I was lucky enough to get an early copy of Steph Bowe's new book All This Could End and I really, thoroughly enjoyed it! So, of course, I had many questions to ask the young (young!) author about her process, playlist and meeting Melina Marchetta!
Without further ado, I give you - Steph Bowe!
Q: How long did it take you to write ‘All This Could End’, from first idea to final manuscript?About two-and-a-half years! This one took a lot longer than my first, and I was working on it on and off (and also being distracted by various other ideas I had).
I have a general idea of the characters, a few different events, and usually the beginning and the end in mind before I start writing, but apart from that I don't do any planning at all. I like having the freedom to make it up as I go along and let the story evolve. I don't always end up where I think I will end up, but if I don't have a vague ending in mind, I end up going off on tangents because I'm not sure what I'm working towards.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?
Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall?It depends on the story! Sometimes I have a very clear idea of a character, other times I will just have the idea for the first scene. There are lots of tiny little ideas that all stew in my head for months and join up into a story before I start writing, so sometimes it's hard to say where it originally began.
Q: What’s your writing routine? How do you start your writing day?I don't really have one! I generally write in the evenings, and generally I'll read through what I've written most recently to get back into the flow of the novel. I've tried to get rid of all of my 'I have to do this before I can write' things - I used to have to have a cup of tea and a piece of toast and the right music or absolute silence and a specific hat on. But not really the hat. Now the writing routine is to sit down and write, no excuses.
Q: ‘All This Could End’ is about a bank-robbing family who actually conduct rather quaint old-school ‘holds-ups’, as opposed to cyber-crime. What sort of research did you do for the novel?I did a fair bit of reading (on the internet. I am ashamed) to figure out basic logistics and bank layout and where one might get a gun in this country. If the police ever check my google search history I am in trouble.
Q: You have one of the best opening-lines of any book: “Nina Pretty holds the gun to the boy’s head, her other arm around his neck. Her balaclava itches.” – do beginnings come easily for you? How many drafts did it take until you nailed that great opener?The first line of the novel is the first line I wrote! (And it was only slightly changed during edits.) Beginnings are the easiest for me! I write lots of beginnings that never end up turning into finished books. Coming up with interesting ways to start is easy, figuring outthe rest of the plot and keeping a reader interested for two-hundred pages or so is harder.
Q: Were you writing ‘All This Could End’ with a soundtrack in mind? Could you list some songs you were inspired by, or attached to certain scenes (nothing by ‘Swedish Lesbian Town’, please)I don't have any songs attached to particular scenes, but I can tell you which songs I was listening to a lot while writing:
re:Stacks - Bon Iver, but really the entire For Emma Forever Ago album
Golden Brown - The Stranglers
Boy Don't Cry - The Cure
A New England - Billy Bragg
From St Kilda To Kings Cross - Paul Kelly
Grand Canyon - The Magnetic Fields
Cold War - The Morning Benders
Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear
Ghosts Of York - As Tall As Lions
40 Day Dream - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
The Cold Acre - Augie March, but really also everything Augie March have ever recorded (usually best for wistful scenes)
Q: I feel like you really flip gender-stereotypes on their head. It’s encapsulated in the title of ‘Girl Saves Boy’, and in ‘All This Could End’ it’s Nina who is the gun-wielding bank robber, and her friend/hostage Spence is the shy-guy word-enthusiast. What do you find so appealing about these boy/girl dynamics? And are you writing them as an antidote to the gender-relationship stereotypes that tend to populate YA?I don't do it on purpose, but I think it's really sad how often the exact same gender roles come up in YA, and I don't feel like they're at all representative of what people are like in reality - the girls don't all have to be vulnerable and self-loathing, and the boys all self-assured and masculine and angry. It's quite odd. I like to write characters that are just individuals rather than genders, and I hope that people can find themselves in my stories. I identify a lot more with Spencer than with Nina, but people tend to assume I'm the female main character. I think when you write characters that conform to strict gender roles, it's just lazy. They lack depth. (I also hate the tendency for YA writers to make every character breathtakingly beautiful. People can be loveable for reasons other than beauty! Many, many reasons! But that's another thing entirely.)
Q: I love that you’re a YA author who reads and loves YA. So often you’ll read interviews with authors who say they don’t actually read other YA books, apart from their own. So, are you thrilled when you get to meet fellow YA authors? Who were you most excited to meet?Meeting other authors is amazing and surreal, especially when I've loved their novels for years! I was really terribly excited to meet lots of authors, but meeting Melina Marchetta (and then appearing on TV with her, John Marsden and Morris Gleitzman) was definitely a highlight.
I like stories set in the real world, or a world like ours. I do love other genres, but I'm so heavily inspired by contemporary YA that it made sense for me to write it myself. I think Australian YA novels tend to be less formulaic and really genuine, and I think that's what appeals to readers - there is a realness and lack of pretentiousness about them.Q: The Australian YA scene is quite revered around the world – and our contemporary novels are particularly popular. What draws you to writing in the contemporary/romance genre, and what is it about the Aussie young adult book scene that’s so appealing to international readers?
Q: I loved a recent blog you wrote, called ‘Why is it so hard to be a writer and read?’ in which you talk about the pitfalls of being a reading-writer. What are some books that you’ve read and wish you’d written yourself? Are there any books you’ve banned yourself from reading because afterwards you try to mimic that authors’ style?I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor just before writing the post, which I thought was pretty magical. I wish I could write like Cath Crowley or Melina Marchetta or John Green. When I'm really focusing on writing, I try not to read novels in my genre at all (sometimes I'll ban fiction entirely for a few weeks!) because it is so easy to get distracted and caught up in other stories.
Q: What are you currently working on – and when can readers expect it to hit shelves?It is too early-days for me to tell yet! I hate to jinx a story by talking about it too much. I promise I will be talking about the new novel all the time, as soon as I've finished it. (I will tell you it's another contemporary YA, though...)
Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?Write a lot, read a lot and don't let anyone discourage you! Enjoying writing is the most important thing, so don't worry about writing stories that are perfect when you first start out. If you do want to be published, know that it is absolutely possible!