Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Simmone Howell writes young adult fiction and occasional non-fiction. Her novel Notes from the Teenage Underground won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for YA and the inaugural Inky Teenage Choice Award. Everything Beautiful was a finalist in the Melbourne Prize for Best Writing, and her most recent book, Girl Defective, was shortlisted in the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Simmone’s non-fiction has been published in The Age and The Big Issue. She is currently working on her fourth novel and writing out her obsessions. She also teaches creative writing and mapping workshops.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
When I was growing up I wanted to be an artist. In year nine, I realised I could write. It was the year I read To Kill a Mockingbird and Lace. I was a serious teenage poet! After high school I went to study Professional Writing & Editing, but I was too scared to speak to people so I dropped out. In my twenties I tried again. This time Uni stuck. I was reading all the time then, the Beats and Carson McCullers, Douglas Coupland and Raymond Carver. I started a small press and then worked on getting my short stories published. I had an awareness of young adult fiction (I’d read Sonya Hartnett and Melina Marchetta and Jaclyn Moriarty) and I always wrote young characters, but I wasn’t always sure if I was writing YA. When Notes from the Teenage Underground sold at auction in the US in a two-book deal I figured I’d found my niche and I’ve been writing YA ever since.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My latest book is Girl Defective. It’s realistic YA 14+ about Sky, who lives above her family’s fledgling record shop. Mum has gone, Dad is a mess, and her little brother wears a pig snout mask. There’s a mystery and a romance, and lots of music. It’s set in St Kilda, and has themes of loneliness and alienation, delusion and glamour. But mostly it’s about family.
Girl Defective is available through Pan Macmillan in OZ/NZ and Simon & Schuster in the US.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
At the moment I’m working on a little table in my lounge room. It has a view of my next-door neighbour’s fence, and occasionally, my dog. I also have a little record player nearby so I can play some tunes (only instrumental – I can’t cope with other people’s words when I’m writing.) Sometimes I go to the local library to work, and seal myself into one of their booths and pretend I’m in a sci-fi film. Library days are the days when I get the most work done because I haven’t worked out how to connect the internet there, and I can book the room for three-hour blocks.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
On writing days I get up, go for a walk, get a coffee and sit down to write. I write during school hours. Sometimes I write at night after everyone’s gone to sleep, but only if I can sleep in the next day. I used to always be a night-writer; it’s my favourite time to write, but it doesn’t suit the rest of my life. (I spend a lot of time being annoyed about this instead of just accepting it.)
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I work on one project over years. I try and write fresh words every day, but this doesn’t always happen. I edit as I go and change things radically. I could read the original beginning to a finished novel and it’s like reading a whole other book. This is not the most efficient way of writing, but it’s what I do. I go back and forth a lot. I kill entire storylines and characters. I outline. I don’t outline. I draw maps. I change the tense. I despair. Somehow I get it done, but it always takes longer than I want it to. When I’m feeling discouraged it’s helpful to know that all writers have these down periods and it’s just part of it. I have a couple of writer friends who let me talk about what I’m doing to help me make sense of it. But other times I get secretive and jinxy about it and must wallow in my own writerly pain.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
Because it’s what I’ve always done. I often wish I had learned a useful and specific trade, like blacksmithing or horse-shoeing or piano-tuning. There is still time.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Art, movies, books, music, faces, stories, the mysteries of the universe.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
Waiting for it to all come together. Keeping the faith. Creeping doubt. Disappearing social skills.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC OR PROFESSIONAL VISION?
More books. Less angst.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
Carson McCullers, Joan Didion, A.S King, Mary Gaitskill, Jennifer Egan, Joyce Carol Oates, Tove Jansson, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jenny Valentine. Too-many-to-mention OzYA talents.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Thank you, Simmone Howell!
— Nicole Melanson
And thank you, Pip Harry, for recommending Martha! Read Pip’s WordMothers interview here
* Author photo by Tania Jovanovic
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