This week my copy of ‘Girl Defective’ arrived and I consumed it in one train trip (this is like an informal rating system for me: read in one train trip = one amazing book). Simmone Howell definitely delivers on the YA benchmarks she set with her debut ‘Notes from the Teenage Underground’ and ‘EverythingBeautiful’.
‘Girl Defective’ is the Something Wild with Street Crazies, and it’s Some Weird Sin how much I loved this book ;)
P.S. – if you want to know what the animal-head pictures are all about . . . get to the mess and read the book!
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 am a bit of both. I always have an idea of where I want the story to go and I'll have a few key scenes in mind when I start, but if I go off track I don't mind because that's usually where the story gets more interesting - I think of it like a discovery walk where you know the start and finish but how you get there can change because of a road accident or a whim ...
Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Girl, Defective’, from first idea to final manuscript?I had started a St Kilda novel (called for a long time St Kilda novel) which was a version of Notes from the Teenage Underground back in 2004 - so some seeds were planted then... but GD has pretty much been at the forefront of my consciousness since 2008 where I wrote the first chapter that featured Sky and Nancy on the rooftop looking at the palm trees and throwing food at passers-by.
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?Character and situation. But it is a free-fall too. And sometimes the characters you think are going to be important become less so and vice versa. My themes don't change too much from book to book (I think. Generally.) With GD I wanted to try and write a crime novel but it quickly became obvious that my inner writer didn't want to be tied to crime-writing conventions, so there was a battle of wills for a while there.
Q: Why do you choose to write young adult fiction? What is it about this genre that you love?I love writing young characters because I feel like they have more dreams and possibilities. I know this isn't actually true, but it's always a starting point. I also think a lot about what makes people the way they are, and my characters are kind of a study of humanity (on a very small scale). I don't think too much about the genre as I'm writing. Labels work when they work. But I do read a lot of YA and my favourite books could easily fit into this genre if you skewed the definition a tad.
Q: So, I see from your bio that among the many casual jobs you’ve worked in your life (portable animal farms among them?!) you also once worked in a record shop. Sky, the protagonist of ‘Girl, Defective’ works in her family record shop. How did you go drawing on your own record shop-girl experiences for this book – and have you had this story fermenting in your mind since your shop days?I have worked in lots of record shops - old fusty ones and shiny desperate ones - and I have always wanted to write a novel set in one. I love the reverence of vinyl fans and the humour and the strange combination of irritation and fondness you can have for the more challenging regular customer. My first proper job was at a second-hand record shop. I had dropped out of uni but have to say I got a better education at the shop than what the course would have offered me.
Q: You’re a Melburnian, and ‘Girl, Defective’ is set in St. Kilda (Sky’s record shop being on Blessington Street – one of the best named streets in Australia!). All Melbourne locals know that St. Kilda holds special affection and fascination (with a nefarious) history. When I first read the synopsis for ‘Girl, Defective’ and read about the St. Kilda setting – I was thrilled and totally got the appeal. But can you explain the appeal of St. Kilda for those who don’t know the area – explain why you wanted your story set in this suburb?I grew up in the outer east and St Kilda was always this mythical dreamland to me. It is a place that's already full of stories and I guess I wanted to add to the layers. It has a reputation of being a place of edges and art and criminal activity and because it has a transience, the mood is always shifting. It seems to me to be like a place where people come to rather than from ... It has a well-documented history (and I recommend the St Kilda Historical society's walks - they are fascinating) and I love all the metaphors of it beginning as a swamp, then becoming a rich person's playground, then falling into disrepair and then becoming gentrified. Back when I lived there I was in a duplex that had a Sai Baba devotee on one side and lunatic living in the shed out the back. PLus it's physically beautiful - the sea and the wide streets, the Spanish houses & the eerie canal!
I think the relationships in the book are a mirror of the important people in my life at the time of writing. I wanted to explore the themes of how families can stay together when they are so challenged, so at odds with their environment...Q: Family is quite a focus in this book – between Sky’s patriarch and her brother – the intense focus is beautifully summarised in the synopsis; ‘Family Rules’. So often in YA books, family units are pushed to the side and are non-existent or cardboard cutouts. In young adult literature it’s usually the friendship family that is the real heart. Why was family an important exploration for you in this book, and for Sky?
Q: What are you working on right now, and when can we expect it to hit shelves?I am writing a story about a Fitzroy witch. I have no deadline!
Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?Carson McCullers, Barry Gifford, Gavin Lambert.
Q: Favourite book(s)?The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers, Wild at Heart by Barry Gifford, The Slide Area by Gavin Lambert
Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?My best advice is stolen from Ben Okri's poem. he says 'Read the World' ...