Vikki Wakefield Interview:
Questions asked by Poppy Nwosu.
You are the author of four beautiful Young Adult books, All I Ever Wanted, Friday Brown, Inbetween Days and your latest, Ballad for a Mad Girl.
There is a very haunting and unsettling quality to your beautiful writing style (of which I am a massive fan) and also in the striking sense of place you feature in all your stories. Your novels tend to show a side of the Australian experience we don’t so often see in YA literature, for instance, dying dead-end country towns, homeless teens or poverty stricken suburbs.
I don’t intentionally set out to explore class as an issue or theme—I just represent the lower classes in my stories. I wasn’t particularly conscious of a class divide when I was growing up; everyone around me had a similar standard of living and education, so I didn’t frequently stop to ponder the lack of anything, apart from those things necessary for acceptance and survival. Everyone was just getting on with it. Nor was I conscious it would be perceived that, when my books were published, I write about class. For a while, I thought, ‘Oh, yes, that’s what I do’, but now I tend to disagree. I’m not writing social commentary, seeking to educate or to foster discussion about class division—I’m simply writing about people I know. I’m not confident or imaginative enough to explore new worlds without the benefit of experience, so I stay in the world I understand.
Thank you! I pretty much write the way I think and speak: a combination of my vernacular, my preferences, and the influence of the books I read and the people in my life. I’ve come to accept that style is mostly innate, but you can bend it by adding some elements, eliminating others, and translating through character voice. And it evolves with every book. I think I bring an objectivity and lack of sentimentality about the subject to my work but, in terms of character and setting, I’m a bit of a romantic. I’m always looking for that fine line between beauty and ugliness—it’s possibly the contrasting ideas and imagery that many readers find unsettling.
I could probably apply this to every book I read. I don’t enjoy reading the last paragraph and feeling dead inside, or wondering why this character I’ve just spent hours, days or weeks with doesn’t have a life (literal or figurative) beyond the final page. Hope can be subtle. YA books need it because they’re for and about young people, and young people (of all people) should not feel dead inside when they turn the last page of a book.
Emily Gale’s I Am Out with Lanterns is the perfect combination of funny and moving—it’s told from multiple perspectives and each voice is pitch-perfect. I’m a sucker for stories about misfits and outsiders, and this one went straight to my favourites list.
I’m also rereading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I’m not usually a big fan of bleak books, but the characterisation is extraordinary and it’s breaking my heart all over again.
My younger self didn’t write, so I’d tell her to start. I will always regret not writing decades sooner—my second-biggest fear is that I’ll fall off my perch before I can make sense of all the stories I’m carrying around. On the other hand, I’d also tell her to take her time and wait until she has something real to say.
I’m editing ‘Youth’, told from a male perspective and set in the same suburb as All I Ever Wanted. In many ways Nate’s story is the flip-side to Mim’s—I wanted to explore some ideas I’d set aside when I wrote my first novel because they were in conflict with the heart of that story. I’m also writing another YA contemp which, against my better instincts, is turning out to be not-at-all-disguised memoir. (It’s the easiest thing I’ve ever written because the plot already exists. I probably will burn this one.)
Thanks so much for your time Vikki :)
For more interviews with YA authors, check out the past episodes of this series: