A season for everything

It has been a tough year for many. When lockdown first hit Sydney in March I – like others, I’m sure – had visions of ‘making the best of it’ and ‘using the time to my advantage’. No more time spent commuting to work, few social engagements, all kids’ sport cancelled. I thought I’d stay fit by going bike riding with the kids and doing online yoga every day – these activities lost their shine quickly, then winter hit and it became harder to get out of our warm beds. I thought I’d make homeschooling super fun by doing things like online drawing and writing classes with my kids – I didn’t end up watching a single one. I thought I’d manage to find a little time each day to write something for myself – honestly, what was I thinking? I was stretched to my limit attempting to solo parent and homeschool three children whilst doing my full time job from home.

Amidst the insanity I did find a few pockets of time to write; those hours felt like home. I miss writing my own stories a lot but keep telling myself there is a season for everything…and whilst writing time is sparse on the ground right now hopefully the shift in seasons will bring growth and change…for all of us.

The little book that could

Between Us has started to feel like the little book that could. Since my last post it has been shortlisted for the PM’s Literary Award – I was unfortunately unable to attend the ceremony but my mum attended with Shokufeh Kavani, the Iranian writer and artist who worked as a consultant on the novel. It was a buzz to see photos of them in Canberra together.

Between Us was also selected to represent Australia on the 2020 IBBY Australia Honour List. This one came as a huge surprise to both me and my publisher, Black Inc; you don’t actually enter this award, they choose a novel to represent each country every two years. Needless to say I was floored and incredibly honoured even if it came completely out of the blue!

In August this little novel also won the CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers. I flew down to Melbourne for the ceremony. Here’s my speech, which sums up what it means to me to have Between Us win this award:

Growing up, it felt rare to find a novel that reflected my experience of living between parents, between cultures, between worlds. When I did find a rare gem that portrayed this tentative balancing act, I would read it over and over, soaking in the reassurance that lay beneath the words: you are not alone. 

In Between Us, I wanted to personalise the debate around multiculturalism and immigration, which is often simplistically defined as ‘white Australia’ verses boat people. In reality, modern day Australia is a nation of immigrants and many teenagers of mixed culture struggle to define what it means to be ‘from here’. Representation of this new diverse reality in literature, particularly youth literature, is vital.

In writing this novel, I had the honour of working with Shokufeh Kavani, a wonderful Iranian writer and artist. When I asked if she wanted to contribute to this speech, she said: 

I appreciate what Clare has done, writing a book in which one of the main characters is an Iranian girl. A girl from a country unknown and mostly badly portrayed by the western media. I hope the next generation of Australians have a different view about Iranian people, and that one day you will all visit Iran and see it for yourself. I am touched that Clare has not only pictured this country and its people in a beautiful way, but has put them in the centre of a love story, as love changes everything.

I’d like to say a special thankyou to asylum seeker advocate Natasha Blucher, the refugees, asylum seekers and workers who shared their stories, my editor Aviva Tuffield, publisher Black Inc, agent Elizabeth Troyeur, and the supportive and vibrant Australian YA community, including the other shortlisted and notable authors on this year’s amazing list.

To the young adults, teachers, librarians and booksellers, who make up and support the next generation of readers – thankyou. To the Australia Council and Arts NT – your funding helped make this possible.  

This novel was written over several years that were very challenging for me personally. Thankyou to my parents, Pip and Binh, and my children, Louis, Rosa and Nina, for their love and unwavering support.

And finally to the judges and the Children’s Book Council of Australia – there is no greater honour for me than winning this award, following in the footsteps of decades of writers whose works have given me comfort and inspiration, and helped me redefine what is possible for people growing up in the in between. 

 

 

Ay carumba!

It’s awards season and wonderfully, amazingly, thrillingly judges have been been very kind to Between Us!

It is such an honour to have been shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, longlisted for the 2019 Australian Book Industry Awards, shortlisted for the 2018 Readings Young Adult Book Prize, shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and – just today – shortlisted for the 2019 CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers.

It’s also a little overwhelming, to be honest. Particularly as I know how every writer, shortlisted or not, pours a ridiculous amount of their heart, soul, time and energy into their books. But for now I’m doing my best to just be grateful and say thankyou.

Thankyou so much to everyone who reads Between Us and supports it. I hope Jono, Ana and Kenny find a place in your hearts and spark conversation and change. And thankyou once again to my amazing consultants Shokufeh Kavani and Natasha Blucher, editor Aviva Tuffield and publisher Black Inc. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

It was an absolute buzz to attend the VPLAs last month – many thanks to Black Inc for flying me down to Melbourne for it. Writing a novel means so many years of solitary work, just you and your laptop, that it’s important to celebrate every win you can along the way. And I don’t just mean the literary award wins – I mean all of them. Finishing a complete first draft, handing in the manuscript to the publisher for the first time, getting the first bound copy in the mail…the list goes on!

The highlights of attending the VPLAs were hearing the overall winner Behrouz Boochani accept his award via What’sApp from Manus Island (don’t get me wrong – I’d rather have heard it from him in person, free and walking amongst us, everyone would’ve, but it was moving and incredible to hear his emotion at winning…just brilliant) and hanging out with other wonderful writers, including my fellow YA shortlister Erin Gough and the winners of the YA category Ezekiel and Ambelin Kwaymullina (all pictured below).

 

 

Between Us launch dates and locations

There will be launches for Between Us in Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne. I can barely believe the book is finally going to be out in the world. I hope you can come and join us. Here are the details.

Darwin 

Wednesday 7th February,  5pm for a 5.30pm start at The Bookshop, 1/30 Smith Street Mall, Darwin City. 

To be launched by Kevin Kadirgamar, NT Young Australian of the Year 2018 and Young Lawyer of the Year. Kevin specialises in migration and is the lawyer for Mojgan Shamsalipoor, a young Iranian woman seeking asylum in Australia.

Sydney 

Thursday 15th February at 6.30pm at Becher House, Asylum Seeker Centre, 43 Bedford St Newtown.

To be launched by Melina Marchetta, an author I hugely admire. Melina’s writing is one of the reasons I got into writing for young adults – I love the way she explores culture and class in her stories.

Please note that this is a ticketed event so if you are keen to come please buy a ticket here. The ticket price includes a signed copy of the book and the rest of the money goes to the Asylum Seeker Centre to support their great work.

Melbourne

Monday 19th February at 6.30pm at Readings Hawthorn, 701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn.

To be launched by Fiona Wood, an author whose writing I adore. Fiona has been an amazing support since Nona & Me came out and I’m thrilled to have her launching Between Us in Melbourne. This event is free, no booking required.

Hope to see you there!

Early reviews for Between Us

The first review for Between Us came out in Books + Publishing Magazine late last year. I was so thrilled to read it and see the reviewer had really gotten the story and themes I wrote the novel to explore. Plus they awarded it 4.5 stars! Got to be happy with that! Here it is here:

Another two reviews came out just recently from teen readers as part of Readings Teen Advisory Board. These reviews mean the world to me because they are from teenagers, the people who the book is written for, even though I of course hope adults will enjoy it too.  The first one in particular blew me away – I couldn’t have asked for a better response. Click here to have a read. 

 

FINALLY!!! Between Us!

Well, it’s only taken three years! I write that semi-jokingly, knowing that whilst some books are faster to write, others take far longer. To me, it has felt like forever since Nona came out. Nevertheless, the new book is finally here. It’s called Between Us and here is the blurb:

From the award-winning author of Nona & Me comes a stunning new novel about two teenagers separated by cultural differences, their parents’ expectations and twenty kilometres of barbed-wire fence.

Anahita is passionate, curious and determined. She is also an Iranian asylum seeker who is only allowed out of detention to attend school. On weekdays, during school hours, she can be a ‘regular Australian girl’.

Jono needs the distraction of an infatuation. In the past year his mum has walked out, he’s been dumped and his sister has moved away. Lost and depressed, Jono feels as if he’s been left behind with his Vietnamese single father, Kenny.

Kenny is struggling to work out the rules in his new job; he recently started work as a guard at the Wickham Point Detention Centre. He tells Anahita to look out for Jono at school, but quickly comes to regret this, spiraling into suspicion and mistrust. Who is this girl, really? What is her story? Is she a genuine refugee or a queue jumper? As Jono and Anahita grow closer, Kenny starts snooping behind the scenes…

And here’s the beautiful cover, inspired by Darwin’s stunning skies and wet season storms…

https://www.instagram.com/p/BYm03lBHftI/

In writing this novel I did a hell of a lot of research and also worked with a brilliant Iranian artist and writer as my cultural consultant – a big thanks to Shokufeh Kavani for sharing her knowledge and life experiences. And another huge thanks to Natasha Blucher, refugee advocate extraordinaire, who answered my endless questions tirelessly over the last three years! And there are many more thankyous, but I won’t list them all here – I’ll save them for the back of the book!

Between Us comes out February 2018, and is published by Black Inc…stay tuned for more updates!

Head down, bum up

I just wanted to post quickly to apologise for the long gaps between posts. I’m writing another novel and, unlike some other writers, I am not the best creative multitasker. If I’m working on a TV script, I stop work on everything else to focus on it. The same has happened with this book. One creative task at a time for me. I need to be able to immerse myself in the world, to think of all the connections, rammifications, emotions, practicalities and so on.

It’s the same reason that I’m not really present on social media or Twitter. I will unapologetically tell you that with three little kids and a book to write I just don’t have time. For me, it’s either compose tweets and Facebook updates or write a book, and I know which one I’ll choose every time.

I’m excited though. I can feel the threads of the new book slowly pulling together. It is such a long process. I wrote Nona & Me over two years, and this one looks to be taking around the same. But I am starting to feel like I can breathe again so I will try to post here a bit more regularly.

One exciting thing I have coming up is a writing workshop in Katherine this weekend being run by Courtney Collins. Her first novel, The Burial, came out a few years ago. It took out a bucketload of prizes, was published internationally and is now being made into a film! Funnily enough, she is now living in a remote Aboriginal community up this way, and this weekend she’ll be in Katherine to run this workshop. Lucky me! I can’t wait!

NT Book of the Year 2016!

With Johanna Bell at the NT Book of the Year Awards 2016

Thrilled to announce that Nona & Me is the joint winner of Territory Read 2016, the NT Book of the Year Award, along with Mary Anne Butler‘s fantastic play Highway of Lost Hearts. Got this snap with the wonderful Johanna Bell who, aside from being a great friend, author, and the creative producer of Spun, took out the NT Literary Awards Short Story category.

And to top off all that good news, I have a little Cinderella story for you. This evening, getting ready for the awards, I found all my shoes had fallen victim to the wet season. One pair had hints of mould, another looked scruffy, a third had elastic that had lost its stretch. Yes, I only have three pairs that are potentially worthy of wearing out – clearly not a shoes girl! I had Birkenstocks…but even in the NT surely Birkenstocks aren’t suitable awards attire…are they?

Then I remembered this pair of magical red shoes I had tucked away in the back of my cupboard. I call them my Laurie Halse Andersen shoes because she actually found them in an op shop when we were travelling around regional Victoria talking about our books to high school students as part of the Reading Matters Festival 2015. She found them, but they didn’t fit her…so she passed them on to me…and voila…they were a perfect fit. And now here I was, with no shoes to wear…and these luminous red heels suddenly reappeared in time to trot onto the stage and claim my award. Might have to rename them my lucky shoes! 

They even made a bookmark! I get a buzz out of seeing my son use it to mark the chapter books he has only just learned to read.

Cinderella style…

 

Sydney Writers Festival Western Sydney Roadshow

It has been a huge but fantastic week visiting libraries in Western Sydney and giving talks and writing workshops, along with Melissa Keil, Claire Zorn, Catherine Jinks and Tim Sinclair as part of the Sydney Writers Festival 2015 Roadshow. We’ve been to Blacktown, Parramatta, Cabramatta, Penrith and are finishing the week off tomorrow in Bankstown. So many wonderful students! So many eager writers!

Best high school student questions of the week:

– What time period is your novel set in – is it in the past or recent history? (By a boy who hadn’t read the book but was interested in how it fit with Aboriginal history)

– How do you feel about the fact that Aboriginal people in communities like the one you lived in live shorter lives, have worse health outcomes etc and people accept that as normal, whereas events like Paris get a lot of attention and coverage?

– What airline do you fly on to get to Yirrkala? (A pertinent question given the closure of the refinery in Nhulunbuy which has meant that Qantas no longer flies there!)

And my favourite scene that was written by a workshop attendee:

The students were given the scenario of creating a scene about a girl coming home after skipping school. Her dad knows she skipped – he got a call from the principal that day but wants to see if she’s going to confess before he busts her.

The students were asked to use subtext and the idea of ‘show don’t tell’. A group of Islander students said that if this were an Islander household the daughter would arrive home and the dad would have a row of implements laid out in front of him – a stick, a belt, a shoe etc. The scene went something like this:

Dad: How was school?

Girl: Okay.

Dad: What did you have today?

Girl: Oh just maths, english, you know, the usual…

At which point the Dad just starts beating her with whatever implement he picks up first.

Of course I don’t condone the violence but it is a fantastic, culturally-specific, realistic scene and I loved it for its honesty.

Over and out.

IMG_9059

Melissa Keil, me, Claire Zorn and Catherine Jinks.