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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Interview with A.J. Betts, plus 'Zac and Mia' book giveaway!

I was lucky to receive an ARC of the 2012 Text Prize-winning book, Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts
As I (and many Aussie YA fans!) have come to expect; Zac and Mia was another triumph for the prestigious Prize, and it's another book I'll be passing on to many friends and family ... and you! Text has kindly offered one copy of Zac and Mia to give away, so do check out the competition details at the bottom of this post. 
And you can check out more interviews with A.J. Betts tomorrow and right up until August 1st, as she's doing a blog tour for the book - see a list of all her stops here.
In the mean time, I give you the author herself - A.J. Betts discussing 'sick lit', Perth talent and the OHMYGOD moment she won the Text Prize.

Q: How were you first published – agent or slush pile?  
I sent my first manuscript (ShutterSpeed) directly to Fremantle Press’s slush pile. Luckily, they took me on.

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?
Both. I spend a lot of time planning, brainstorming, graphing, scribbling, tabling, etc, but then when I'm writing, I allow the characters and story to take over, if they want to. I’m becoming more trusting in the process, and doing more of the plotting in my head (which sometimes means I’m not paying much attention to the real world…).

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Zac and Mia’, from first idea to final manuscript?
Almost four-and-a-half years. The idea formed in February of 2009. I worked on the manuscript until May, 2012, then with my publisher, Text, for another year. It’s released on July 24, 2013.

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?
My novels begin with a moment - a snapshot of someone, somewhere. It’s very sensory. This moment is the precursor to whatever happens next. I have a sense of the story which may unfold, but not many specifics. Character and narrative develop in the first few chapters, by which time I usually know the ending. Theme evolves somewhere along the way.

Q: First up: last year’s Text Prize winner was Perth-born Myke Bartlett. You are the 2012 winner, and you’re Perth-based … is there a YA author conspiracy we should know about? Something in the water, perhaps?
Sheer talent ;-)  It's great to know that Perth writers, although so far from the eastern coast, are being represented nationally. Myke has since moved to Melbourne, so I may need another WA Text winner to keep me company.

Q: At what point did you decide to enter ‘Zac and Mia’ in the prestigious Text Prize?
I decided fourteen months prior, in 2011. I was teaching a creative writing unit at Curtin University and was raving about the Text Prize to my students. They responded: Well if it’s that good, why don't you enter it? And the challenge was on! How could I not? The manuscript was already drafted then, but I knew it needed more work if it was to have a real shot. I'm glad I took that extra year.

Q: And on that note: what was running through your head when it was announced that you’d WON the Text Prize?
Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. I was shopping with my Mum in Cairns when I got the call. I sat in a flower bed and had a little cry. As soon as we got home, I jumped in the pool.

Q: You are a secondary school English teacher. I wonder if you were inspired by the kids you teach while writing ‘Zac and Mia’? – do you pick up on their dialogue and use fragments of their overheard conversations? Have any of your pupils read the book? If so, what was their reaction?
None of my students have read this book...yet. I prefer to keep the manuscript under wraps as I'm working on it. I hope they enjoy it when it’s released, and I hope they can identify with the characters, as they have with my previous novels. I definitely draw on teenagers’ dialogue, more so conversations I overhear, rather than from those teenagers I know. I love eavesdropping.

Q: ‘Zac and Mia’ is a sad, but hopeful story about hope, fear, love, friendship and cancer. Not too long ago there was a media outcry about ‘sicklit’ and the abundance of depressing stories in YA. What do you have to say to those people who think teenagers shouldn’t be reading such doom and gloom?
I think teenagers, like adults, can read what they want, when they want, how they want. I was reading a lot of fantasy - historical and comedic - when I was a teen. If they want doom and gloom, however, Zac and Mia probably isn't for them. It's not a book that will depress readers. Cancer is the catalyst that brings my characters together, but isn’t a main focus of the book. The book doesn’t have melodrama, but it does have heart.

Q: What’s the appeal in writing for young adults? 
I'm writing as younger versions of myself, which is liberating and fun. Also, I probably haven’t grown up a lot...

Q: What are you working on right now, and when can we expect it to hit shelves!?
Right now I'm having a timely break (I'm actually answering these questions while on a cycling tour of France) but I have begun work on a novel set 300 years in the future...near Tasmania. It won't see daylight for a few years, I expect!

Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?
Still my childhood obsessions: Roald Dahl, Robin Klein, Douglas Adams. 

Q: Favourite book(s)? 

Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?
Keep reading. Write every day. Write a journal. Remember: not everything is supposed to be published. Maybe 0.5% of my writing makes it to print. Publication is not the only goal. Travel. Live with a curious mind and an open heart. Be vulnerable, but fearless.

I have one copy of Zac and Mia to give away, kindly provided by Text Publishing.

How to enter:
☼ Become a follower of my blog (if you aren't already)

☼ Leave a comment on this blog post

☼ Include a way to contact you (e-mail addy is fine)

☼ One post per entrant

☼ This is a giveaway for AUSTRALIAN resident’s only!

☼ Contest closes August 15
I will announce the lucky winner on August 17

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