A few weeks ago (late to the party), I read Frankie by Australian author, Shivaun Plozza. I loved it. Seriously, I freaking loved it! I loved the book so much, I got in contact with Shivaun to ask her a few questions about writing and about that awesome book, Frankie. Here’s what the very lovely Shivaun had to say…
NLK: I loved Frankie. She was prickly but lovable. How did the character first emerge in your writing? Did she change at all during the writing of Frankie?
SP: I’ve always been about promoting strong and complex young women in my writing so I was utterly horrified when I read over the first draft of Frankie and discovered I had focused so much on the plot that I had forgotten to think about my main character – she was passive, bland and two-dimensional. So I spent a lot of time developing her, thinking about who she was, what motivated her, what made her tick, how I could make her strong and complex. I got so involved in developing her character that I ended up having to make significant changes to the plot to suit who she had become and this taught me a valuable lesson: that the plot and main character are inextricably linked.
NLK: How do you think having a background in editing helped you write Frankie?
SP: I studied Creative Writing at university up to a Masters level so I think I already had a certain level of editing skills from that but after completing training in editing and working in that area for a while I definitely gained a greater level of objectivity and a more in-depth knowledge of the craft of writing – what faults to look for and how to fix them. Ultimately, however, I think just the process of writing a novel – from inception to completion – is the number one thing that teaches you everything you need to know about writing. Writing is one of those things that you can study all you like but you won’t learn anything until you actually do it.
NLK: Did you set out to highlight societal issues with Frankie? What was your motivation for doing so?
SP: I wouldn’t like to say I did because it seems a bit conceited to think that anything I write is going to say something deep and meaningful about society (or maybe that’s just the self-effacing artist in me!). That said, I’ve read plenty of books that have taught me all sorts of lessons about life (and I’ve read plenty of books that have taught me nothing and I’ve loved them and I value them just as much – the ability to write a book that brings nothing but pleasure to a reader is priceless). So I did think deeply about who my characters were and what they represented, and I also wanted to explore the idea of media bias in missing persons cases, but ultimately I just wanted to write a good book that hopefully made people laugh and cry. Anything beyond that is a bonus.
NLK: How important do you think the setting is in Frankie? Do you think all stories benefit from a strong sense of place?
SP: Setting was vital for me – I treat my settings as a character. I think a strong sense of place in a novel has a lot to do with amplifying the characters, the themes, the atmosphere, etc. so much.
NLK: What takeaway lessons can readers learn from reading Frankie?
SP: There’s this awkward dichotomy in YA between reading for pleasure and reading for educational value (mostly with a focus on lessons in morality) but that’s a whole other, more nuanced conversation (and one I’m not sure I’m qualified to speak to). I just find myself wincing at the idea of ‘lessons’ my readers might learn because that makes me worry about being didactic and I have always found, as a reader, didacticism is a major turn-off. I guess the only thing I was consciously thinking about as I was writing was Frankie’s growth as a character. For me, it was about her discovering her self-agency and that she could strive for so much more than what the world was telling her she could.
NLK: What motivates you to write stories?
SP: I think it’s just how my brain is wired. I can’t help it–I’m always thinking up ideas. I see something or read something and I automatically file it away as possible inspiration for a story or a character. When I first started writing it was because I fell in love with a book–The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams–and I was obsessed with that world and the characters and I so very desperately wanted to go on adventures with Ford Perfect. So I started writing my own stories set in that world so that I could go on those adventures. And then I just thought, how amazing would that be? To be the kind of person capable of writing stories that people fall in love with to the point that it becomes part of them. I couldn’t think of a better ‘job’.
NLK: Can you please share something about your writing process?
SP: I think the two most important things I’ve learnt about the writing process is that ‘thinking time’ is invaluable (I usually let my ideas steep in my mind for about a year before I start writing anything) and that Hemingway was spot on when he said, ‘writing is not writing, it is re-writing’. The first draft is about getting the main idea down and then the hard work starts with the drafing process. I think emerging writers tend to place more focus on the first draft stage and do not devote enough time and energy into drafting, when actually drafting is the most important part.
NLK: What is your number one piece of advice for emerging writers?
SP: Determination is vital. You will get knocked down a lot–by rejections, by your own critical self, by friends and family who don’t understand what it takes to be a writer, etc. You need to be determined enough to follow through time and time again. Most writers take years–decades even–to catch a break. It’s all about persevering.
NLK: What book should all teens read today?
SP: I just hope they read and get enjoyment out of it! So much pleasure is taken out of reading when kids enter high school and reading becomes about analysis and essays and homework. I just wish we didn’t take the choice out of reading for teens–I think that’s what puts them off the most. So I don’t want to be another person saying, ‘oh, you have to read this or that’. Just read whatever makes you happy! Read for pleasure or read to learn about something that interests you. I would love to give teens more control over what they get to read and study in high school.
About Shivaun Plozza
Shivaun Plozza is an award-winning Children’s and YA writer. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Frankie, was a CBCA Notable Book, shortlisted for the Inky Awards, Highly Commended at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and won the YA category of the Davitt Awards. Her second novel, Tin Heart, was released in March 2018. Her short story ‘The Point’ is part of Where the Shoreline Used to Be, an anthology of YA fiction, and recently her footy-themed children’s story ‘The Challenge’ was part of Speccy-tacular: AFL Stories. Other short works have appeared in Above Water, Vivid and The Victorian Writer. When she’s not writing she works as an editor and manuscript assessor.
(Image courtesy of Shivaun Plozza)
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