I’m a kiwi, born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. I started writing full time almost 6 years ago after the birth of my 3rd child and before that I was a high school English teacher. For the last two and a half years we’ve lived in Nelson, a wee paradise at the top of the South Island of New Zealand.
Spark is my first novel, a YA sci-fi crossover with a pinch of thriller, romance and contemporary in the mix. It’s the first in a trilogy published by Walker Books Australia. Stray is scheduled for release in September this year and Shield in 2016.
Spark was your debut novel, describe the path to getting it published
The path to publication was a five and a half year education. I had no training, took no courses, told no one what I was doing because I felt like a fraud and I was embarrassed to say aloud what I was up to – it sounded too grandiose – plus I was afraid to be told I was doing it all wrong.
After I completed my first draft, I knew I needed help to make it better. I started looking for some professional feedback and had several assessments over two years and then a year of mentoring, working through Spark page by page. At the end of this time I was offered representation by my mentors Chris and Barbara Else of The TFS Literary Agency. Almost another year passed as it went to two publishers, during which I worked on the draft of the second book and then Walker Books Australia made my dreams come true. I spent several months working with an editor to cut the manuscript down to size and tighten things up and it was released in July last year.
For me the assessment and mentoring process was invaluable. Chris and Barbara have years of experience and wisdom and their insight and guidance helped me develop my skills and sharpen my instincts. Walker Books provided me with an outstanding editor, Nicola Robinson, whose keen eye drew the best from my work.
How did it feel to see all your hard work in print?
Surreal and wonderful but it’s such a long build up actually holding the book in my hands wasn’t the moment of euphoria. For me that heart pounding moment was getting the call from my agents that they wanted to represent me. It was a threshold crossing moment from dream to ‘potential’ reality. I can remember sitting with a notebook and pen, shaking, trying to write down everything Barbara and Chris were telling me so that I wouldn’t forget. I don’t think I wrote down anything vaguely coherent. Even the call from my agents about Walker wasn’t as huge as that because there were signs along the way to prepare me for the yes. However, visiting Walker Books in Sydney at the beginning of 2014 was a huge high point, getting to meet all the people who were working behind the scenes to make Spark a reality. It was incredibly humbling and eye-opening to see the level of investment and genuine excitement that they as publishers, editors, designers, marketing and sales teams felt about Spark. I don’t know how many times I said, “Wow, really? That’s amazing.”
The cover to Spark is amazing, did you have much input in its choice?
Isn’t it beautiful? I love the cover so much. Walker Books designer Amy Daoud is the genius behind it. She wrote a great blog about her creative process in coming up with the design, Something different, something dark. You should go and read it, she is ever so clever and funny and it includes great graphics of her early design ideas. My only input was to say that I wanted the cover to be more “kick-ass than kissy-kissy” I also sent Amy a playlist of the music I listened to while writing the manuscript, Muse, The Killers, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Cold Play, Foo Fighters, Jack White (solo albums) etc. She’s into a lot of this music herself so it was a great match. I love her!
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I think it was always in me to go down this path but I was probably a bit dim-witted about recognising it. I knew that I loved words, even from a very young age, the sound of an interesting or beautiful word would captivate my attention. You know the Golden Book about the lion with the thorn in his paw? All the animals make excuses not to help him (except the mouse). I vividly remember the page that says: ‘“Will no one remove the thorn?” called the ibis by the purple pool.’ I used to read it aloud over and over and roll all those beautiful vowels on my tongue. I remember my first lockable diary and being gripped in my chest by its potential and again when I was 8 years old and my parents gave me a little blue brother typewriter. I went through so many ribbons. I used to write plays and beg my brother to act them out with me. It would inevitably end in fighting and tears.
Over the years, I wrote scripts the most and found a great deal of joy in crafting dialogue. I also wrote a lot of cringe worthy poetry. Spark was my first attempt at writing a novel. I don’t think I tried earlier because I was afraid I lacked the inner fortitude to follow through. I thought I was too lazy or lacked discipline. I completely underestimated my obsessive compulsive personality.
Where do your ideas come from?
I had some things I knew for sure: I wanted to write YA fiction, I wanted my protagonist to be a teenage girl, I wanted to write in a high school setting and I wanted the story to have a fantastical element. I liked the idea of a sci-fi premise to provide that element, giving my character superhuman abilities but I didn’t have the BIG idea. I remember sitting on my bed one night and praying for an idea. I went to sleep and had the dream that became the prologue of Spark. I was running though a forest at night with incredible speed, strength and reflexes etc and then I was seized with a terrible sense of urgency. I knew there was someone out in the dark who was in dreadful danger and that I had to reach them first before someone else did – a killer. I woke up and took it on faith that that was my BIG idea. My brain had a party with it: Why/how was I so fast/strong etc? How did I know there was someone in trouble? Why was it my responsibility? Why was a killer after this person? Slowly the idea for genetic experimentation and the Affinity Project came into being.
You’ve just handed over your latest manuscript, can you give our readers a sneak peak into your next story?
Spark is almost a superhero origins story, establishing Evie’s ‘calling’ and her ‘task’, she wrestles with her destiny and having her life hijacked by the synthetic gene in her DNA. Stray is a moral dilemma story where Evie is torn between the people she loves, her ‘duty’ and her sense of ‘justice’. When she chooses to intervene to assist a Stray she goes against everything the Affinity Project stands for. It is a darker story that takes you inside the secret organisation behind the genetic experiment. Evie learns just how ruthless the Affinity Project can be.
How much time do you spend editing?
Most of it? I think the actual story writing is probably less than half the process. The rest is revising and editing. I love every part of it, the rush of the initial first draft which is a bit like a drug and then the micro details of crafting a decent sentence, creating a beautiful image, nailing a piece of dialogue. I do struggle with letting go.
What is your advice for writers just starting out?
I still feel so unqualified to answer a question like that because I have so much to learn. I guess obvious things like read a lot, especially in the area you’re writing in and then find great, trustworthy critique. I was obsessed with wanting to be good. I wanted to be good more than I wanted to be published and I really wanted to be published. So, I found people who would tell me the truth about my work and help me get better. I’m not sure I’m ever satisfied that my work is good enough. I guess that’s pretty normal.
What’s next for you?
Book 3 is next: ‘Shield’. Wish me luck!
One day she’s an ordinary seventeen year old, grieving for her mother. The next, she’s a Shield, the result of a decades-old experiment gone wrong, bound by DNA to defend her best friend from an unknown killer.
The threat could come at home, at school, anywhere. All Evie knows is that it will be a fight to the death.
And then there’s Jamie. Irresistible. Off-limits.
You can buy Spark at: