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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Interview with Vikki Wakefield, author of 'Friday Brown'

Last year I discovered a new favourite author after reading Vikki Wakefield's debut, 'All I Ever Wanted'. I was completely transfixed by her young adult novel, set in a suburban minefield and featuring a tough protagonist with big dreams called Mim. So I was over-the-moon to learn that Wakefield'd second novel would be released this year. I had high hopes for 'Friday Brown', and Wakefield outdid herself on every single one of them.

If you're a fan of Vikki Wakefield, can I also recommend that you book in to attend the FREE Centre for Youth Literature event with Vikki Wakefield and Fiona Wood (another fabulous new voice in Aussie YA!). It's happening on Tuesday 28 August. For more info, click here.
 And now, without further ado - Vikki Wakefield! 

 Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Friday Brown’, from first idea to final manuscript?

This is going to sound backward, but the first lines I wrote for Friday Brown were from the seminal scenes in Chapter 28 (which will mean nothing to anyone who hasn’t read it). The entire story evolved from the water-tank scene and the first line from that chapter was written over three years ago. Of course, there were long periods of inactivity while I worked on other things, but it feels like I’ve been writing this book forever.

Q: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ - that is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?

I’m a plotter in my head and a pantser on the page. I don’t start writing until I know my characters (usually after I’ve drawn them and daydreamed about them) and I have a clear idea of the direction of the story. The dreaming stage can last months. When I start to write, the characters take over—I have to trash my synopsis and start from scratch because they always end up straying from my script. This surprises and terrifies me every time it happens.

I wrote All I Ever Wanted in quite a linear fashion, but Friday Brown was like piecing together a big, ugly patchwork quilt. The prologue was written after I’d already completed the first draft and, as you can imagine, it coloured the rest of the story. I had to rewrite much of the book. To top that off, I changed tense during the structural edit. I pretty much do everything the hard way, but I’m always sure of the final scene—if I don’t have that I have nothing.

Q: Did you start writing with a conscious decision to make ‘Friday Brown’ young adult, or did that evolve naturally? Do you write with an audience in mind?

Great question. It’s one I’ve asked myself and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to answer it with any clarity. I don’t think I write for young adults at all—I just write about them. If I wrote an adult novel I’m confident my style wouldn’t change. I’m not conscious of deliberately shifting gears to suit an audience and I’m trying to remain as ignorant about the rules of genre as I was when I first started to write. That way I’ll never be scared to tell the story I’m trying to tell.
Q: You had such fantastic success with your first book ‘All I Ever Wanted’. How have things changed the second time round? Was it easier to pen this second book than the first?

It was much more difficult to write Friday Brown. I had deadlines and expectations and the sense that I wasn’t only writing for myself this time. On the upside, I had more knowledge and the compulsion to write was just as strong as ever. When it’s just me and the page, I write well. It’s never easy, but I probably wouldn’t do it if it was.

Q: I feel like you don’t write ‘traditional’ love stories in your novels. Thinking of the Jordan Mullen crush/reality for Mim, or the fact that in ‘Friday Brown’ it’s the friendship between Friday and Silence that comes to mean more. It’s nice to read these sorts of ‘skewed’, nontraditional romances, because so many YA books these days only present one type of romantic love. What makes you write those unconventional, unusual ‘connections’ between your characters? What is it that you find fascinating about them?

I suppose I remember being so wrong about people as a teenager—as if I’d created my own skewed reality—that, in a way, I’m selfishly rediscovering the relationships that should have mattered more to me back then. But the heart wants what the heart wants, even if a person is bad for you (and even if you know it).

Romantic love is a wonderful thing, but neither Mim nor Friday is ready for it. Love for a guy shouldn’t save you, or define you—it’s the payoff that comes when two people are ready and deserving of each other. That’s why Wish (Spoiler Alert!) is only a fleeting character. He’s perfect for Friday, but she’s not ready for him. Friday Brown isn’t their story at all—Wish is just the hint of a new beginning. I meant for this novel to be a love story, but not the kind you might expect.

Q: ‘Friday Brown’ really, heartbreakingly, delves into life on the streets. Did you do any kind of research into homelessness or runaways for this novel?

I’ve spoken with youth workers and street kids, but most of my writing comes from truth and memories, from the people and places I remember. I’ve slept rough and bunked down in a squat, I’ve roamed the city at night and spent freezing nights huddled around a campfire, but I’ve always had the safety of family to go back to. I won’t ever truly understand what it means to be lost.

I think many people who haven’t experienced homelessness believe these kids choose to live on the street, that it’s all about rebellion or a quest for freedom. For most street kids, homelessness is a bid to save themselves. Yes, sometimes there are drugs or crime involved, but often a deep distrust of adults and authority lies at the heart of their reasons for leaving home.

Q: The characters of Mim and Friday are really sticking with me, long after reading. I wonder what it’s like for you – as their creator? Do you still think of Mim and Friday, and the characters around them even though their novels are out and ‘done’ now? Do you ever get the urge to revisit them?

I think about them all the time. They pop in and out at the worst possible times. I think, as time passes, a book drifts further from a writer, and so do the characters. I’m less connected to them, but they never really leave me. If you asked which book is my favourite, it will always be the last one I’ve written, because I’m closer to it.

Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?

I’m going to change the question slightly, otherwise the list would be too long. I always think my favourite writer is the author of the last great book I’ve read (that would create a very modern list), and I always forget somebody.

The authors I’ve read at exactly the right time in my life (some very early on) and who have infected me with a love of language and storytelling: Maurice Sendak, Colin Thiele, Bruce Dawe, Robert Cormier, Jack London, S E Hinton, Edgar Allan Poe, Melina Marchetta, Tim Winton, Flannery O’Connor and Annie Proulx. There are so, so many more.

Q: Favourite book(s)?

At the moment it’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (see, the last book always makes the list). I loved this book.

Hilda Boswell’s Omnibus – an anthology of classics with the creepiest illustrations. I credit this book with my early realisation that bad things happen to kids and sometimes they freeze to death in the snow holding a fistful of matches—but there’s beauty in that. Somewhere.

Everything written by the authors I’ve listed above.

Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?

There’s a reason most writers give similar advice: read, write, read, writewriteWRITE. It works. Don’t confuse rejection with failure; remind yourself that experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.

With your first draft, try to write at least one line in every chapter that you’re convinced has never been written before. When you rewrite, do the same thing for every page. When I’m reading, I find that those lines can make the difference between a mediocre book and an extraordinary one.

Q: What are you working on now, and when can we get our hands on it?

I’ve started two YA novels, but I’m in the daydreaming phase right now. I’ll have to make a choice between them, depending on whose voice sings loudest. I’ll let you know when I hit the synopsis-shredding phase—then it’s game on.


  1. This is such a brilliant interview - Danielle you ask great questions and I enjoyed reading Vikki's answers. It's amazing the amount of work that goes into a novel and I got chills just reading about the water tower scene *sob*

    1. Thanks very much!
      Agreed - and so fascinating that it all started for Vikki from Chapter 28.

      Glad you enjoyed the interview :)


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