KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Interviews

Leanne Hall: “You can tell a story in so many different ways”

by Jo Case , August 9, 2010Leave a comment

Melbourne bookseller Leanne Hall won last year’s Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing for her beguiling debut novel, This is Shyness. KYD associate editor Jo Case spoke to her on the eve of the book’s publication – about the book, the tenuous boundary between adult and young adult writing, the business of being a teenager, and her writing process.

J: Leanne, your writing in both your short stories and books is often realist in style but also has those fantasy elements which veer into the eerie. I wonder what it is about that kind of writing style that attracts you?

L: I don’t think it attracts me – I think it’s just the way I write. If I try to write straight stories, those other elements just creep in and I almost don’t identify them as being unusual or magical or slightly odd elements. To me they’re just in there, and it’s only when people read it that I realise that there are other strange things in there – and I’m like, but that’s not strange at all. It’s just there.

Honestly, when I do write my stories, I feel like I’m writing something really real. I feel like it’s just reality that I’m representing – which of course it isn’t. I don’t know what that says about my brain or what my everyday life is like.

J: Yeah, in everyday life you just walk into another suburb and it’s all dark.

L: It says a lot about me, doesn’t it? Like, that’s just normal, that’s how I experience the world.

J: No, I think it says something about your storytelling style. You’ve obviously written both adult and YA stories. Do you have a preference? And when you sit down and write, do you know which it’s going to be? Or does it just come out that way?

L: I think it comes out that way. I guess all my short stories have been adult in nature, but that just says a lot about the venues for short story publication in Australia. There’s very few anthologies or magazines or journals that will take stories that have a children’s or YA audience, so your only outlet are things for adults, so that’s what I write. But really it’s a matter of what you call it or how your present it. I mean, some teenagers could read some of my short stories, and that could seem like a story for them, but it’s just in a publication that adults are reading.

J: With This Is Shyness as well, if you put a different cover on it and marketed it a different way, then I think adult readers could be looking at it.

L: Yeah. I see it all the time in the bookshop, in my forays into the adult shelves – there are so many books that have teenage protagonists. It’s a really artificial distinction as to what’s YA and what’s adult, and it is just a marketing decision that’s made at some point.

J: Yeah, absolutely. And with this book, when you sat down, were you aware that you were writing a YA book or were you setting out to do that?

L: I was always aware that it was a YA book. Not only because of the age of the characters, but because I’m describing a wild and unforgettable night. Those nights only really happen for the first time when you’re in your teens. I wanted to write about one of those really, really crazy magical nights – and how you never forget that kind of situation.

J: And was that kind of the impetus for the book, writing about that kind of night?

L: The impetus was the characters’ names – I came across the characters’ names and I decided that they were really intriguing. And then I had to think about what kind of place those characters with those names would inhabit, and I came up with the Suburb of Darkness idea. I mean, really, that lends itself to a crazy night, doesn’t it?

J: Absolutely.

L: And also that nice, really distilled experience – really explosive – let’s just throw them in together and only give them 12 hours for all this stuff to happen and just make it be a crazy kind of explosion.

J: In many ways I thought this was a very innocent book, with all the adventure elements, and riding bikes, and being mugged for sweets, and finding the secret underground tunnels and all of that – it’s like a kind of an escape back into childhood.

L: I thought it was pretty funny to set a couple of maybe quite urban streetwise teenagers on a quest – on a quite old-fashioned quest for an object. To me that was the biggest joke, was to send these really quite cool teenagers on a quest for an object, which is such a dorky childhood thing.

J: And that object, it was a lighter – so it wasn’t about the object at all.

L: Yeah. And I also think they’re both obviously seeking an escape. The reason why they both have such an amazing night is, they just really want something different for themselves for a couple of hours. They kind of step out of their ordinary life, and meet somebody who doesn’t know who they are, be a different person for one night.

I did think a lot about the ideas of childhood and teenage years and adulthood, and innocence and the boundaries between them. Because the kids are so feral and they’re both living like children living a little like adults on their own.

J: It’s also kind of interesting that Wolfboy and Wildgirl seem to find a release in that reversion to acting like children, and that by the end, they’ve both decided or realised that they have to move on from their problems. It’s almost like by reverting to their childhood selves they’re able to move forward into their adult selves.

L: I guess I did think like that. In particular with the bike-riding. If you don’t ride your bike past a certain age, then you finally get on bikes again, and you’re a little bit bad at it … It feels weird to be an older teenager on a bike, when you’re supposed to be cool. But then it is so much fun, they can’t resist it. That bit was overt.

And I do remember that age when you’re supposed to stop playing with dolls, you’re supposed to stop play-acting. As a girl, maybe if you’ve been a tomboy or a rough-and-tumble girl you’re not supposed to play footy with the boys anymore on the oval at lunchtime. You know, like, you’re doing great things but in Year Seven all of a sudden you’re not allowed to play footy with the boys because it’s kind of not what girls do.

J: Is that you?

L: Yeah, I reckon. I went to an all girls’ high school, so it wasn’t that obvious. Though I do remember being devastated when I could sense that it wasn’t really that cool to have dolls or soft toys and to talk to them and dance with them. It’s like, Wow, I really have to give this up, I’m in high school now.

J: I remember that too! It’s awful. Where in Year Eight or something you’re still playing Barbies.

L: Yeah, I still wanted to right up until Year Eight or Year Nine if I’d had my way. I would still have been playing with dolls, but unfortunately it wasn’t that cool.

J: Maybe it’s the storytelling thing.

L: Yeah, yeah, you know it probably is, I think that is. That was definitely it because it was all about making up narratives involving these characters that just happened to be your toys.

J: Were you conscious of fitting in, when you were at school?

L: Oh yeah, yeah. I think everyone …

J: Everyone is, to some extent.

L: Yeah. I think teenage girls especially want to. Looks-wise, and clothes-wise, and taste-wise. They just really desperately want to fit in, to be the same as everyone else. It flips at uni – you want to be different from everyone else, an individual.

J: But in the same way as everyone else –

L: In the same way, yeah. But in high school you just desperately want to fit in.

J: One thing I also thought was really interesting is the juxtaposition of Wolfboy’s circumstances – which are quite heavy, serious experiences – and Wildgirl’s, which is that specific horror of that incident at school which seems really small, but for a teenage girl, is the end of the world.

L: Oh, it is the end of the world. I will never go back to school ever again. Everyone’s had that incident at high school – I can’t remember what mine is, but there’s always something where everyone turns against you some day, or you have your dress tucked into your undies and you have to go up on stage at assembly and receive a prize or something – some incident. And you really have that feeling of – That’s it for me, I’m not going back. I can’t face those people ever, I just don’t want to exist, and I’m going to move to a different city and have a different name and no one will know who I am.

J: Absolutely.

L: Which you know is of course a complete overreaction.

J: But it will be so real, too – and this is a dramatisation, of that moment, isn’t it?

L: But that stuff does happen in high schools. I’ve got a friend who’s a school counsellor and she’s had that exact situation – you know of the mobile phone picture getting out of hand and being passed around. Teenage girls are mean – they are mean cows. And we were mean cows, if I think back to some of the things that we did at high school. They will wage psychological warfare, and they will do it very creatively and effectively.

J: The innocence that I was talking about with the childhood – it’s kind of old-fashioned in the way that there’s that great chemistry between the characters, but it’s very chaste. Is that something you thought about?

L: It isn’t that I was trying to write chaste, I just felt there was so much tension between them, and they were so mistrustful of each other, and they desperately wanted to connect but at the same time couldn’t let go of their mistrust and insecurity, so they were kind of coming together and pulling apart. So I thought that it had to be delayed. I like the fact that they lust from a distance – I think that’s a great thing for characters to do, to want it but not get it.

I think it’s important for people to know that even if that hot boy at school is not jumping on you, they’re still thinking about it, even as you’re thinking about it. It’s good for you to think about it. Everyone’s thinking about it.

J: How do you think your work as a bookseller has fed into your writing, or how you think about your book?

L: I think it’s about exposure to lots and lots of books – I almost exclusively read YA, two or three books per week. I read absolutely ravenously and it’s part of my job. And I think reading so much is really great grounding as a writer. But none of that stuff creeps in too much, because you tell the story you have to tell. You really don’t want to think too much about anything business-related or market-related, that would be stupid. It would lead to a soulless kind of book and experience.

J: It’s more on that subconscious level, knowing or being in touch with what’s out there.

L: Yeah. You grow to know what’s good and bad writing, through wide reading, and you get exposed to a wide amount of writing. You know what’s possible and what’s not. I think part of being a writer for me is kind of knowing what’s possible. You can tell a story in so many different ways. I’m only just starting to learn about all the different ways that you can tell a story, and there are billions, and it’s so interesting to read other peoples’ ways of telling stories, and feel like you can play around with it a little bit yourself, and I’m still so just learning, like I have no idea of what I’m doing.

This is an edited version of an interview originally conducted for Readings. Leanne Hall’s short story, ‘A Terror Story’, is published in Issue Two of Kill Your Darlings. This is Shyness will be launched in Melbourne on Thursday 12 August at Readings Carlton.




lead_960

James Tierney

I Call The Shots: The provocation of violent women

In a Western culture increasingly stripped of its old taboos, violent acts by women – real and imagined – still possess the genuine power to shock. Cultural representations of violent women can both affirm and react against the kind of pernicious questioning that posits women as fundamentally, and fatally, reactive. Read more »

9781925106510

Oliver Mol

July First Book Club: Read an excerpt from Oliver Mol’s Lion Attack!

At the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club event in July, Oliver Mol will discuss his debut memoir, Lion Attack!. Read an extract from this funny, energetic and original coming-of-age story, which interweaves stories from Oliver’s childhood in Texas and his young adulthood in Melbourne in a narrative that is part romance, part … Read more »

9781743318539

Danielle Binks

#LoveOzYA

Lest we forget that before John Green, Australia had John Marsden, prior to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter we had Isobelle Carmody’s Elspeth Gordie, and we embraced Melina Marchetta as the voice of a generation long before Sarah Dessen. Read more »

17177200132_2383e88c36_k

Rebecca Shaw

Rage Against the Marriage: The inanity of same sex marriage debate in Australia

I am someone who is completely comfortable in my sexuality, and who classifies myself as the genus Lesbionisos. I am 100% certain that I am not abnormal, an abomination, or in any way inferior to heterosexual people. Sometimes I even secretly think non-heterosexuals might be superior. But I haven’t always been this assured. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

2691149967_01b38304f3_b

Rebecca Shaw

Fuck Yeah: Swearing like a lady

I had been trying to pinpoint exactly why the HBO television show Veep brings me such joy. Yes, it is a very funny, very well-written show with a great cast, but that didn’t quite go far enough in explaining the immense enjoyment it gives me. The eureuka moment finally struck when I stumbled over a compilation video of the best insults from the show. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

3ab01d05-2590-4aa4-80f4-45fab0eccec4-2060x1236

Anwen Crawford

Heart of Darkness: UnREAL‘s ruthless reality

Everlasting, the show-within-a-show at the dark centre of new American television series UnREAL, is a fantasy blend of champagne cocktails, pool parties and true love. Everlasting is a Bachelor-style game show in which a dozen immaculately groomed women compete for a handsome millionaire husband, and its relationship to real life is, like any ‘reality’ show, non-existent. Nothing goes to air on Everlasting that has not been scripted, staged, and edited for maximum controversy. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

2015GISELLE_Artists of The Australian Ballet. PhotoJeffBusby

Jane Howard

The Beautiful and the Dated: Australian Ballet’s Giselle

The weight of history sits heavily on the Australian Ballet’s Giselle. One of the most enduringly popular ballets from the romantic period, there is much to delight in its presence on stage and its lasting lineage. But 175 years after its debut, in a production that premiered 30 years ago, the sheen of Giselle has been dulled. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »

Orlando #2 - THE RABBLE

Jane Howard

This Is a Story of Artistic Excellence

This is a story of the first four plays I saw at Malthouse Theatre. It’s a story that can only continue as long as support for independent artists continues; it’s a story that can only keep growing as long as support for independent artists grows. It’s a story of where artistic excellence comes from, and how we get to see it on our main stages. Read more »