Author Interview: Before the Beginning by Anna Morgan

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Before the Beginning by Anna Morgan
Released: 29th September 2020
Published by: Hachette
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 235
The story of four friends, a mysterious stranger, and the week when everything changed. For fans of We Were Liars. Schoolies week: that strange in-between time when teenagers move from school into the adult world. It's a week when anything is possible, and everything can change. Grace is questioning everything she thought about herself, and has opted not to join her clique of judgemental friends for schoolies, instead tagging along with her brother Casper and his friends. Casper, an artist, is trying to create the perfect artwork for his uni application folio. Overachieving, anxiety-ridden Noah is reeling from a catastrophe that might have ruined his ATAR result. And Elsie is just trying to figure out how to hold their friendship group together. On the first night of the trip, they meet Sierra, a mysterious girl with silver-grey hair and a magnetic personality. All of them are drawn to her for different reasons, and she persuades them to abandon the cliched schoolies experience in favour of camping with her on a remote, uninhabited island. On that island, each of them will find answers to their questions. But what does Sierra want from them? An empathetic and suspenseful coming-of-age story from the author of All That Impossible Space.
Equal parts suspense and coming-of-age novel, Before the Beginning is a unique offering in the YA contemporary space exploring the time between school ends and the future beyond. 

Author Interview with Anna Morgan

How did the writing process for Before the Beginning differ from the experience coming up with the plot for your first novel All That Impossible Space?

It was very different! I wrote All That Impossible Space over about four years of writing and redrafting (much longer if you count all the years the story was growing in the back of my mind). I wrote the first draft of Before the Beginning in about six months, so it was much faster. With my second book I knew from the start the specific characters and themes I wanted to explore, and I knew I wanted to set it over one week from different perspectives: having that structure in place helped focus the writing process. Since I was working with my publisher from the beginning, I had editors involved from much earlier in the drafting process. That was a little scary at first for me, but it made the book SO much better and I feel very grateful to have shaped the story with their guidance from those early stages. Oh, and I had more confidence in myself as a writer the second time around, since I knew I'd done it once and could do it again.

What drew you to exploring the coming of age period of time just after high school in this book?

One of my favourite aspects of YA novels is that in-between feeling of transformation and change, that is such a classic teenage experience. Schoolies week - that week just after school finishes - is an especially intense time for this feeling. It's after exams, but before your results, after school, but before many teens know what they are going to do next. It can bring up a lot of anxieties for people too since it's such a pressure-cooker setting - lots of emotional issues can bubble up to the surface, but there's also such a sense of energy and possibility over the week.

Was there a favourite character out of the group which you found was easier to make come to life on the page?

It's impossible to choose a favourite! I love all my characters and am frustrated by them in equal parts - even though all four are very different, they are all based on aspects of myself and they experience versions of what I went through in my teens and early twenties. I've had unreasonably high expectations of myself like Noah, or had a worldview that didn't fit with my experiences any more like Grace, I've struggled with creative blocks like Casper, and I've underestimated myself like Elsie. I did find that Noah's section flowed particularly well as I was writing - and every time I re-read it I just want to give him a big hug! - so I do have a soft spot for him.

What are some of the main messages you hope teens in the same position as some of the characters in this book will be able to reflect on?

The end of school was such an anxious and all-or-nothing time for me, and it is for some of my characters - the main message I want to pass on is that it is okay to change, it's okay to be unsure, and you will figure it out. It's much more important to figure out who you are and what you want from your future than it is to chase a perfect score or to get into the best course. I know this year's school leavers in particular have shown incredible resilience as they deal with the upheaval of 2020, and I hope they can take some comfort from the upheaval my characters go through - even if nothing goes to plan, you will get through to the other side.

Could you give us a sneak peek into what you may be working on next?

I really loved all the research I was able to do around setting for this book - I set the novel on a fictional version of an island I love off the South coast of NSW and I learned so much about all the wildlife and plants that live there. It was also a place under threat by the fires this January, which emphasised to me even more how important it is to celebrate this land in literature and how much we need to protect it. So that might be working its way into my next book - possibly looking at climate action and young people growing up in regional Australia. But don't hold me to that because it could completely change!

About the author

Anna was born in Sydney, but spent most of her childhood surrounded by mountains in Nepal and Tibet while her parents were part of an international community of health professionals. Navigating this cross-cultural life made her a curious observer of people, although most of her time was spent reading Enid Blyton and dreaming of going to boarding school. This did not cushion the shock of shifting from home-school in Tibet to an all-girls high school in Melbourne when her family returned to Australia. ALL THAT IMPOSSIBLE SPACE explores some of the intense and convoluted friendships that thrive in this setting. Anna completed a MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University in 2015, and now lives in Melbourne with her husband. She works as a bookseller.

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