Now this is one book I’m dying to read–Eleni Hale’s debut novel, Stone Girl. I don’t often place pre-orders but this was one I definitely wanted ASAP. Read on for my interview with Eleni Hale and you’ll find out why I’m so keen to read Stone Girl.
NLK: Are there many autobiographical elements in Stone Girl?
EH: Not autobiographical, exactly. During my teens I was a ward of the state and moved around the Victorian group home system. This experience inspired me to write Stone Girl but it’s definitely fiction. While I didn’t want to write my own story and risk hurting people I know, it was important for me to demonstrate what happens when you’re a child and you live a life with minimal adult guidance while navigating your own life trajectory in difficult circumstances. What choices do you make in order to survive? What is the process when a child transforms from innocent to the kind of teenager you need to be to get by in Australia’s group home system?
Stone Girl isn’t autobiographical but the act of writing it felt quite personal.
NLK: You have a background in journalism and corporate communication, is fiction writing a new venture or something you have been doing for a while? Can you tell us more?
EH: When I left university I knew I wanted to be a novelist but I was also aware it was a long-game ambition. Firstly, I didn’t know if I could even write a book. Secondly, there were bills to pay.
During my degree I had worked for channel nine part-time and knew I did not want to continue in television, so I decided to pursue print journalism.
This was an amazing and eye-opening experience that tamed the wild poet in me. I learnt minimalist language and structure while surrounded by some very talented and straight-talking professionals.
Then, I moved on to media and communication advice and strategy. This tightened my writing even further because I was ghost writing articles, opinion pieces and putting together media material. I always needed to keep the organisation’s ‘voice’.
Stone Girl was the project in the background, the writing job I did for ‘love’. Fiction is such a release. You skip out of reality and go to a place where you make all the rules, explore characters you find interesting and, most importantly for me, write what feels honest and true.
NLK: You write with your grandmother’s watch by your side, can you tell us why?
EH: My Yiayia’s watch is worthless in a monetary sense. The ‘gold’ is peeling in places, it’s sized to fit her tiny-teeny wrist and stopped working a long time ago at 3.14. But she gave it to me the last time I visited Greece before she died. In fact, she insisted I take it. And since she is the kindest person I’ve ever known it’s worth a lot to me. I always felt like I won the lottery to have a grandmother like her and now her watch is the lucky charm by my side when I write.
NLK: What’s the main message you hope your readers will take away from Stone Girl?
EH: I wanted people to look inside the head of a character they might not like in real life, someone they might fear or despise and locate not just their empathy but will them to succeed.
From the start what felt important was that the book should demonstrate how and why things can go wrong for some teenagers and that we shouldn’t give up or judge them harshly. People often become a product of their environment. I try to show this with Sophie’s transformation. She is doing what she has to do to survive and it’s not pretty or polite or likable but it’s real and it happens every day. She’s a survivor the only way she knows how to be. Sophie is exposed to a specific set of circumstances but her need to discover where she belongs, avoid danger and seek truth in the chaos is a universal struggle.
NLK: Can you tell us about your journey to publication for Stone Girl?
EH: I wrote four versions before I started the one that became the book. I won a few Varuna awards and an Express Media mentorship. After much struggle, when I felt the book was good enough, I reached out to Curtis Brown and Grace Heifetz took on Stone Girl. I had a few close calls but ultimate ‘nos’ before Penguin Teen Australia made an offer. What a day that was!
NLK: What can you tell us about your next writing project?
EH: I am nearing the end of the first draft on the second book, tentatively titled Sand Child. I try not to talk too much about my work in progress while I’m in the middle of it but it is definitely as edgy as Stone Girl. I can’t resist the dark.
About Eleni Hale
Eleni Hale was a reporter at the Herald Sun, a communications strategist for the union movement and has written for many print and online news publications. Her short story fig was published as part of the ABC’s In their branches project and she has received three Varuna awards. She lives in Melbourne, and is currently working on her second book. Stone Girl is her first novel.
Connect with Eleni Hale
Publisher’s Blurb for Stone Girl:
Compelling, involving and beautifully written, Stone Girl is the powerful and moving story of twelve-year-old Sophie, who becomes a ward of the state.
Pre-order Stone Girl