Steph Bowe is probably the youngest author I will be interviewing, by publishing her first novel before the tender age of 18. She was one of triple j’s inaugral 25 UNDER 25 and won Express Media’s award for Outstanding Achievement By A Writer Under 25 in 2010 as well as having written for the Age and appearing in various other publications.
Apart from all of that, she is quite bubbly and fun to talk to. Let’s here what she has to say.
What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?
I would love to write a sci-fi novel set in the distant future. That’s pretty removed from my current real-world, present-day contemporary YA. I should probably start reading sci-fi books first, though!
Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?
I have so many ideas I do not know what to do with them, and I am finding them everywhere. Overheard conversations, everyday life, other films and books and music, everything is fodder for stories. I tend to come up with characters first, because characters are easy. Observing other people is a good place to look for interesting traits and behaviours. Sometimes a plot will spring from the characters, once I know them and what they want out of life. Other times I’ll just think of things that would be fun to write about. Ask myself a lot of ‘what if?’ questions. The ideas and coming up with the plot parts of writing are really a lot of fun, and I think once someone has their eyes open creatively speaking, there are ideas to be found everywhere, more than you could ever write into novels.
When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?
I usually have a title before I start, and it’s usually really terrible, and will be changed later on. The title doesn’t tend to trigger the story – the title is usually pretty vague, just something I’ve made up on the spot to title a document. I have a general idea of a story before I start writing, and a clear idea of the characters, but if anything triggers more plot ideas/direction of the novel, it’s usually a really good first line I think of. Or at least it seems really good at the time.
What themes are being overused?
In YA fiction, and I am not sure whether this is really a ‘theme’ (it’s not) but I am terribly sick of it: I am really done with abusive vampire boyfriends. There is such a saturation of the market with these sorts of books at the moment, I cannot seem to find a single YA novel with a love interest that isn’t mean and supernatural and powerful. Contrasted with a very weak female protagonist. This would be all right if it featured in a few books, but if every YA novel has a weak female lead/dangerous male love interest pairing, that’s kind of worrying.
Are movies of books ruining the book?
No! Absolutely not. I think they’re both very different mediums, and can both produce great stories. One person can write a book and it costs nothing, whereas a film adaptation takes years and millions of dollars and lots of people. So they are way too different. Usually the book is superior to the film (books tend to have a very interior, thoughtful element that isn’t easily displayed onscreen, except through clumsy voiceover), but I can think of instances where I think the film has improved on the book, or offered something new and different (for instance, Fight Club. Much better as a film.)
Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?
I think the most important thing are the stories, and people reading and valuing those stories. So I do not think the medium is that important. I also believe that the two forms can coexist – ereaders and traditional books, traditional publishing and self-publishing. People will continue to read physical books, but they can read ebooks as well, and both have different reading experiences to offer. Writing and publishing is a changing industry, but almost everything in the world is, and it’s silly of any writer or publisher to blindly panic about it – we’ll change and shift and learn, and keep writing stories, and people will keep reading them, no matter the format.
Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?
I read a lot of contemporary YA by Australian authors. I am trying to read more classics, more older books. I always read the new work of authors I already like, and I pick up whatever books by author I’m unfamiliar with if they look interesting, like my sort of book. I read a lot, and I’m trying to branch out more, but I don’t think I’ll be quite able to read everything.
Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?
My grandparents tend to be the people who see my novels first. I do know writers, who help me with later drafts, but when I’ve just finished a first draft and need somebody to assure me it isn’t terrible, I will send it to my nan and pop. I absolutely do not show anyone a story until I have a first draft, and I don’t even talk about what I’m writing that much. I fear I will jinx it.
Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?
I tend to under-write if anything. I aim for about fifty thousand words for a first draft, and then I add stuff on in the drafts after that one.
Do you have a target each day?
I am trying to write daily, to a set target. Unfortunately I am terrible at routine, and it is so much easier to write when inspired. I’m still working on this.
Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?
I am pretty much always writing. I have about two or three books going at a time. This is not the best way to work, but I’ll be having ideas for multiple stories at once, and when I am inspired, I really just want to write scenes, rather than notes for later on.
Do you have characters running around your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?
They don’t talk to me (perhaps that is a good thing?) but I do have a very clear idea of them, even secondary characters. I do tend to focus too much on having lots of offbeat characters and less on the whole plot thing, but once I’ve got my characters figured out, the plot happens pretty organically.
What is your biggest (self-imposed) time waster?
Refreshing email. Or obsessively writing and rewriting lists of books I need to write.
Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?
Yes! It was only two years ago! When my first book came out in August of 2010, I went to a few Melbourne bookshops to sign my books in stock, so I got to have that ‘wow! I’m a real author! My book is on shelves! Other people can buy it who don’t even know me!’ moment over and over again. It’s still incredibly cool. I can’t wait until I see my next book on shelves!
Steph Bowe can be found in the following places: