Your short story My Place will soon be published in Australian Literature: A Snapshot in 10 Short Stories. What can readers look forward to in My Place?
My Place explores serious issues faced by many young people today and tells a story of triumph over adversity. The story deals with destructive relationships and abuse of power within a family, while looking at the development of child to adult, and of young people taking control of their lives under impossible circumstances and doing so through sheer will and inner strength.
Could you tell us a little about your fiction writing and what point you’re up to now with your writing?
I began writing seriously when I was about eighteen and was completing my VCE in 2008.
My writing journey began from my unsated desire to read original YA fantasy when all that seemed to be stocked on the shelves were vampire stories, so I decided to write my own. I began the long journey of writing my novel length manuscript entitled Shifter (a YA urban fantasy story centred on an original concept of shape- shifters) without knowing anything about the writing industry at all, and soon my love of writing grew into a dream of having my own work published one day. I am currently seeking an agent to represent me and Shifter whilst continuing to shape and improve my skills by writing short stories such as, My Place. Although my original writing style began with YA urban fantasy, I have branched away from that with many of my short stories, though all my writing deals with gritty issues faced by many of our young adults today – whatever the context.
In My Place, you deal largely with toxic parent-child relationships. What do you think tends to make stories about toxic relationships work well, or what is an example of a story in which a toxic relationship has been written well and why did it work?
To be honest, I have not read a fictional book which deals with such toxic- relationships the way My Place does, although there are many out there. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson is a marvellously written book and one of my favourites; it was this book that introduced me to darker writing. I found that the issues in the book made the story seem real and the characters more complex and life-like. Everyone has been touched by tragedy or hardship, and I believe these types of stories speak to those readers because often it becomes less about the toxic-relationships and more about the strength of the characters, for me My Place is largely about survival of the spirit.
What kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading and do you have some favourites?
As said previously, The Gargoyle is one of my favourite books but I also devour any fantasy and sci-fi fiction I can get my hands on and I also enjoy reading true stories. Go Ask Alice by ‘Anonymous’ is the diary of a young girl who becomes addicted to drugs, I somehow got a hold of it and first read this book when I was about eleven and it changed the way I saw the world. It is a tragic true story, but a favourite.
Urban fantasy is of particular interest, because I love reading stories set in the real world but with a twist. Erica Hayes sets her Shadowfae books in Melbourne, and I love being able to picture the exact streets the characters are walking through. Though, Kelley Armstrong is my favourite writer of this genre and her Women of the Otherworld series have been a large influence on my writing. Armstrong features strong heroines in a complex world that shifts narrators with each new book, but always ties the characters back together. The concept of changing narrators fascinates me, and I like the way James Frey implements this also in his book Bright Shiny Morning and is also used spectacularly in The Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar.
What is an interest you have beyond writing fiction and how has it helped you with the content or style of your writing, or with your writing process or attitude to writing?
I am currently studying a Bachelor of Education (Primary) at Monash University and although my passion for educating and my passion for writing may seem irrelevant to each other, they are not. My experience with children (even though I do not write for them) has opened my eyes to the world around me. Children are surviving in the harshest of circumstances and dealing with issues at home that many adults have never encountered. Alcohol and drug abuse, as featured in My Place are just one very small glimpse into some children’s everyday reality. I am fascinated by and value this endurance of children above all else and this often filters down into my own writing.
In your recent blog post, Literacy in the 21st Century, you have discussed how Worldreader’s ereader program in Africa is helping school students develop not only literacy skills but skills in understanding meaning across different modes and media of expression. What kind of possibilities would you hope to see explored (or to explore yourself) in Australian literature using technologies such as ereaders, audiobooks, interactive text, fast downloads, portable devices, and so on?
‘Technology such as e-readers and audio books are at our finger tips, so why not use them?
Schools often face the issue of low funding and then have concerns about the way in which it can be implemented in the classroom effectively. Though, despite these concerns I really do believe that technology has an important part to play in the education of our students. Take audiobooks for example, applications are even available on the iphone/itouch that use the concept of audiobooks to target beginning readers. The application ‘MeeGenius’ focuses on using iphone technology through interactions such as page turning, and the application reads out the story displayed on the screen as the words spoken are clearly highlighted. The child can easily pause the story and replay the voice reading the book. I think such interactive resources are amazing and can be very useful if implemented correctly and I would like to specifically encourage parents who have access to this technology to use it with their children, perhaps even before they enter school.
Children today are growing up in a digitally saturated world where they are expected to navigate these new ways of presenting media effectively. By using technology with children we are preparing them to become more ‘technologically literate’ for their futures and this positions them to take advantage of technology such as ereaders and interactive online spaces. I believe that such interaction with technology would enrich Australian literacy by increasing the ways in which people see what ‘literacy’ is, and will open them up to new ways of meaning-making and hopefully, story-telling.’..
Who is one of your favourite fictional characters and why?
Again I will refer back to The Gargoyle; Marianne Engel is a character who remains somewhat a mystery throughout the whole book. Marianne is a strong character who enters the book seeming to talk nonsense and appearing to be mentally ill, but as the story progresses the book leaves you wondering if she was really sane the whole time. She shows love and friendship to a suicidal man who was the victim of serious burns that had left him disfigured, and it is her strength and love which prevents him from taking his own life. The nameless burnt man who narrates the story is also a favourite because he is beautifully cynical and I found that trait oddly refreshing to read.
I actually do not own a book on writing or storytelling, but I research a lot on the internet and seek advice from other authors. Maria V. Snyder (author of the ‘Study Series’) and editor/writer Mindy Klasky have been a big help. I basically try to teach myself anything I need to know through research or I go back to a favourite book and take notes on techniques I could see the author using. I came across a quote one day that said something like:
“A good writer must do two things above all else; read and write”
And although the concept it simple, it helped me to remember to go back to the books I love when I get stuck, and to continue reading and writing new fiction as much as possible.
What’s next for your fiction writing for the rest of 2011?
I started my writing career a little backwards by beginning with writing a novel-length manuscript, so I am going back to basics in a way. I have started concentrating on improving my writing through short stories such as My Place, and the elation I felt when I saw my name in the line-up on the AusLit website cannot be explained with words. I will continue to seek an agent to represent me whilst writing and submitting as many short-stories as I can for publication, I have also started another fantasy manuscript which reconceptualises many ideas on what makes a ‘monster’, and I am very excited about working on that this year.
You can meet and chat with Belinda Dorio, as well as fellow Australian Literature contributor Michael Pryor (The Laws of Magic series) and editor/publisher Steve Rossiter at the Melbourne book launch May 3rd 6-9pm.
The Australian Literature Review