A very happy release day to Myke Bartlett, whose Text Prize winning novel, 'Fire in the Sea' is available as of today! I strongly suggest you rush out and buy a copy!The book is another incredible and welcome addition to the Aussie YA scene - set in Perth and delving into all things mythological and mysterious. And I was so happy when Myke Bartlett let me pick his brain about the novel ... not least of all because he let slip that a sequel is in the works!Without further ado, I give you - Myke Bartlett!
Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Fire in the Sea’, from first idea to final manuscript?
The central idea arrived way back in 2008, I think, on the short walk from work to the tram stop. I probably scrawled a few notes on the back of some old paper and stuck it to my noticeboard, where most ideas go to fester. I didn’t actually start writing it until 2010. It actually came together remarkably quickly. Certainly, it helped that I was writing the book with the full intention of winning the Text Prize. I knew it had to be finished by May 2011, which it was. Just.
Q: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ - that is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?
Both. I start off with a ten or twelve point outline. From there it becomes about joining the dots. I’ll write more elaborate outlines, usually in notebooks or across scrap paper, working out details and jotting down dialogue. I actually thought I’d planned out ‘Fire in the Sea’ very meticulously, until I found my outline a few days ago and realised it bears almost no resemblance to the final story. Once a book gets underway, it takes on a life of its own and becomes something you hadn’t quite planned. As it should. I never stop having new ideas about things to change. Even now, with it in print.
Q: Did you start writing with a conscious decision to make ‘Fire in the Sea’ young adult, or did that evolve naturally? Do you write with an audience in mind?
I’d had a US agent suggest I try writing Young Adult fiction, but I hadn’t really read much at the time. It wasn’t until I read Phillip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series that I became excited about it as a genre or category or whatever we’re calling it. Those books showed me how intelligent, how sophisticated and how exciting YA could be. Around the same time, someone gave me a flyer for the Text Prize, which was what made me start writing. So I definitely had a clear idea of the audience I was writing for, which was really helpful. But, at the same time, I was writing a book I wanted to read. Specifically, I was writing a book that I would have wanted to read as a teenager, growing up in Perth.
Q: Something I loved about ‘Fire in the Sea’ was the Perth setting. In your Text bio, it says:“Myke Bartlett was born in Perth, and spent his first twenty years trying to escape.” – which I suspected, from Sadie’s very authentic & claustrophobic feelings about the city. I’m curious to know when your own feelings towards Perth turned – to the point that you decided to base ‘Fire in the Sea’ there?
My feelings about Perth probably turned as soon as I left it. It’s obviously a place I feel very passionate about, but one with which I have a somewhat conflicted relationship. I grew up in Cottesloe, which is still one of my favourite places on the planet. Most of the best times of my life have been spent there. I’m so grateful for having grown up there. But I think it’s natural to get restless in paradise. You start longing for a bit of dirt and grime. You start longing for adventure. Now that I’ve settled elsewhere, I long for the place. I’ll be back there in September and I can’t wait.
Q: I really loved the many and varied supernatural creatures in this novel, not to mention the mentions of myth interspersed with history. There’s certainly a lot going on here. How did you pick and choose your paranormal inspirations? And were you personally interested in all these paranormal aspects before writing ‘Fire in the Sea’, or did you start researching when you decided on the large fantastical plot?
I did minimal research. I read a couple of books I thought Sadie might have read, including Herodotus’s Histories, which is incredible stuff. But all that mythological stuff came from childhood obsessions. I’ve always been into spooky things. I probably looked a few things up but I was wary about that, because I wanted to use things as I remembered them, rather than getting tied down to the facts. Myths are someone else’s take on particular stories and I really wanted to do my own.
Q: I loved your protagonist, Sadie Miller. She’s a really ballsy heroine, and the sort of girl that I’m glad for young adults to read. Did you read YA books before you wrote ‘Fire in the Sea’? And did you build Sadie’s characteristics from what you did/didn’t like in YA books, particularly concerning female heroines?
I hadn’t read a great deal of YA fiction, actually. It’s pretty much all I read now! That said, I absolutely wrote Sadie as a response to the protagonist in Twilight, who I saw as being far too passive and flimsy. I want to read stories about real people, even if the circumstances are fantastical. The girls and women I grew up with were — and are — strong, capable and independent human beings. Sadie is longing for adventure, but she isn’t sitting around waiting to be rescued.
Q: Really tough question now – if ‘Fire in the Sea’ was to be adapted into a movie or TV show, which actors would you cast?
When I’m working on something, I always have a number of picture references for characters. For Sadie, I was thinking of Emma Stone, Emily Blunt and Emma Booth. Basically anyone called Em. But all of them are probably too old to play her. I quite like the idea of an up-and-coming Perth actor taking the role. Oh, what the hell, let’s go with Emma Stone. As for Jake… I really have no idea. His points of reference were James Dean, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman. Sadly, I don’t think any of them will be available.
Q: You’re also a journalist – writing about politics, movies, pop culture and rock music. You also write quite a few film and music reviews. I’m interested to know what it’s like to now have the shoe on the other foot – with your work being under review?
It’s absolutely terrifying. When I first held a copy of Fire In The Sea I felt briefly elated, and then fell into a mild panic. Obviously, reviewing is intensely subjective. As a reviewer myself, I like to think that I can take a more objective approach — judging a work on its own merits, rather than my own preferences. But I know the power of a glib remark and how hard it is to resist one. I also know how a reviewer’s whims can briskly toss aside something an artist has spent years working on. That said, I love reading reviews. Particularly the good ones. I know there will be bad ones and, yes, they’ll probably stick at the front of my brain for longer than the good ones, but I’m really happy with the book. The right people will like it. Everyone else is just missing out.
Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?
I honestly can’t do lists. I was asked to appear on a film review podcast at the end of last year and made a mess of their end-of-year wrap by refusing to do a top five. They were very patient, but I won’t be asked back. Some authors that I love: Raymond Chandler, Phillip Pullman, David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami. Other writers who have left their mark on me are TV writers Jimmy McGovern and Russell T Davies.
Q: Favourite book(s)?
Aargh, same again! I’ve read dozens and dozens of YA books over the last year, but the best of the bunch has been Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series. I also loved Leanne Hall’s This Is Shyness. Although I did resent the fact that I hadn’t written it.
Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?
Write. Read. Read and write. Actually, the one question I hear most at author talks is ‘where do you find the time?’ You don’t find the time, you make it. If you really want to be a writer, then you’re probably already making the time. And you’re probably feeling guilty you’re not spending more time outside, or with your friends, or with your family. I still get excited when I’ve got a few hours alone with my work. Who needs a social life? Oh, but you should definitely get a dog. Because your best ideas will probably arrive as soon as you leave the keyboard for a few minutes and a dog won’t want to distract you with conversation.
Q: What are you working on now, and when can we get our hands on it?
I have a couple of things underway. One is, predictably, the sequel to Fire in the Sea. I’d love for that to be out next year, but these things take time. I’ve also been working on a time-travel adventure story for boys, but that’s having to take a back seat for now.