I absolutely fell head-over-heels into fandom when I read Laura Buzo's 'Good Oil'. It's a novel of highs and lows - teenage triumphs and puppy-love heartbreak. It's so raw and real and vicariously fantastic.
So I jumped at the chance to pick Buzo's brain and ask some burning Q's...
Q: How did you get published, agent or slush pile?
I sent my manuscript for Good Oil in to a few competitions. It got shortlisted for one. Then I decided to send it to Margaret Connolly and Associates. Margaret loved it and took me on. She sent it to the Young Peeps section of Allen and Unwin and they offered me a contract for G.O and a second, unwritten novel. Yay me.
Q: Your father was the famous and genius author playwright, Alex Buzo. So was it inevitable that you’d grow up to be a writer?
I don’t think it necessarily follows that I wanted to be a writer just because of my father. My father’s father was an engineer, so you know we all come up with our own crazy shit. But certainly his example taught me a love and respect for writing as an art form, and I find his writing inspiring. I think coming from a family where the humanities are valued helped me along in a general way.
Q: I loved ‘Good Oil’ because it was an unconventional YA romance, often uncomfortably truthful and heartbreakingly honest. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Chris and Amelia’s experiences with love. What do you hope your young readers take away from the novel?
I hope they see some truths about themselves in there, I hope they see a message about acceptance of realities that are hard to swallow, I hope they see that everyone has their own ‘narrative’ and we don’t necessarily understand other people’s… that sometimes we judge our parents too harshly, that you have to be your own ‘little trooper’ in your own tale of war, a sense that friendship is a powerful and can change people… and a sense of the excitement that comes from reading and responding to literature.
Q: The novel does have a chasm of a cliff-hanger ending . . . which is at once brilliantly realistic and slightly maddening. Did your agent/publisher/editor ever push you to write a ‘happier’ ending with no loose ends?
My editor never pushed for a ‘happy’ ending with Chris and Amelia getting married and having perfect babies in a nice house in the suburbs. Most people got that Amelia and Chris were not going to ride off into the sunset within the scope of this story. There were a few changes made for Amelia to have the final ‘say’ of the book and made her feelings on Chris’ departure more concrete, but in essence the ending remained as I had originally envisaged. Which is to say – WIDE OPEN.
Q: At some point in your youth did you work in the Land of Dreams (aka ‘Woolworths’)? If so, how closely does the ‘Good Oil’ storyline mimic your experiences?
Yes I did put in a stint behind the checkout at Woolworths, circa ages 14 – 17. The book mirrors a lot of aspects from my own life, particularly the falling in love with a person – and subsequent people - who, for whatever reason, can never be mine. A skill I developed young, and have continued to perfect.
Q: I loved Chris! . . . but I only started to warm to him once we got his perspective and understood his vulnerabilities. How hard was it to keep his character realistic (often making stupid mistakes) but still crush-material for Amelia?
I freakin’ loved writing him. Everyone assumes that Amelia is me, but honestly I see a great deal of myself in Chris. Chris was inspired to a degree by an old friend of mine but in large parts was pure creation and loved that process. I relished getting into a male headspace and imaging how they see the world, women etc. As for his being crush-worthy – I think some readers find him crush-worthy and some find him a bit of an A-hole. Says a lot about the readers…
But I wanted to show how you can fall in love with someone through conversations – and fall in love with how you feel in their company.
Q: Did you always intend to change narrators between Chris and Amelia? And where exactly did you get inspiration for Chris’s voice? He was such a *boy*! I could have sworn ‘Good Oil’ was a duo-job (à la Rachel Cohn and David Levithan) because Chris’s male perspective was chillingly truthful.
Yes. That device appealed to me straight off, to see the same events through different perspectives, to see how each of the characters perceived each other and how they were aware or unaware of the other’s struggles. The diary….seemed a good way to do that, and the fact that we know Amelia gets to read Chris’ diaries adds a layer of richness and closeness to their relationship. Hmmm, I guess Chris was pretty honest, and sometimes the truth isn’t pretty. I have had some close male friends over the years, and like to think that I have comprehended something of what it is to be male through them.
Q: Okay. This is the question on EVERYONE’S lips . . . will there be a sequel to ‘Good Oil’? (Pretty please with a cherry on top?)
Possibly. I think it would be very exciting to see how Chris and Amelia relate to each other in the next chapter of their lives. Right now is not the time for me to write a sequel. The novel I am working on at the moment is completely unrelated to Amelia and Chris. So the answer is definitely maybe.
Q: When can we get our greedy little hands on your next novel?
YA again. For Allen and Unwin. Hope to get a manuscript to them by July. Bigger canvas. It seems.
Q: What other books/projects are you working on?
Number one project is about yea high, three years old, gorgeous, and usually dressed in pink with fairy wings. I also work a few days a week (I’m a social worker), and fit writing around the above. Working on the new novel at the moment, although I’m expecting the editorial report for the American publication of Good Oil to arrive soon, from Noo York.
Q: Favourite author(s)?
Hmm. Kate Jennings for sure. Eleanor Dark, Margaret Atwood, J.M Coetzee, Helen Garner, Lionel Shriver, Christopher Koch, Susan Johnson, Catherine Jinks, Kathleen Stewart, Kate Grenville, Carl Hiaasen…and, I have to say, my father. Screen writers Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon. I could go on. I know I’m forgetting someone majorly favourite…. I’ll remember when I’ve pressed ‘send’ on this questionnaire.
Q: What’s the hardest thing about writing for a Young Adult audience?
I don’t really think about it that way on a conscious level. I try to keep it relevant to experience of being young I suppose. Thus far. Writing is hard in general, I find, no matter who the target audience will turn out to be. I hope that my work will be read and enjoyed by people of many age groups.
Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?
Get a wife.
And also, don’t try to do it all on a laptop. Even is all you have is a laptop, buy a separate keyboard that you can set up to reach ergonomically. Seriously. Look after those tendons. You only have one set.