This week we discuss the narratives we tell about how our books came to be. Kate worries that she made up a story of ‘accidentally stumbling’ into publication and talks about what she’s doing differently this time around. Katherine is coming to a fast realisation how quickly the story gets ahead of you and she’s feeling a little odd about her photoshoot at a sewage treatment plant. It’s a chat that goes deep, and we’d love you to get in touch and let us know the story YOU told as your book came out, and how it differed from reality.
Then Kate speaks with writer Penni Russon.
Penni Russon grew up in Tasmania and now lives amid the trees on the outskirts of Melbourne. The author of eight books, Penni has also been an editor, and now teaches at the University of Melbourne while completing her PhD exploring the application of comics in online therapy for young people.
We begin our discussion with Penni’s memories of her first publication day – for Undine in 2004 – and how, coming close on the heels of her first baby, she felt an identity split between her writer-self and mother-self.
Her latest book is The Endsister, published in 2018 by Allen & Unwin and Penni says the biggest difference this time around is that she knew there was a readership waiting for her new book.
It was with her 2011 YA novel Only Ever Always that Penni really experienced award success – the novel being named Winner, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Ethel Turner Prize 2012; Winner, WA Premier’s Book Awards, Young Adult 2012 & Winner of the Aurealis Award for Young Adult 201, along with a Commendation in the CBCA Book of the Year, Older Readers 2012.
She says it never occurred to her that her first book would get any awards, whereas now she’s ‘all too aware of it’. In years when she’s not up for awards, she’ll make commentary and contribute to the conversation about shortlists on social media, but she prefers radio silence in the years she could be in the running.
Penni discusses how and why she writes for Middle Grade and Young Adult readerships. ‘Being a mother and being a teenager is not that different’, she says describing these as periods of time when change and lack of control dominate.
At different points in the interview Penni talks about what she learnt when she was a ‘baby editor’ at Allen & Unwin and also what she continues to learn from teaching creative writing, which she says ‘sustains her and keeps her humble.’
Penni thinks as writers ‘we’re all, always emerging’ and shares the advice she gives to her writing students including to foster optimism and manage expectations. In the same manner as Toni Jordan in her interview , Penni reckons that if she can be a writer, anyone can (which, ahem, we don’t think is necessarily true, you are both rather singular in our eyes!).
Penni thinks the writing community is the best thing about being a writer and she describes her friendship with writer, Kate Constable, born from a moment of bravery at a Centre for Youth Literature event.
Her advice to Katherine: anything you’re feeling, someone else has felt before. Be kind to yourself and have faith in the book you’re putting out there.