The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of Between Us
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Sydney, and grew up living with my Australian single mother. I saw my Vietnamese father regularly, probably around once a month. Living between two cultures definitely impacted on the stories I now like to tell; I always find myself interested in the people exploring the grey areas and living in the spaces between worlds.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a doctor, mostly because I thought it would make my dad proud. By eighteen I’d figured out that my parents’ only real wish for me was that I do something I love; I went to Charles Sturt University, inspired by Race Around the World, thinking I wanted to make documentaries. At thirty I’d just had my first child so all I think all wanted to be was not tired! But, more seriously, by thirty I had been writing television drama for almost ten years. I loved working in the industry but also had a strong desire to tell my own stories, which is what led me to write novels. The comparative freedom and creative control you get as an author still astounds me.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
This is going to sound bleak but at eighteen I thought the world was a just place, that if you were a good person then good things would happen to you. It was a pretty individualistic outlook – I don’t remember how that belief accounted for people experiencing things like wars, natural disasters, abuse or poverty. Now I believe that the world throws all sorts of situations at all kinds of people, and there isn’t necessarily justice or reason behind it. All anyone can do is try to cope the best they can, whilst hopefully living by their morals, not hurting others, and, where possible, using their experiences to affect positive change.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson influenced me hugely as a child. I was stunned by the deep connection I felt to the characters and the catharsis of reading something that made me cry. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta was the first book I read as a teenager that I really related to. I felt like I was seeing a version of my life on the page and it was hugely comforting to know I wasn’t alone in growing up between cultures. Tracy Chapman’s self-titled debut album came out when I was a kid and still affects me every time I hear it – I love the mix of her soulful voice, passionate lyrics and socially aware outlook. The album made me aware of the power of telling stories that otherwise go unheard or overlooked.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I felt like a novel was the best medium for this particular story. I wanted to explore the three perspectives of Jono, Ana and Kenny, in a fictional story whilst weaving in historical and personal detail about multiculturalism and immigration in Australia. That said, I always feel like my writing is a bit of a hybrid – I write and structure my novels as if the chapters are scenes in a television drama. After so many years of writing for television the habit is hard to break!
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Between Us is the story of a friendship developing between two very different teenagers, Ana and Jono. Ana is an Iranian asylum seeker who attends mainstream highschool during the day. Jono is a music-loving skater who has had a difficult time of things lately. He lives with his single Vietnamese father Kenny, who has recently started work as a guard at the detention centre where Ana lives. Kenny tells Ana to look out for Jono at school, but quickly comes to regret it, spiralling into suspicion and mistrust. The novel is written from each of these three characters’ perspectives and explores the themes of multiculturalism, belonging and connection.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope that readers experience empathy, and gain a new and intimate understanding of what life is like behind the barbed wire fence. I also hope it leads them to consider our country’s changing attitudes to, and treatment of, refugees and asylum seekers throughout history and ask the question: how could we do this better?
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I admire the brutal honesty of Hanya Yanagihara, the fun and joyfully creative descriptions of Rainbow Rowell, the rhythm and poetry of Omar Musa, the quirky originality of Jaclyn Moriarty, the concise beauty of Nayyirah Waheed, the observation and objective interrogation of Helen Garner, the wit and domestic themes of Jane Austen, the irreverence and humour of Roald Dahl… and so many more!
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My only real career goals are to keep on telling stories I believe in and to make a living doing creative work that excites me. That often feels ambitious enough to me – did you see the report that came out a few years ago saying Australian writers earn an average of $12,900 a year from their writing?
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Don’t wait for a good time to write. It’s never going to come. If you want to write just do it. Do it today. Do it tomorrow and the day after that. A lot of it is going to suck. The only way to get better is to keep going. I’d like to tell you it gets easier but it doesn’t really, there’s always something to learn or sit with or push through or overcome. Writing is a challenge that never ends.
Thank you for playing!
Is it possible for two very different teenagers to fall in love despite high barbed-wire fences and a political wilderness between them?
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...
About the Contributor
Tanaya has been a lover of books for as long as she can remember. Now, her book collection is a little out of control, mostly consisting of YA fiction and pretty hardcovers. When she’s not reading, she spends a lot of her time taking photos of books for her bookstagram account, @prettypagesblog. She also has a love of Disneyland, bullet journaling and cats.
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