Deb Fitzpatrick will be my Stories on Stage guest at Koorliny Arts Centre in August.
She lives and works in Fremantle, WA, has a Master of Arts (Creative Writing) from UWA and occasionally teaches professional writing and editing at Curtin University. Deb is the author of The Amazing Spencer Gray, a novel for younger readers (2013). Her two novels for young adults – 90 Packets of Instant Noodles (2010) and Have You Seen Ally Queen? (2011) – were both awarded Notable Books by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. The Break is her first book for adult readers. For more information, visit her website.
Monique: Of your five published novels, you have a mix of markets, from younger readers to adults. Which market has the strongest pull for you?
Deb: That’s a really interesting question, and I can’t answer it simply. The children’s market (middle readers) is gorgeous because of the fun I can have on the page and then when I meet them in real life, in classrooms or libraries. It’s a gorgeous age group and I have lots of fun with them – they say hilarious things and serious things and I often have to restrain the urge to cuddle them (or huggle them, as my daughter says).
The teenagers I love in a more serious way: I see and feel their emotional vulnerability and their intellectual capability. I love talking with these students and connecting with them on different levels, whether it’s about a favourite book or about alternative ways to approach life.
Writing for adults is deeply fulfilling at the creative and intellectual level and I will always be drawn to it for that. It pushes me, and I like to be pushed, even if I avoid it at every turn!
Monique: Is it difficult to write for different age groups or are some writers naturally versatile in that way?
Deb: I revel in the mix, and really credit my publishers at Fremantle Press for encouraging me to write for a variety of ages, as I know not all writers enjoy such freedom. I love that just as I’m finishing a YA novel, I can switch my thinking to writing for younger children, and then switch gears again after that and turn to a book for adults. It’s the ultimate boredom-buster! It ensures my writing doesn’t get stale, nor do I become complacent.
Monique: What are some of the differences between writing for adults, young adults and children?
Deb: I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference other than ensuring the use of appropriate themes and language when writing for younger audiences. I think you can get away with a slightly slower pace when you write for adults, though you do have to be very careful not to overdo it.
Monique: Your most recent book, At My Door, is aimed at younger readers. What do you particularly like about writing for children? How do you grab their attention?
Deb: I love to go back to my own childhood and bring to life some of the shenanigans I got up to with my brother. In At my door the sibling characters Poppy and Harry have a homemade intercom system they use to communicate between their bedrooms – my older brother also set up a make-it-yourself intercom for us when we were kids and it was sensational! Even when we were in trouble and had been sent to our rooms we could still talk!!
Monique: I understand you’re working on another book for adults (The Break was released in 2014). Can you tell me a bit about this book?
Deb: I’m procrastinating hideously about it. I have a fantastic idea and have written about 6000 words towards it, and have done a lot of research, but it’s scaring me a little. Ultimately, I think this is good: when a book I’m writing feels too hard for me, then I’m forced to step up, which means I’m not only challenging myself but hopefully also my readers. Every book I’ve ever written has felt ‘too hard’ at one point of another, so I’m getting used to dealing with this in a way. I’m a bit superstitious about talking about books while I’m writing them, so I’d rather not say too much more about it if that’s okay.
Monique: How important is setting and landscape in your writing?
Deb: Enormously important, because landscapes have been incredibly powerful for me in life. Places – landscapes and houses in which I’ve lived – have a lasting impact on me, and directly affect how I feel about the world around me, and my place in it.
Monique: You can often be found running workshops at schools. What do you enjoy most about doing this?
Deb: Kids and teenagers! I love their honesty and vulnerability. They are often funny, or sad, and everywhere in between. They are on the cusp of the rest of their lives – this makes me feel at times like I might be able to offer something revelationary.
Monique: What are some of the interesting things you’ve learnt while researching?
Deb: Too numerous to mention!
Monique: Describe yourself as a writer in three words.
Deb: Tortured. Lucky. Slow.
Monique: Can you take us through a “typical” writing day?
Deb: Wake up. Excitement, positivity, make kids’ lunches, visualises self sitting at computer, get the kids to school, head to studio, divert briefly for a coffee, open computer and download emails. Stop. Begin daily bribing, e.g.: You can have another coffee once you’ve written 500 words. Start writing. Can’t stop. Notice I’ve written 800 words and loved most of it. Feel brilliant and excellent. Go to local café for a long black with cream on the side and a salted caramel slice. Consume. Begin self-loathing. Return to studio. Close writing file, noting word count achieved that day. Check emails. Repeat until 3pm. Collect kids from school. Make dinner. Watch TV. Check emails intermittently. Sleep.
Monique: How do you start a novel?
Deb: With difficulty. The starting is by far the hardest bit for me. Actually, the whole first half is a version of torture.
Monique: What do you do when you’re having doubts about your writing? What happens when you get stuck?
Deb: I fret, and hate myself, and tell myself I’m crap. Then I go for a walk and usually, somewhere along the way, once I lift my head and see the sky and maybe a bird, a mother and son walking their dog, I figure out what I can do next in my book.
Monique: What has writing taught you about resilience?
Deb: A great deal. I have a large pile of rejection letters. I have given up. And then I have begun again. Put the ego to one side and get on with the task of writing. This can be applied to anything, I reckon. For example in sport: Put the ego aside and get on with the game.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Deb: Procrastinating in order to not write. This happens often.
Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?
Deb: That it’s always a pleasure.
Monique: Which book are you reading now?
Deb: The Golden Age by Joan London.
Monique: Which authors/books do you admire the most?
Deb: Tim Winton, Joan London, Helen Garner, Robert Drewe, Don Watson, Robyn Davidson, Walt Whitman, Ali Cobby Eckermann.
Monique: Which “must-read” book have you not read?
Deb: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. My husband’s favourite book. Shame on me, shame!