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 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.
Nova Weetman is the author of three middle grade books, including last year’s Sick Bay. All three have been published by UQP. So far this year, Nova has spearheaded the #AuthorsForFireys campaign during the devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season that ravaged the country for well beyond the usual bushfire season, and has had her novel, Sick Bay, shortlisted for an ABIA award. She’s also had many appearances and workshops cancelled, and like many authors, this has meant a loss of income that contributes to her author income alongside royalties. She talks about writing and the arts below.
Hi Nova, and welcome to The Book Muse
- You primarily write for middle grade – what books have you written for this age group, and what drew you to writing for this age group?
I’ve written three books for middle grade readers published by UQP – The Secrets We Keep, The Secrets We Share and Sick Bay. My most recent is Sick Bay. I’ve also published three choose your own books for middle grade readers. I love writing for 9-14 year-olds because reading was the most important thing for me at that age. I also think my writing voice suits that age group more than it does writing for YA.
- What kind of writing did you do before you moved into writing novels, and how does scriptwriting differ from prose writing?
I worked in television and film before I wrote novels. I was also writing short prose back then, but then transitioned across to writing for young people when I developed a television show about teens. I realised how much I enjoyed writing stories for that age group and it just sort of made sense. Writing novels is much more personal. It’s a conversation between you and reader. Writing scripts involves a whole team.
- Is it easier to write a series, or standalone novels, or are there unique challenges for each?
I don’t really write series – even the secrets books can be read as standalone novels. I’d prefer to write standalone I think. I get a bit impatient having to revisit characters and plots from an earlier book when I’m writing sequels, and can’t imagine dealing with the limitations of a series.
- 2020 has already been a hectic year – bushfires, and now a pandemic. Earlier in the year, you ran #AuthorsForFireys on Twitter -for those who don’t know about it, can you tell my readers what it was, and where the idea came from?
Emily Gale and I decided we needed to do something to help fundraise because we both felt really helpless watching the fires burn large tracts of Australia. We took the idea of a twitter auction from Zana Fraillon’s #authorsforasylum and used the same model. Basically it was designed so that authors and illustrators could run their own twitter auction item, but it just grew and grew until we had to rely on the help of an awesome team to set-up a giant spreadsheet and wrangle the money tally!
- Congratulations on the ABIA shortlisting for Sick Bay – what was it like hearing about that?
It’s lovely being shortlisted for any award, and the ABIAs are particularly lovely because they are industry awards. I rely so heavily on booksellers handselling my books so it’s really special to have an ABIA shortlisting. Celebrating is a bit tricky though in isolation!
- Have you had to cancel any kind of events – launches, festival appearances, school or library visits – in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?
So many things have been cancelled. It’s very hard. I’m happy to do online school visits but it’s not the same. I love being in the room with students and workshopping, and Zoom changes that dynamic!
- Of these events – which ones were you looking forward to the most?
I was really looking forward to Clunes Book Fair where I was doing a couple of sessions, and a week-long school visit trip to Queensland that can’t happen because of the border restrictions.
- As an author, what do you enjoy about interacting with your readers?
I think as a children’s author, hearing from kids is a massive part of why we do what we do. Knowing that your books are being loved and read by young readers is everything. I had an email recently from a young reader who had just finished Sick Bay. She was type 1 diabetic and she’d given the book to some of her friends so they could understand more about her life. She told me it was a really accurate portrayal and that was pretty great to hear.
- When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and what was the first thing you ever submitted to a publisher?
I have wanted to be a writer my whole life. I wrote a book with my best friend when I was twelve called The Jelly People. That was the beginning. I submitted a picture book to Five Mile Press when I was about 19. My 17 year-old brother illustrated it and we received a very lovely rejection letter!
- Do your ideas form organically, or are they often inspired by things you see, hear or read out in the real world?
My ideas mostly come from characters that grow in my head over a period of weeks or months. But sometimes, like with Sick Bay, it was a location that started the story. I knew for years I wanted to write a book set in a school Sick Bay but it took ages to figure out what the story would be. I guess I’m open to ideas forming both organically and through inspiration.
- When writing, do you prefer using pen and paper, or a typewriter, or a computer?
I write notes by hand and drafts on computer. I often plot with pen and paper but when it comes to actually writing I go straight onto the laptop.
- Do you have any writing rituals, preferred writing snacks and furry writing companions?
Coffee, jelly snakes in the afternoon and a daily trip to the op shop near my studio. I also reward myself with something during the day. Maybe I allow myself to read a couple of chapters, or watch an episode of something if I’ve been really productive.
- The kid lit community is really supportive – of each other, of bloggers and their readers – how has this helped you in your career, and what does it mean to be part of such an awesome community?
Being part of this community is huge. It’s everything – friends who understand the highs and lows of writing, people who get it when you’re rejected or when you have a bad review. I think we’re really lucky to have such a supportive community. I’ve certainly never experienced this in any other job. It’s lovely too because we are all very different and we’re in it together because of our love of children’s literature.
- During the fires, as we’ve already discussed, the arts sector really came together to help those affected. In light of this, artists – writers, singers, etc – really need support now. What would you like to see people do to give artists this support?
I’d like to see the Australia Council funded properly for the first time in many years. I’d like to see the arts matter to our federal politicians. I’d like to know that all artists are being supported in similar ways financially to the bailouts for other industries. It’s great if people can buy local books from local bookshops, and support local artists as much as they can. But it’s not just the job of the community to do this – government has to lead.
- Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and how are you hoping to support them during the pandemic?
I’m trying to share a bit of the love around – The Little Bookroom in Nicholson St, North Carlton has my heart and they’ve delivered quite a few parcels to our house recently. I’ve also ordered books from Readings and Booktopia and Neighbourhood Books.
- Who are your favourite authors, and what books are you hoping to read during the pandemic as we all shelter inside?
So many favourite authors, and I’ve actually been reading a lot since lockdown started. I’ve just finished (and loved) two new Australian middle grade novels – one from Penny Tangey and the other from Julianne Negri’s. I’ve ordered Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, and Jess Hill’s Stella winner, and am about to start reading Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals in That Country.
- What do you enjoy doing when not writing, and do you have any favourite boardgames?
I love 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles, baking bread, watching crime shows, trawling op shops and playing cards. We have just bought a card game called Anomia that is excellent and fun and irritating all at the same time.
- Your books explore a range of diverse characters – how much research do you do before putting pen to paper?
I research a lot before I start. With Sick Bay the character of Riley who is type 1 diabetic was created with the help of my daughter’s friend who is type 1 diabetic. I spent a lot of time interviewing her and creating a character around things she told me. I steal a lot from my kid’s friends too because they have a broad circle of people in their lives, so that makes research fun.
- Do you have a preferred genre to read or write in?
I’m a realism girl. I read it and I write it. I have never tried to write fantasy, because my brain doesn’t think like that. I’m a small story person – I focus on details and character – not world-building and large-scale plots.
- Finally, sort of related to question six – what stories do you have planned for the future?
I have two books set for publication next year. One is the third in the Secrets series. It’s a puberty book sort of – a growing up reluctantly story. And the other is a historic, feminist, time-slip that I’ve co-written with Emily Gale. It’s a very different project for me because it’s a time-slip so I guess it’s not strictly realism although it sort of is. It’s also based on a real person so we spent a lot of time trawling through archives in the NSW library. It was lots of fun and I loved co-writing and will hopefully do it again.
Anything I may have missed?