Melina Marchetta herself was awesome enough to answer all these questions that we sent her! In a very awkward email where I had to restrain myself from swearing my undying loyalty and other things that I’m sure would’ve garnered me some sort of restraining order.
If you are even slightly interested in the books we’ve been talking about all week, I encourage you to read the following interview. Melina answered our questions with such honesty and detail. It was like a dream come true when this showed up in my email. I love how she shows herself to be just as big a fan of her characters as we are. And I can’t thank her enough for taking the time to answer our questions.
Also, at the end, I announce the winner of our Froi contest!
The questions (and answers) are about all of her books and characters so please beware of spoilers!
1. What’s the one book that you think every young adult should read, both of yours and in general.
In general? I can’t really say because it’s all about the context of the teenager. All too many times we choose what we think is best for younger readers and don’t take into consideration the culture of their lives. I could answer that question easier if you put me in a classroom of kids in a particular city or country or place. I’d love to think that To Kill A Mockingbird would be one of those novels because of the themes of intolerance and justice. I taught it once to a class of 14 year old boys who weren’t interested in books and I read them the scene when Atticus Finch deals with the rabid dog and you couldn’t hear a pin drop.
Mine? I think The Piper’s Son. I’ve read all too often that it’s not a novel for young adults because of the ages of the characters (Tom is 21 and his Aunt Georgie is 42). I really dislike the false idea that teenagers are just interested in stories about their age group and they won’t be able to handle anything beyond that. It’s a novel for both men and women, young and old.
2. You’ve said that Froi just wouldn’t get out of your head after you’d finished writing Finnikin. Which of your characters has stuck with you most since you finished telling us their story?
Strangely, Celie of the Flatlands from Finnikin of the Rock. Because I couldn’t find a place for her in the sequels except for the mention of what she’s been up to in Quintana of Charyn while living in the Belegonian court. I kept on trying to give her the part of a love interest (Froi, Lucian, Rafuel) but she didn’t work. I’ve since discovered that Celie is bigger than a love interest and she’s going to get her own short story. (See Question 5)
3. Some of your books have been about characters well past the high school age, and some about characters who, though young, were clearly adults in their world. What, for you, makes a book a young adult book?
The type of novels I enjoy, whether marketed as YA or general are those where the lives of adults and young people are entwined, and mostly where characterisation isn’t black and white. I do like a morally ambiguous character. Look at novels such as the Attolia series, which I’ve said again and again that I love. The characters do things that border on ‘there’s no turning back from here’. But a good writer knows what to do with such characters. That makes a great book for me.
4. All of your books have a wonderful message for the reader to take away at the end, but that message doesn’t overwhelm either the characters or the story. How do you keep the trauma and drama in these characters lives from overshadowing the characters themselves?
Thank you. It’s good to know that I don’t do that because my first inclination is always to go over the top with the ending and then I have to snip it back. I can’t stress enough the importance of re-writes. It’s in the re-writing that the magic happens for me and my work become succinct. My priority when writing is more about the characters than the plot. That’s why Finnikin of the Rock didn’t end with a battle scene. It ended with how the characters were coping months later. And what I also try to do with the contemporary novels is end them on ordinary events and days. For example, Francesca gets picked up from school at the end of her novel and Tom gets on a plane at the end of his.
5. Are there any plans for more books based in Lumatere at the moment, beyond Quintana of Charyn?
No, but I’ve been asked to write a short story for an online literary journal and I’ll be writing about Celie of the Flatlands playing detective in a murder mystery set in the Belegonian palace. Palaces are such fantastic settings and Celie is a good protagonist. I love mysteries and I love fantasy and I have a great love for female protagonists who are neither one dimensionally perfect or kick arse heroines. “Ordinary” people make fantastic detectives because no one notices that they’re around. It’s what makes them extraordinary. In Celie’s story, there’ll be a few references to what’s going on at the same time in Lumatere and Charyn, and her antagonist, the Constable at the palace, is already becoming a favourite character in my head.
6. Do you think you’ll come to the states any time next year? Maybe to promote Froi?
I’d love to. But that’s always up to my publishers or festivals organisers. I don’t think there’ll ever be a time in my life when I say no to travel with the double bonus of speaking about my work.
7. What’s the latest news on the Jellicoe Road movie front?
It’s moving forward but it’s such a slow process and everyone involved wants to get it so right. Films are frustrating because budget is involved. So it’s still early days.
8. Are there any other genres besides contemporary or fantasy that you’d like to write?
I love history and I love mystery so I’d love to combine both, but as always, I wait for the character to come calling and I take it from there.
9. Would you ever write a contemporary novel not set in Australia?
Definitely. I’m a bit in love with landscape at the moment. It came from researching the Lumatere chronicles and using landscape as another character. I saw a photo the other day of a salt lake and all I could think of was writing something set there. It’s what images do for me. But I think my contemporary characters will always have an Australian sentiment to them regardless of where I place them in the world. A writer I met and admire greatly is Geraldine Brooks who won the Pulitzer prize for her novel March. She spoke often about the research for her book Year of Wonders which was set around the 1666 plague in England. Geraldine’s an Australian living in the US and her first novel was set in England, but she spoke about giving her protagonist Australian traits despite where and when it was set. But wherever I set my work, I’d have to get to know that place well. It’s the beauty about writing my contemporary world of Alibrandi/Francesca/Piper’s Son in the inner-west of Sydney. I know that setting intimately. I know the psyche of the people who live there. It makes it easier to write and more rewarding for the reader.
10. Are you surprised by the number of adults that read your novels?
You know, I’ve been writing for twenty years and the readers of my first novel are now close to their forties. Also, every one of my novels are about different generations of the one family or kingdom so I’d love to think there’s something for everyone.
11. If you had to choose one of your contemporary characters to put into the stories of Skuldenore, who would choose and why?
Too funny. You’re making me think very hard and creatively with these questions. Hmm, I’ll go another way round for you first. I constantly imagine who Froi and Finnikin would be in the contemporary world. Are they skateboaders, surfers. Do they play soccer or basketball (Froi – Soccer/Finnikin – basketball). How low do they wear their pants?
But I suppose your question gives me a good chance to talk about the character of Sam in Jellicoe. He only gets a chapter or two and he will be absent from the film, but for me, that fourteen year old street kid who’s been forced to live such a sordid life is Froi. Froi was born from Sam. I never forgot Sam because he didn’t get the happy ending that everyone else almost gets. I couldn’t do that because the most realistic parts of Jellicoe are the Sydney scenes, and street kids don’t get saved every day. In a fantasy I can get away with a happier ending.
12. Can you tell us something about Jonah Griggs no one else (or at least, not too many people) knows?
Okay, firstly it will be a chore and a half to cast him. The actor will have to be between 18-21 and for me, he is a very very young Russell Crowe. Secondly, in The Piper’s Son, Ben the violinist (from OTJR) lives in Waterloo so I think he’s living with Jonah who tells Taylor in OTJR that he lives in Waterloo. Thirdly, Jonah’s had a few different names in the history of this novel. The first being Jasper (my dog) and then Sebastian Griggs. Fourthly, he appears in The Gorgon in the Gully which is about his little brother, Danny. Finally, he is similar to a hawke and a wolf and Will Trombal – He mates for life.
13. I have this…desperate desire to read a young adult book starring one Danny Griggs (as a teenager). Is this a possibility or I am destined to never know how he grows up?
I’ve never had to write a character without using sarcasm. It was hard. He is such an innocent in the world and I can’t bear the idea of him getting facial hair and hormones. My nephews want me to write another Danny Griggs book so I’m hoping that will happen next year, but he’ll still be in fourth or fifth grade. I named him for my nephew Daniel in the same way that I named Francesca’s brother, Luca after my nephew who was born the year I started writing Saving Francesca. They love that their names are in my novels and in the dedications. I remember when I was launching Finnikin, Daniel stood next to me at the signing table and told me that a lot of people wanted me to sign “our book’. I love the way I did all the work and he got the attention. Perhaps Danny Griggs will grow with them.
Once again, thank you SO MUCH to Melina Marchetta, for answering all of our questions and affecting our lives in such profound ways.
And now, without further ado, the winner of Froi of the Exiles is:
Woot! Expect an email from us sometime today about this. But right now, it’s 1am, and I’m going to sleep! Congrats!