Puku features a weekly interview with of one of Southern Africa's very talented children's book authors, illustrators or storytellers in our new 'Puku Presents' series. This week we have psychologist by day, YA writer extraordinaire by night, Joanne Macgregor!
Why did you start writing?
I’ve always written bits and pieces, but I started writing books because I felt that too many of the books on our teen and tween shelves were imported from overseas, too many were fantasy-based, and way too many featured girls only as sidekicks, love interests, or victims in need of rescuing by male protagonists. None of these is bad in and of itself, but I wanted to write about strong, resourceful, intelligent heroines living, loving and making a difference in the “real” world.
What is the most difficult part of being a writer for young adults?
Coming up for air in the adult world? Finding time to write? Knowing the difference between “fat” and “phat”?
Seriously though, I love writing for young adults, so I don’t find it too hard, although I will admit that I get frustrated when I’m told that I can’t use too difficult a word, or that I’m not allowed to have any really expressive swearwords! I’m also not sure that literature for young readers is taken as seriously as adult fiction. It’s like you’re either a “writer” or a “children’s writer” in the same way as, in the bad old days, you were either a “doctor” or a “lady doctor”.
You've probably been asked about what advice you would give to aspiring writers. What advice would you not give to an aspiring author?
Here are my dirty dozen tips for how not to become a published author:
- Spend more time mucking about on the internet than writing.
- Write only when you have a spare moment.
- Write about what’s currently “hot” – vampires, zombies, wizards.
- Try to write just like that other author you so admire, rather than in your own voice.
- Procrastinate some more.
- Don't push yourself to finish what you started, you'll get to it one day.
- Don’t worry about learning more about improving your craft – you’re either a writer or you’re not.
- Don’t waste your time revising, rewriting or editing – your first draft is always your best.
- Don't read many books, especially not in the genre in which you want to write. After all, you're a writer, not a reader
- Have a thin skin and be the sort of person who lets rejection really get to them.
- Keep your book in a suitcase under your bed – better to have idealistic hopes than actual rejection slips!
- If at first you don’t succeed, try once or twice more and then give up. It’s obviously not meant to be.
We'll try to remember that the next time we're procrastinating on Facebook... You have a book for adults coming out in 2014. This may be like asking about which child is your favorite but which do you enjoy writing more: your children's books or your adult work? Why?
No question about it – I find writing for teens the most fun. There’s something about YA literature that is raw and powerful and immediate. Because of their stage of brain development, teens experience emotions very intensely, and our teen years are a time of firsts (first love, first heartbreak, first idealism, first cynicism) and a time of conflicting needs (the need to belong and to stand out, the need to be independent and the need to connect, the need to wage war on injustice and the need to sleep until noon!). It’s terrific to be able to write about these themes and emotions. As a reader, I prefer books which cut to the chase rather than those which meander about in fields of beautiful writing without much happening, and this is typically what YA books do. No wonder so many adults are fans of YA!
What are you working on next?
I’m currently revising a YA romance which is a modern-day retelling of my favourite fairy-tale, and I’m 22 000 words into a new manuscript – a YA dystopian novel. It’s a real challenge because I have to imagine how the world and its people will be different after a cataclysm. If you know my writing, it’s a fair guess that amazing young women will still find time for hot young men while saving humanity!
As one does! What was your favourite book as a child/teen?
When I was young, we didn’t have nearly the range of awesome books that are available now, so I cut my reading teeth on Enid Blyton, like almost everyone else. Although I was already an adult when I read them, my all-time favourite books for children and young adults were the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling. I initially resisted reading them because of all the hype (I’m stubborn that way), but when I did, I fell in love and became something of a Harry Potter expert. As a writer, I admire the craft, the characterisation and especially the ingenious, intricate plotting over the seven-book story. No fair that I didn’t get an invitation to Hogwarts!
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