Australian author Fiona Wood speaks to Hypable about her newest novel Wildlife (companion to Six Impossible Things), the importance of discussing gender divides within Young Adult fiction, and what is next for her.
At the Reading Matters conference in Melbourne, Australia, Fiona Wood spoke eloquently and passionately about the critical issue of marketing when discussing gender and YA fiction – so of course we had to know more.
Wood’s most recent novel, Wildlife, was published in June 2013 and is a companion to her beloved novel Six Impossible Things. Earlier this year, Wildlife was longlisted for the Gold Inky Award in Australia, an award that is narrowed down and voted for by Australian teenagers.
Exclusive interview: Fiona Wood
Tell us 5 interesting facts about yourself
1. I’m left handed and have double-jointed thumbs.
2. I did Fine Arts majors at university.
3. I was suspended from school twice.
4. If I didn’t live in Melbourne, I’d live in New York.
5. I’m allergic to rabbits.
Tell us about your journey to become a writer
When I had babies I started writing some freelance journalism (back in those days newspapers like The Age were well-staffed and they commissioned lots of freelance work).
I wanted to do some longer form writing so when my younger child started school, I studied screenwriting at RMIT in Melbourne and wrote TV scripts for many years.
I wrote my first novel, Six Impossible Things, a few years ago, have just had my second novel, Wildlife, published and now I’m working on Cloudwish, a third novel.
You spoke at the Reading Matters conference in Melbourne about the importance of marketing in breaking down gender divides in YA readership. Can you expand on this?
Stories don’t have a gender. And in theory at least boys and girls are interested in each other’s lives and stories. But frequently books by women are marketed in a way that screams planet-girl; once something appears overtly ‘feminine’ it seems to follow it will be rejected by boy readers.
By contrast, throughout our education, and throughout our lives, girls and women have always been and are still expected to engage readily with the mostly male western literary canon.
Author Maureen Johnson initiated the terrific Coverflip challenge recently in which she invited people to re-imagine how book covers and marketing might differ had the books been written by an opposite gender author. It throws such clear light onto the strongly gendered nature of so many book covers, and much of the time that’s a pretty artificial segregation.
In her post Maureen Johnson says, “As a lover of books and someone who supports readers and writers of both sexes, I would love a world in which books are freed from some of these constraints.” I couldn’t agree more. I recommend the blog post ‘Stories are Genderless’ by author Foz Meadows, which also contains links to further articles on the subject.
Given that this is such an important issue, why do you think there is such a reluctance to discuss it?
I think it is discussed but publishers, like anyone trying to sell a product, are looking for clear signposts that a consumer can recognise and identify with. So the problem goes back way beyond the publishing industry to our socialising of boys and girls and our constructions of masculinity and femininity.
Gender handles are a pervasive and an ‘easy’ way to segment the market. (Pink for girls, blue for boys etc.) So when it comes to cover design, there is a tendency to have as one of the primary questions: is it a girls’ book, or a boys’ book?
If that habit can be resisted, and the primary question can be something more like, what is the core/essence of this story? Perhaps we’ll start seeing a greater proportion of covers with broader appeal. Though having said that I think that some publishers, including my publisher Pan Macmillan, are already asking the right questions.
‘Six Impossible Things’ was such a beloved story for many readers. Were you ever worried about how they would respond to ‘Wildlife’?
Funnily enough it was actually quite comforting knowing that there were some readers out there who already knew my work and might like to read some more.
Why did you decide to continue Lou’s story in ‘Wildlife’?
I enjoyed Fred and Lou as characters in Six Impossible Things, but they had very little time on the page, and I was interested in spending some more time with one of them.
When I was working on Sibylla’s story I realised that she really needed a friend like Lou, so I wrote a story for Lou that meant she had a reason to be at the new school, and her own challenges to confront during the term in the wilderness.
You are also a screenwriter. How is your approach different when writing a novel and when writing a screenplay?
I like both forms of writing. The main difference is that with TV I’m working on other people’s shows, writing to a brief, and commissioned to write single episodes on a variety of projects, whereas writing a novel is entirely my own project, so I have complete creative freedom and that makes it a more challenging and a more satisfying experience.
What do you find easiest to write, the first or the last line of a novel?
Both hard! And I spend a lot of time – as I’m sure all writers do – trying to make sure the beginning and the end of the book are just right. Inviting the reader into the story, and then rounding off the time spent with the characters in a satisfying way are both really important.
It’s a promise and a farewell. Both these areas get a lot of thought and many drafts from me.
What is next for you?
I am very lucky to have a book deal in the U.S. for three books, so it means I’m already busy writing the next book, Cloudwish. It takes two very minor characters from Wildlife and puts them centre stage. It’s set back at the city campus at the beginning of year eleven.
The other project I’m very excited about is co-writing a YA book with Cath Crowely and Simmone Howell.
More about ‘Wildlife’:
Life? It’s simple: be true to yourself.
The tricky part is finding out exactly who you are…
In the holidays before the dreaded term at Crowthorne Grammar’s outdoor education camp two things out of the ordinary happened.
A picture of me was plastered all over a twenty-metre billboard.
And I kissed Ben Capaldi.
Boarding for a term in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sibylla expects the gruesome outdoor education program – but friendship complications, and love that goes wrong? They’re extra-curricula.
Enter Lou from Six Impossible Things – the reluctant new girl for this term in the great outdoors. Fragile behind an implacable mask, she is grieving a death that occurred almost a year ago. Despite herself, Lou becomes intrigued by the unfolding drama between her housemates Sibylla and Holly, and has to decide whether to end her self-imposed detachment and join the fray.
And as Sibylla confronts a tangle of betrayal, she needs to renegotiate everything she thought she knew about surviving in the wild.