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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Interview with Laura Buzo, author of 'Holier Than Thou'

Last year I read an incredible debut novel called 'Good Oil', from Australian young adult author Laura Buzo. I was blown away. Buzo wrote a raw and powerful, true-to-life teen romance full of heartache and messy love and it was one of the best, sucker-punching YA novels I ever had the pleasure to read. I was thrilled at the chance to interview Ms Buzo, and pick her brain about love, loss and the Land of Dreams. 

And I was doubly-thrilled when Buzo's new novel, 'Holier Than Thou' landed in my hot little hand earlier this year. I was not in the least bit surprised that I loved the book; head-over-heels, loved! So, of course, I had to have another Q&A with Ms Buzo.

It is my pleasure to give you Laura Buzo - new Australian YA author extraordinaire!

Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall?
With a couple of key kernels. HTT grew out of two scenes, from which I extrapolated some themes, my main character and then I never looked back. People have asked me if I have the whole thing plotted out in my head before I start but I assure you I have had moments of idling in traffic and thinking ‘hmm, how should I end my novel?’

Q: ‘Holier Than Thou’ is your second novel after the incredible success of your debut, ‘Good Oil’. How is it writing the second time round? Easier or harder? Are you feeling more pressure?
Pretty similar process-wise. I’d like to say I had more confidence this time round and it was easier. And maybe it was, a little. Although as Helen Garner once said, you might think that having written one novel you now know how to write novels. But really, you just know how to write that novel. And have to work the next one out on it’s own.

Q: ‘Holier Than Thou’ is a lovely, looping story – Holly’s narrative slips between the ‘here and now’ and also backtracks through her high school and uni years. Was it hard to wrangle the story and get the right balance between past and present? Did you ever think to write a story set solely during Holly’s Year Twelve, or entirely in her mid-20’s?
The time looping was very intuitive. I just closed my eyes (in a manner of speaking) and moved back and forth in the best way to advance the story. I think I was drawn to this device, as many writers have been, because I believe the past informs the present. Come to think of it, that’s probably why I majored in history too.

Q: Holly’s story is very much influenced by the four men in her life (both past and present). Her dead father, loyal boyfriend, the ‘one that got away’ and her tempting co-worker. Were any of these male characters inspired by real people? Which of these characters was the hardest to write?
As my hero Kate Jennings says, “I write close to life and I cheerfully admit it.” I think all the blokes in HTT are amalgams of people, ideas and conundrums I have stumbled across in real life and they all serve a purpose in Holly’s unfolding trajectory.

Q: When I read I can’t help but think of soundtracks for the books I’m getting lost in. Reading ‘Holier Than Thou’ I kept pairing Missy Higgins songs with Holly’s story, particularly ‘The Special Two’; ‘And you make boundaries you'd never dream to cross’. Do you write to music? Do you have a soundtrack associated with your books? If so, could you give us a few samples from the playlist?

Er…. I may have been quite familiar with this song, back in the day. Way back in the day.
One of my favourite novels is Prelude to Christopher (published in 1934) by quiet achiever and brilliant Aussie author, Eleanor Dark. The frontispiece is six bars of a Tschaikovsky adagio that she claims to have inspired the novel.
One of the ‘kernels’ of the story that I mentioned in the first question came to me during, and kind of from, a Holly Throsby song. I was pinned beneath my then baby daughter during one of her lengthy feeds, on a wintry afternoon, listening to one of Ms Throsby’s many excellent albums. I won’t spoil it and tell you the song, but it was from the album Under The Town.

Q: Your debut YA novel, ‘Good Oil’, was partly inspired by your youth spent working at Woolworths (aka: ‘The Land of Dreams’). In ‘Holier Than Thou’, Holly is a social worker, which also happens to be your day job. So you definitely ‘write what you know’. Do you find it’s cathartic to use your life for inspiration – particularly with Holly’s social work, which discusses holes in the governmental and medical care system? Are you concerned about your co-workers reading ‘Holier Than Thou’?

The thing is Alphareader, I am a very busy lady. I essentially work three jobs, and I don’t have time to research things I don’t know about. So I put a bit of my work experience into my books. A lot of writers and artists have not really experienced the cruel world of work, so that world doesn’t often get a really good representation in literary fiction. Really successful writers don’t need to work outside their craft. But I think it is important to write about what happens at work, because most people will spend most of their lives there and coming to terms with that can be hard. When I was a young person, and certainly in a lot of the YA fiction I read growing up, there was not much exploration of the world of work. I had no idea what to expect or how it would affect my life.

Q: At one point in ‘Holier Than Thou’, Holly reflects on her high-low expectations of Year Twelve. Having read Melina Marchetta’s ‘Looking for Alibrandi’, she remarks: “I was disappointed that Year Twelve did not bring me a handsome, salt-of-the-earth boyfriend and ultimate emancipation from all that ailed my teenage soul.” YES! I think many Gen-Y’ers who grew up on Marchetta books will relate to Holly’s statement. But how do you feel when I compare your writing to Ms Marchetta’s. . .  young people could very well be reading your YA novels and hoping it reflects their lives (or doesn’t, as the case may be). What do you hope your young readers will take away from ‘Holier Than Thou’?

Honoured! Chuffed! To even be in the same sentence as a writer who has reached into the hearts of so many readers is a thrill.
As for what I hope people take away from reading HTT… well, I hope that no-one will ever accuse me of failing to ‘keep it real’.
Q: So, February last year I asked you if there were any plans for a sequel to ‘Good Oil’, continuing Chris and Amelia’s story. You replied with a very cryptic “possibly”. Has that answer changed at all?
Nothing immediately planned Alphareader but I wouldn’t rule anything out.

Q: Barring a ‘Good Oil’ sequel, what else are you working on . . .  and when can we expect your next novel to hit shelves?
I suspect this is not the last you’ve heard from me.
But right now… I really need to get my roots done, I haven’t made it to the hairdresser’s in months. And the dentist. That’s been, like, over a year. Maybe two!
And you should see the pile of dirty dishes piling up in my sink.
Don’t even ask about the piles of laundry.

Pictures used are from (all, except for the Sydney harbour bridge and night shot of Melbourne - those two were taken by me, using instagram on my iPhone)  


  1. Fabulous interview Danielle. I have Holier Than Thou on my Aussie TBR shelf atm and I'm really looking forward to when I can pull it down. I've been looking for Good Oil as well, as I've seen a few good reviews since HTT was released but I haven't been able to find it anywhere. Might have to get it ordered in.

    1. @1girl2manybooks - Aw, thanks muchly. HTT is a guaranteed good-read, as is 'Good Oil' (I hope you can wrangle a copy soon! Even asking the publisher directly? Allen & Unwin). Happy Reading!


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