Girl, you’ll be a woman soon: female authors, teenage girls, and a lot of chat.

 

The countdown to the Bendigo Writer’s Festival 2014 has begun. In just under four weeks the three day event kicks off the showcase of more than 50 sessions and 100 writers.

I’m so very excited to be hosting THE BEST event of the weekend, GIRL YOU’LL BE A WOMAN SOON. Little bit biased? Perhaps, but I am genuinely pleased to be involved in an event that focuses on three female writers speaking about female teenage characters in the context of coming of age. How often does this happen?

The three books are a whole lot more than this theme, and the three characters that we’ll be focusing on are so very different to one another, but at the same time all fit with the theme of girls exploring their world and coming up against it.

Nicole Hayes’ character Shelley, from her book The Whole of My World quietly seeps into your consciousness.  A Melbourne suburbs scenario, AFL footballers with egos, the mud and innocence of the early eighties, and life changing circumstances that happen to teenage girls going about normal life. Hayes has held off from throwing Shelley completely under the bus, and I think that’s what makes The Whole of My World relatable. It’s a sweet and real story that lives with you long after you leave it.


Kirsten Krauth’s Layla of her novel just_a_girl is a layered, unpredictable character. The sense you get as a reader that you just don’t know how far Layla will go, and how heart wrenching the situations she gets in will be, strikes to the hearts of mothers of teenage girls; the reader is kept in fright mode.  Krauth’s description of JAG as edgy is spot on in both her style and the subjects. I’ve written a long form review of JAG’s complex qualities which will be out soon-will post details here on the blog.

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Jenny Valentish’s character Nina from her novel Cherry Bomb lives in a book that is lush and witty and delicious. The writing is fun and laugh out loud, and sometimes gasping, so much so that you have to stop and think about the subject matter that runs the whole range of emotions from hilarious to so achingly sad. Nina, an in-your-face rock chick, is everything teenage girls want to be, and everything mothers of teenage girls fear the most.

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These characters, Shelley, Layla, and Nina have become real people to me in my close reading of them, and I’m genuinely excited to chat with their creators at the Bendigo Writers Festival. Saturday 10.00 AM sharp. Be there, it’s going to be so so good.

 

Author Kirsten Krauth sings for Johnny Depp (in her dreams).

 

 

 

 

Okay Kirsten! Hard questions first if you dare! Lychees or Peaches?

 

I love them both: the shape of them in my mouth. But I’d have to go for lychees. As a child I loved them in a tin. But discovering them out of the syrup and peeling them by hand is summer.

 

If you were written about in a newspaper, what would the headline say?

 

Wild Colonial Girl Goes on a Rampage: Prime Minister Kidnapped, Whereabouts Unknown

 

 

Hate to think what you’ll do with him? Make him do the ironing? What is your favourite line from a book or movie?

 

“A family’s like a gun. You point it in the wrong direction and you’re going to kill somebody.” – Trust (Hal Hartley)
Which genre do you usually write in? And why do you think this is so?

 

The more I think about it, the less I like to define my writing. I like blurry boundaries. In the case of my first novel, just_a_girl, I see it as a mash up of literary fiction, YA, gritty realism, techy speak, experimental, grungy, comedy, strange romance and magic realism. Does that help?

 

 

I know just_a_girl well Kirsten, and I think that’s a very apt description. Tell me a secret about yourself that nobody in the whole world knows? Go on tell me, nobody but me is listening.

 

It’s so cold in Castlemaine that I often fall asleep in bed, fully clothed, with my finger in the page of a book and the lamp on. I don’t like getting changed as the winter chills me to the bone. Then, when I fall asleep under a doona, two waffle weaves and an alpaca rug, I gradually strip off as I get too hot, but I never remember this part, and by morning I’m usually somehow in my PJs!

 

 

What was your latest book about?

 

just_a_girl is a novel about being isolated and searching for a sense of connection, faith, friendship and healing, and explores what it’s like to grow up negotiating the digital world of facebook, webcams, internet porn, mobile phones and cyberbullying – a world where the line between public and private is increasingly being eroded. It’s about the relationship between a 14 year old girl and her single mother as they negotiate this digital and suburban landscape.

 

 

How did you come up with the title? Did it come to fistycuffs with your editor?

 

The book was inspired by the No Doubt song, ‘just a girl’: ‘I’m just a girl living in captivity’ and Layla uses just_a_girl as her avatar online. I felt like the title just_a_girl was catchy and contemporary, and fully embraced what it is to be a girl and woman living in Western culture today. The title was never questioned along the way. I think the underscores make it distinctive.

 

When you daydream about singing on The Voice (I know you do) what song do you sing and if you could have any celebrity judge in the world turn for you who would it be?

How did you know that I’m a Voice tragic? It is the only show I watch on TV live as it unfolds (except for Offspring). I am rather fond of Ricky Martin (can anyone be so goddamn perfect?). But I’d sing some breathy mysterious number (Sarah Blasko’s All Coming Back) and it would be for Johnny Depp to turn  (he can sing, can’t he?).

 

 

What do you really, really, really, love?

 

Having a bath (or a spa), champagne, going to the movies, my kids laughing together, dancing, disco, Lorrie Moore: preferably all on one day.
Serious stuff now: where can we purchase your latest book?

 

Head to my website (www.kirstenkrauth.com) to find out more about me and just_a_girl.

 

See you in Bendigo, Julie!
Will do Kirsten! And thank you for taking on Lychees or Peaches!

 

If you would like to know more about Kirsten, she can also be found on the following social media.

Twitter: @KirstenKrauth

Facebook

Blog: Wild Colonial Girl

Author website

Goodreads

Pinterest
 

 

Fuckadoodle! It’s just_a_girl ! Interview with debut author Kirsten Krauth

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When the opportunity arose to chat with Castlemaine author Kirsten Krauth about her unique debut book just_a_girl, I jumped at the chance. The novel is bursting with themes of loneliness, sexuality and relationships in a modern world, and we had a lot of fun exploring and unpicking those themes and it was great to get some insight into the evolution of the book. I hope you enjoy it too.

1                    Just-a-girl is an intriguing novel written in a non-traditional format, with a mix of diary, and third person. Is the final book as you had initially planned, or did these formats evolve over many drafts?

The mix is pretty much the same as when I started writing, but the draft I sent to the publishers was different in some ways to the final book. Layla is pretty much the same, with her choppy and cut-off sentences. But Margot’s sections were originally written in the form of a prayer, each one starting ‘Dear Lord’. If you look at those entries there is a rhythm to them that intones, as if she is speaking to someone. It still works, but more as a stream of consciousness. Tadashi was always in third person and past tense, because I thought you needed a character who offered a chance for pause, a bit of respite after the two very strong and direct female voices. He is also quite removed and I thought that style suited him.

2                    The characters in just_a_girl are believable and well-drawn; you’ve been able to get into each of these character’s heads to portray them in a realistic way, but all three characters are very different to each other. How, as a writer, did you prepare yourself to get inside your characters heads?

The strong voice of each character emerges first and if I like that voice, I run with it. Using certain stylistic phrases helped me get into the psychology pretty early-on and quickly. For instance, Layla’s character has virtually no commas or run-on sentences; whereas Margot’s character has a comma whenever she pauses, and her sentences can go on for pages! Simply saying one of Layla’s made-up words (‘fuckadoodle’) would make me laugh and I’d find the mood of the piece. Placing characters in a particular location, with a particular emotion, helps dramatically. I find it easy to empathise with a character, and I get to an emotional place where the language stems from where they are (whether it’s on the train or on a rollercoaster).

3                   As you mentioned earlier, the sentences in Layla’s diary are often cut up, short and stuttery and ignore normal punctuation rules in a way that might do an editor’s head in. Can you talk a bit about conversations with editors and readers you have had while working on just-a-girl about writing it in this style? 

That’s a beauty of a question! I didn’t really see it as a diary but as an insight into how Layla’s mind works. As an editor, I was aware of the difficulties of this kind of writing. It runs the risk of turning readers off very quickly. But as a writer, I wanted the style to completely reflect where Layla’s head was at. At the beginning of the book she describes her thoughts as being like a ‘grasshopper’s spring’ and it was more crucial for the writing to reflect that, than to be grammatically correct. With texts, messaging, and other forms of writing these days, the rules of grammar are being relaxed, and I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing. My editor did query the style and encouraged me to run on some of the sentences. But I stayed pretty firm on it as I wanted the character to be distinguished by her strange use of language. I’m lucky that nearly all of my readers have had the resilience to push through and run with it. I love books like Trainspotting and A Clockwork Orange that play with language and style.

And  what lead you to the decision to have Margot’s character italicized?

I see Margot as a character who is unravelling. Her anti-depressants have been keeping her together (but numb) and now, having gone off them, she’s starting to spiral. It’s like she’s trying to convince herself (not convincingly) that everything is okay. The long sentences in italics give a hint that she is not coping, but also that she is immensely lonely. Her long rants (to herself) are a way of venting when she doesn’t have someone else to connect with. And this juxtaposition of styles points to the lack of communication between Margot and Layla, too. I’m very sensitive to the way looks on the page, how text is arranged. We experimented in final drafts with doing Margot’s chapters in roman text, but I couldn’t do it, because the italics had become an integral part of her characterisation.

4                    Margot and Layla are mother and daughter, but your third character, Tadashi, comes out of left field, and although he connects with Layla in the story, he has a very separate story line. In her review of just_a_girl, Angela Meyer draws a connection between the three characters and says of Tadashi,

…there’s a disturbing metaphor of objectification in his story, which echoes some of the actions of male characters in the story threads of Layla and Margot. He has literally replaced a flesh-and-blood woman with a doll who keeps quiet and is available whenever he needs her. She is pretty and poses the way he wants her to. There are parallels with the sex video that Layla makes for Mr C, an older man, and in her relations with her 18-year-old boyfriend, and also in the harassment she suffers—and never reports—from her boss.

What do you see as the connection between the three characters, or what drew you to connect Tadashi to Margot and Layla within the novel?

I see all characters as not-quite connecting, either with each other or the world around them. I liked the idea of Tadashi being a commuter on the same train as Layla, appearing and disappearing, almost as if Layla summons him when she needs him, but with a fragility that never quite extends to friendship. All the characters project their fantasies of what ‘real life’ and an ‘ideal relationship’ should look like onto others. In Margot and Layla, it’s their shared Mr C. Tadashi imagines love and nurturing in the only space he feels comfortable – and takes this ideal to an extreme. In general, I like leaving the threads of narrative untangled so the reader can weave them together how they like. It’s one of the reasons that I love Murakami’s novels (who is a big influence on this book) because he’s not interested in tying all those threads together. All the characters are also exploring sex and power, the way they are cast (aside) sexually, who they can trust, how others’ look at and respond to their bodies, to what extent all of this can be controlled. Angela’s interpretation is terrific as I think it’s about posing: how they present to the world versus how they really feel, and what happens when they are truly exposed.

5                    Leading on from this idea of sexual identity and objectification, in her review of just-a-girl, titled, Are Teenage Girls Just Like That? , Elizabeth Lhuede delves into the portrayal of sexually precocious young teenage girls in literature, and the written compared to actual motivations of girls’ behaviour, whether it‘s born out of early sexual abuse, suffering that shaped the parents who raise them, the invasiveness of the internet, or perhaps simply ‘teenage girls are just like that’. Is this something you explored and constructed in just-a-girl? Or did you write the book as it came to without delving into those themes?

The idea of sexually precocious (or physically precocious) teens came out of my direct experience. I was an early developer, like Layla. I found this intensely challenging, as my body was garnering unwanted attention in public (from older men rather than boys), before I had any emotional or intellectual capacity to deal with it. I wanted to explore this divide. My experience did not come out of sexual abuse, so that’s a realm I didn’t research, but was very moved by Elizabeth’s analysis.  I thought it was an area that hadn’t been explored much in fiction. As with Layla, though, by the time I was fifteen all the other girls had caught up, so it was a very particular timeframe. If you read closely, though, Layla is actually quite naive and inexperienced when it comes to her sexuality, but she masks it by talking about sex a lot, and putting herself in dangerous situations where she has to confront things head on.

6                    Lastly, I hit my elbow in the shower the other day, and instead of my usual expletive I blurted out that word of Layla’s that you mentioned earlier, Fuckadoodle! I’m thinking you’ve started a new catch, what do you think!?

LOL, we are in sync! As I mentioned earlier, I just had to say that word to myself, and I was off in Layla-land. My dad has developed a whole string of profanities that go along after it in a poetic way; quite hilarious. It does make reading in public hard though, if there are any kids around! Feel free to move it along. I love Kath n Kim and J’amie and all those characters who make up their own words. That latest one, ‘quiche’, just absolutely cracks me up.

Thanks Kirsten!

You can read my mini review of just_a_girl here. Kirsten can be found at her blog, Wild Colonial Girl , and on twitter @WldColonialGirl . There is also a great interview over on ANZ Lit Lovers  called Meet the Author, with Lisa Hill and Kirsten.

Just_a_girl is published by UWA Publishing, 2013. I read the E-book.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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The Australian Women Writer’s Challenge has begun its third year. Going in to this year I’m pledging the Stella Level – to read four books by Australian Women. See here for details on the Aus Women Writers website. The number of books is a token measure to keep me on track, my list of books by Australian Women that I plan to read is fluid, and will grow as the year tootles by.

I’m beginning the year with the following list, and I’ll be interested to see how it changes and grows over the year.

Just_A_Girl by Kirsten Krauth. ✔ Interview with Kirsten   mini review

Midnight Blue and Endlessly Tall by Jane Jervis-Read. ✔ Review.

brb: be right back, by Maree Dawes ✔ mini review

Hostile Takeover, by Claire Corbett. From the The Amanda Lohrey selects series

Writing in Virginia’s Shadow, by Mary Pomfret  Review Interview

Fractured by Dawn Barker.

The Young Widows Book of Home Improvement by Virginia Lloyd.

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers.

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