciously piece together aspects: things just fell into place. But looking back, I guess one of the most crucial considerations was the balance of fantasy and realism. Although the book fits into a fantasy/sci-fi genre, Zamascus and the surrounding world is similar in many ways to our world, and the characters are all very much human, so things needed to be realistic. The relationships in the book, the characters’ motivations and changes, and war’s influence on these, needed to be believable in order to create a whole and impacting story.
What is the key to a great adventure story, or what do you usually like in an adventure story?
I like to be hooked – to be drawn in and held. If the book takes forever to get to the point or contains long descriptions, I’ll usually put it down. I think the key to a great adventure story is for it to take the reader somewhere completely unexpected, engage them in a world or plot so wholly that they yearn to experience it for themselves.
What are some of your favourite works of fiction, and what makes them stand out for you?
My current favourite book is The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. What makes me love it so much is the way it is written – the language used is almost poetry, and the descriptions are so vivid that they completely immerse me in the book. It’s not what I typically read – it’s not a fantasy, or an action-packed adventure – but it’s just so good at what it does: telling a story.
My favourite childhood books were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. They were what really got me into reading passionately – I think a Famous Five book was one of the first proper novels that I read, and the first novel that I wrote was very heavily influenced by Enid Blyton. They were everything I loved about reading: they contained excitement and adventure, and you wished so dearly that you were one of the characters, that you knew those children and could have adventures with them.
My all-time favourite series would have to be Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling is a master at telling a story. She weaves complex plots that I can only dream of coming up with, filled with everything that a person would love to experience: a boarding school for witches and wizards, Quidditch, amazing sweets, exciting adventures, a world full of unexpected magic… It just steps right out of everyone’s dreams.
What is the most important piece of advice you have for Australian teenagers who are thinking about writing a novel?
It’s impossible for me to choose one single important piece of advice to give, but I can say to keep reading, keep writing, and above all be passionate about it.
What is next for your fiction writing?
I’m currently working on another book, which will fit into more of a fantasy genre than When Courage Came to Call. It’s something I’ve been working on for some time – but I don’t like to talk about my work much before it’s complete, so that’s all I can tell you!
The Australian Literature Review