Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.
Jenna’s debut, What I Like About Me, which I hope to be reading and reviewing soon, came out in Australia in 2019. This year, it was meant to be released in America, and Jenna was due to head over to America for a book tour when the corona virus hit, and closures meant she wasn’t able to do so. In lieu of this, like many authors, she’s trying to do online tours and promotion, and her stop on my blog is part of this, and is another interview in my Isolation Publicity series.
Hi Jenna, and welcome to The Book Muse
- Your book, What I Like About Me. Has been out in Australia for a year and is just being released in America. Is this an exciting move for an Australian author?
It’s so exciting! I honestly didn’t really expect What I Like About Me to be published in America as I know it’s a hard market to break into, and it’s a very Australian book. It was a very lovely surprise. We consume a lot of American culture here so it’s nice to have a story of my own going back the other way.
- Did you have to edit your book for an American audience, or did you leave it as it is?
I did have to make some edits, although perhaps not as many as you’d think. It was mainly language – caravan became RV, servo became gas station and so on. I also had to take out a reference to Minties, because apparently they’re a dog treat in America, not a human treat.
- Do you feel it is important for Australian books to maintain their Australian identity when entering the international market?
I’m really passionate about seeing Australian books tell Australian stories, and retain as much of that identity as possible in international markets. As I already mentioned, we consume so much American culture here. It’s vital we hang on to our own culture, and having it embraced internationally is always going to help with that.
- Where did the idea for What I Like About Me come from, and what is it about Maisie that you think makes her more relatable than some of the middle grade or young adult protagonists in more popular books?
What I Like About Me initially started out as a romance, so I started with the dynamic of the core four characters who would be involved in the romance plot. As I developed the character of Maisie, the story morphed into being more focused on her own internal journey with loving herself – although of course the romance is still there.
I wouldn’t say Maisie is more relatable than other protagonists, but I do hope readers can connect with her. I poured a lot of my own personal experiences and emotions as both a teenager and an adult into her – especially regarding my relationship with my body. She’s comes from a place of authenticity.
- You started out as a writer with places like Buzzfeed, Junkee, Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News. Do you still write for these places, and where did you get your start?
I started my career at Girlfriend magazine, working there for five years, before I worked at BuzzFeed for another five years. I now freelance in addition to writing books, so the publications you mentioned are those I currently write for (amongst others). After a decade split across just two workplaces, it’s nice to branch out and write for a lot of different titles!
- You’re represented by my first interviewee in this series, Danielle Binks. How did you meet, and do you enjoy working with her?
Danielle and I ‘met’ online, on Twitter, purely because we have similar interests and enjoy chatting about things like pop culture and romance books and, of course, YA. We met in person for the first time at the Sydney Writers’ Festival a few years back, and she became my agent a few months later. She’s a dream to work with. We’re totally on the same page about a lot of things, and it’s wonderful to have someone as knowledgeable and passionate as Danielle in my corner.
- Is there another book on the way that you can tell my readers anything about?
I’m currently editing my second book, which is out with Pan Macmillan in August. It’s Weird Science meets Jenny Han – two girls accidentally create the perfect guy, and he complicates their lives in ways they would never have anticipated. It’s a very fun rom-com that I’m excited to share with people.
- The important stuff: Cats, dogs or both?
DOGS! Although I am trying to grow out of my previous anti-cat prejudices.
- Favourite kind of writing snack?
Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate.
- Which Hogwarts house would you belong in if you were attending Hogwarts?
I’m a Ravenclaw through and through!
- What is it about rom-coms that you love, and what was the rom-com that began your love of the genre?
Rom-coms are just so comforting. You know they’re going to have a happy ending. They’re the best form of escapism, and necessary in times like this. I’ve loved rom-coms for as long as I remember – I can’t even tell you what my first one would have been. I know I watched Clueless for the first time when I was about nine, but I’m sure there were some earlier than that. I guess that’s the first one I actively chose to get from the video store though.
- You might hate me for this question, but top five rom-com movies – what are they?
Oh my god this is so tough! Okay, don’t hold me to this because it may change in future, but right now:
- When Harry Met Sally
- 10 Things I Hate About You
- Love Actually
- To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
- When writing, do you prefer typing on a computer, or using a pen and paper? Is one or the other more effective for you?
Computer, 100%. My handwriting is terrible and my arm hurts after writing like two sentences. I’m too used to computers now.
- Do you have a favourite bookseller, and why are they your favourite?
Ooooh I love so many bookstores, but I have a soft spot for Better Read Than Dead in Newtown because I go to book club there and they do other great events, plus it’s just such a homey and friendly place. Also Kinokuniya in the Sydney CBD, which is where I had my first book launch! They have an incredible range and a great YA section in particular.
- Like Danielle, your job is in the arts. How important do you think the arts are, in times of crisis and at other times as well?
The arts are vital. I know it can feel ‘frivolous’ or not important, but while they may not contribute to our physical health or immediate survival, I think they’re absolutely necessary for our mental health. They keep us sane and bring us joy even in the darkest times.
- Do you prefer the blue cover, or the yellow cover?
I cannot possibly pick a favourite. I like that both variations are out there!
- In this time of crisis, what art forms – movies, podcasts, television, books etc – do you find yourself turning to when you need a break from everything that is going on?
I definitely go back to my go-to comforts – rom-coms, and movies and shows I loved growing up. There’s something about nostalgia that provides a safe space. I am also super into kdramas, because they tend to have romance-focused plots, and having to read subtitles forces me to get offline when I am otherwise addicted to my feeds.
- What books are you looking forward to reading this year?
I’m so excited for Danielle’s debut The Year the Maps Changed, as well as Kay Kerr’s Please Don’t Hug Me and Anna Whateley’s Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal.
- Which events were you the most excited about this year that have been cancelled or postponed?
Oh man. I was going to be in America at the end of April to do some promo events for What I Like About Me and also see my faves BTS perform, and now that trip has been cancelled which I’m super bummed about. And although I was going to be away when it was on, I’m still devastated to see the Sydney Writers’ Festival be cancelled. There are so many events that had a lot of work put into them that have now been called off. It’s just so heartbreaking. I know when we can all finally gather and go to these events again, it’s going to be all the more meaningful.
Any further comments?
It’s a really tough time right now. Be gentle with yourself and don’t feel guilty for reaching for joy. Also, I know there’s a lot of financial pressure on many people, so even if you can’t support your fave artists and small businesses with money, a recommendation, review or tweet of appreciation and support can be really meaningful! And don’t forget the joys of libraries, which all have online services you can access without leaving the house.