#LoveOzYA Cover Reveal & Author Interview: My Father's Shadow by Jannali Jones

Saturday, 29 June 2019

My Father's Shadow by Jannali Jones
Released: 1st August 2019
Published by: Magabala Books
Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller
Source: Publisher
Pages: 232
Kaya is completing her Higher School Certificate when she is woken in the middle of the night by her mother. They are to pack immediately and go to their holiday home in the Blue Mountains.

Her father is ‘not coming back’. He has been involved in a court case to give evidence against some dangerous criminals. Months later, they are still in hiding and the mysteries are multiplying. Kaya is not sure who to trust: her mother’s new friend, the policeman or her new friend, Eric, from the local store. She is also recovering from memory loss caused by PTSD after a chilling encounter with the criminals.

She is seeing a psychologist in an attempt to recall the evidence she might have to give in a forthcoming trial. Her best friend, Jenna, has gone overseas and Kaya is trying to make sense of what is really happening. Jannali Jones has crafted a thrilling story which stays on the edge right to the end.
I'm always excited to see books being released by debut Australian authors. Today I have Jannali Jones, winner of the 2015 'black&write!' Indigenous Writing Fellowship stopping by to talk about her first YA novel - watch out for more news on a giveaway soon...

Hi Jannali, congratulations on having this book published! Please tell us a little about it and how you came up with the storyline?

Thank you! I'm so excited to be able to share my writing with the world.

My Father's Shadow is a mystery/thriller about a teenage girl, Kaya, who is forced to flee her home when she learns that her dad - a whistleblower - has been murdered. She finds herself living in a tiny community in the mountains with her mum, isolated by her mum's strict, anti-social rules in a bid to keep her anonymous and safe from the men who came after her father.

The initial idea for the book came from an image I had of a girl sitting in the passenger seat of a car that was driving dangerously along windy mountain roads at night. All the while the driver, her mother, crying uncontrollably. That sense of fear, of dread, of something being so horribly wrong to put those characters into that situation, I found really intriguing. That's an image we see in the prologue, and the story grew from there.

You were the 2015 winner of the Black&white! Fellowship which saw your first novel published. What were your dreams as a child and how much of it involved becoming a published author?

From very early on I wanted to write books. I was inspired by all the reading I did - I was a real bookworm! I was quite sick when I was young and my mum used to read to me while I sat on the bed with my ventolin mask on. From grade 1 or 2, all the way through high school and law school I always wrote in my spare time.

Of course I wanted to be other things at different points - a policewoman, a doctor. The astronaut idea stuck for quite some time. When I was older I dreamed of being an actress, then a film composer or professional flautist. I would have loved to play the flute professionally but in the end I felt that I had more of a natural ability with writing whereas other things like music were much more of a struggle.

My Father’s Shadow is set in the NSW Blue Mountains. What is your connection with the mountains that made you so beautifully and vividly describe its surrounds in the book, and why did you feel it the perfect setting for Kaya and her Mum’s hidden life?

I grew up in Adelaide and we lived in the foothills across the road from Cleland, a national park. I loved living there - having all my friends a short walk down the road, a real community feel with neighbourhood bonfires and Christmas parties, browsing through the little mobile library that parked nearby our house, having fires in our combustion heater on cold nights, seeing kangaroos, echidnas, and koalas right in our backyard. It was a great place to be as a child. The Adelaide Hills are much smaller, but whenever I've visited the Blue Mountains it's always reminded me of my old home.

The mountains are a very important feature in the book and I wrote them to be almost a silent character. The moods of the mountains shape or reflect the action of the book. They also form the metaphorical walls of the prison Kaya and her mum have built for themselves. The setting always seemed right because of the isolated feeling of the northern side of the mountains (as opposed to the southern side where you get Katoomba, Leura and many of the tourist destinations). It made sense that people not wanting to be found might be hiding somewhere in amongst the national parks. It is so beautiful and yet so dangerous. That's the double-edge Kaya and her mum are living on.  

As an author of YA, how important do you think it is to shine a light on the struggles we all went through as teenagers? Kaya is going through both trauma and PTSD while she is struggling for her HSC. Was that storyline difficult to write and what you do feel readers will get out of it?

I had a terrible time as a teenager at school and I legitimately believed I was alone in my suffering. It wasn't until I got a bit older that I realised being a teenager actually sucks for most people, and it's a period of life that you just have to get through. It's like life's hazing you - externally and internally. Most of the books I read as a teen had really strong female characters who took challenges in their stride. On the one hand I think that presents great role models and can be inspirational, but on the other hand I felt isolated and weak as I grappled with depression, self-esteem and sexuality. I think being able to see characters reflect a similar identity or similar issues is very important and helps to boost confidence.

I live with (thankfully mild) trauma due to some events I went through as a child. Parts of Kaya's struggles mirror my own, and that wasn't difficult to write as I could draw on my experience, but Kaya is in a much worse position than me. I researched PTSD and decided to pepper it throughout the story rather than having it be the main focal point. My experience with trauma (and of course it is different for different people) is that it doesn't define you, but it is always there, just waiting for the chance to emerge. Yet Kaya is a survivor and I think her weakness actually shows her strength.

You are very passionate about preserving your Indigenous culture through storytelling. What else can we look forward to from you?

I want Aboriginal Australian culture to be more accessible to the mainstream, and I would love to help do this through mixing different literary genres. Currently I am working on a magic realism YA novel set in the Northern Territory. There's also a crime fiction novel cooking away in the background. Watch this space!

About the author

Jannali Jones is a Krowathunkoolong woman of the Gunai nation. She holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney. Jannali was a winner of the 2015 black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship and an inaugural recipient of Magabala's Australian Indigenous Creative Scholarship. Her stories have been published in literary journals in Australia and overseas, including Overland, Southerly, the Review of Australian Fiction and Westerly. When not writing, Jannali enjoys spending time with family, video gaming, going to the movies and reading. 

{Guest Post} The 'coming of age' narrative in YA fantasy by Helen Scheuerer

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Readers are probably familiar with the 'coming of age' themes that tend to come up in YA contemporary novels. But the ideas around growing up and all the changes and challenges with come with it are also explored in other genres. To discuss more about how it comes up in the realm of fantasy I've brought in an expert! Author Helen Scheuerer has stopped by on the blog today to talk about how this idea features in her series The Oremere Chronicles...

On the ‘Coming of Age’ Narrative In YA Fantasy 

When Eugenia and I first discussed the concept of this guest post, I was eager to write about ‘coming of age’ as a theme in fantasy novels. I felt that my trilogy The Oremere Chronicles explored this idea in depth. However, as I sat down to draft this post, I realised just how difficult it is to sum up the importance of such a theme.

Exploring this type of narrative got me thinking of numerous ‘coming of age’ classics in fantasy, as well as my own books. Why do these novels matter to us? How can we relate to the journeys of characters in non-existent, magical lands? Below is my attempt at delving into those questions...

Despite the fact that YA fantasy narratives take place in fantastical, magic-oriented worlds, now more than ever, they reflect the experiences of our young people today. The genre lends itself well to ‘coming of age’ theme, because just like in contemporary times, characters in these books challenge political systems, power hierarchies and social constructs, as well as the more ordinary aspects of life: navigating relationships, families and changing friendship dynamics.

The most powerful of these novels always depict the inner journey of a character, rife with turmoil, as he or she grows up, which is why ‘coming of age’ is such a prominent theme throughout the fantasy genre.

In fact, the fantasy genre as a whole suits the ‘coming of age’ narrative; with characters often embarking on a large-scale physical adventures that trigger their inner journey (think: Frodo from Lord of the Rings, Celaena from Throne of Glass and Lira from To Kill A Kingdom). As a young adult author myself, it’s a theme that has certainly woven its way into my books. I find it’s something that’s come quite naturally rather than as a result of a conscious decision on my part as creator.

For example, the 19-year-old protagonist in my series, The Oremere Chronicles, Bleak, is a great example of this… In her hometown, Angove, she’s in a bit of a rut. Self-medicating with alcohol to overcome grief, she rarely thinks of anyone but herself. However, a journey is forced upon her and it’s over the course of this quest that she’s made to look inward at who she is, and define her place in the world. It’s a classic ‘coming of age’ scenario.

Most YA fantasy books focus on a character similar age to their target reader (17-19 usually) and there’s a good reason for this. It’s the age where we tend to question ourselves and our surroundings the most, which leads to numerous types of inner conflict.

But being a young adult is also a test of how you interact with the broader world around you. Often it’s these external things that can trigger a ‘coming of age’ journey. Tragedy, loss, meeting new people, experiencing a new place and perhaps generally learning about the cruelty of the world, can all lead to the inner growth of a person/character.

The fantasy genre offers up these instances by the truckload. In my books in particular (Heart of Mist, Reign of Mist and the upcoming War of Mist), we journey with Bleak as she learns how to deal with figures of authority and systems of power, questions her heritage, as well as the difference between right and wrong. All notions that further the development of any character. It just so happens, she’s growing up at the same time.

I also made sure not to limit my characters to a certain age bracket, because as we know, the world isn’t made up of just young adults. But it’s how our young adult characters interact with those older and younger around them that provide our protagonists with room to grow, as well as offer our readers a reflection of their own real life experiences.

Regardless of the target readers or the theme itself, coming of age stories aren’t just for young adults. This is shown in the wide-reach of YA books - they transcend our years, with adult readers ranging from mid-twenties right up into their eighties. In fact, I’ve had an email from a 76 year old saying how much she related to my books.

Perhaps we ‘come of age’ numerous times in our lives, which is another reason why the theme is so popular across all genres of literature.

I’d love to know what your favourite fantasy ‘coming of age’ stories are. Feel free to share them in the comments below!

WAR OF MIST, the epic conclusion to Helen Scheuerer’s The Oremere Chronicles is slated for release July 25. You can add it on Goodreads here 

The Oremere Chronicles

About the author

You can learn more about Helen on her website

Helen Scheuerer is a YA fantasy author from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel, Heart of Mist, was the bestselling first instalment in her trilogy, The Oremere Chronicles.

After writing literary fiction for a number of years, she was inspired to return to her childhood love of fantasy by reading the work of Sabaa Tahir, V.E. Schwab and Sarah J. Maas.

Helen holds a Bachelor of Creative Arts, majoring in Creative Writing, and a Master of Publishing. She is also the Founding Editor of Writer’s Edit (www.writersedit.com), one of the world’s largest online learning platforms for emerging writers.

She is now a full-time author living amidst the mountains in New Zealand.

Review & Author Interview: Allegra in Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel - A 5-star Australian coming-of-age novel

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Allegra in Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel
Released: 28th May 2019
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Contemporary fiction/coming-of-age
Source: Publisher
Pages: 301
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
I can split myself in two... something I have to do because of Joy and Matilde. They are my grandmothers and I love them both and they totally love me but they can't stand each other. 

Eleven-year-old Allegra shuttles between her grandmothers who live next door to one another but couldn't be more different. Matilde works all hours and instils discipline, duty and restraint. She insists that Allegra focus on her studies to become a doctor. Meanwhile free-spirited Joy is full of colour, possibility and emotion, storing all her tears in little glass bottles.

She is riding the second wave of the women's movement in the company of her penny tortoise, Simone de Beauvoir, encouraging Ally to explore broad horizons and live her 'true essence'. And then there's Rick who lives in a flat out the back and finds distraction in gambling and solace in surfing.

He's trying to be a good father to Al Pal, while grieving the woman who links them all but whose absence tears them apart. Allegra is left to orbit these three worlds wishing they loved her a little less and liked each other a lot more. Until one day the unspoken tragedy that's created this division explodes within the person they all cherish most.
I've always thought that the best books are ones where you can turn the last page and think "this moved me" or "I really learnt something from reading this". Suzanne Daniel's outstanding debut did both for me. It's a triumph for not only bringing such heart to a story which captures the complex links in familial ties, but one girl's coming-of-age as she seeks to reconcile where she fits into it all. Written from Allegra's distinct voice, there's a good balance here of both childhood innocence with some heavier themes of dealing with the absence of a parent, the state of women's liberation in Australia in the 1970s, women who are victims of violence and a glimpse into the migrant experience at that time.

'It's a funny thing, Allegra', says Sister, offering me another Shortbread Cream. People think respect comes from success, fame or fortune, when in fact the most admired quality at the end of the day is kindness. Because kindness, dear - kindness - is the best indicator of a person's wellbeing. Yes, indeed, kind people are those who truly take pleasure in their time on earth.'

Both of Allegra's grandmothers love her immensely, and her father too, though all of these adults in her life have been affected by the turmoil of her mother not being there with them. Joy and Matilde with their contrasting personalities and approaches to life made this a colourful read, with Rick becoming a more steady force as the story goes on. Though there's definitely a theme of female empowerment, and not just in an overtly feminist tone, there was also a look into positive male role models and how men grieve too when hit by life's tragedies.

'Can you smell the air coming in off the salt water?' says Rick, inhaling slowly. I follow his lead and breathe in the air. 'You know what I reckon, Al...the cure for everything is salt water. Yep, think about it: sweat, tears, and the sea. They're all made up of salt water. The first two can pump out your pain and the last one - the sea - well, it washes it away,'

In all it's the idea that self-knowledge is a continuous process which made this book really stand out for me, and it's definitely become a firm favourite on my shelves. This is an altogether impressive debut from Suzanne Daniel, she is definitely a local author to watch!

For more insights about Allegra in Three Parts, read on for my interview with Suzanne Daniel!

Thank you so much for stopping by on the blog Suzanne. and congratulations on releasing your first novel! What were some of the biggest challenges and best moments in your journey to having Allegra in Three Parts published?

Thank you for having me!

For a number of years writing my novel was a private thing, something of a hobby I was fitting around work and family. This gave me creative freedom but it also meant I wasn’t accountable to anyone else, or to a time frame. And without either of these, there was always something more pressing to do. I had to work hard to improve my self discipline, make myself go to the desk and spend time on something that was never urgent. If the writing was flowing well, I became totally absorbed and it took on a momentum of it’s own. I was loathed to stop and couldn’t wait to get back to it. When it wasn’t, I’d wander off to make another cup of tea, end up cleaning a cupboard or making a phone call. After a while I made myself push through the less inspired writing episodes by setting a daily word count and I wouldn’t allow myself to rise form the desk until I hit it. This became my magic formula.

I started to write the book in the third person but that wasn’t capturing Allegra on every level. I wanted her story to be visceral but I’d been told that trying to write in the first person was too ambitious for a first time novelist. I fiddled, tested and tweaked, and finally I found Allegra’s voice. Once I did, she kind of led me and we were away.

A quote from Simone de Beauvoir "Self knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, but it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it", opens this novel beautifully and sets the tone for the rest of the story. How did the state of feminism in Australia in the 1970s first come into the picture for the socio-cultural setting of Allegra in Three Parts?

I'm fascinated by this period in history and what was happening for women during the second wave of the women’s movement. Not just the street marches and the mobilising actions of the ‘sisterhood’, but for women out in the suburbs, some staying in marriages they were disillusioned with, others leaving them to carve out a new identity. Many women ended up leading double lives: feminist uni student by day, then a second shift as homemaker, wife and mother. Conversations were starting to change among women and between women and men. 

Women were opening up to one another in a new way, starting to understand through sharing their private thoughts, responses and feelings, that it wasn’t ‘just me’ but that what they were experiencing was almost universal. The personal did become political. And of course you have to fully understand yourself before you know what will make you content in the long term. Hence I chose the Simone de Beauvoir quote to open the novel. I also liked it because it sets the scene for Allegra’s ultimate coming of age. 

'Adult fiction' written from a child's perspective as the main character has made for some interesting reads. How did you find the experience of writing about some confronting issues such as domestic violence, racism and the absence of a parent through eleven-year-old Allegra's eyes?

I remember myself and know from raising three children, that a child’s development and understanding isn’t linear. An eleven-year-old can swing from almost adult insight, to breathtaking naivety many times in one day. Once I placed Allegra in the various confronting situations dealing with domestic violence, racism and an absent mother, I dug deep to put myself inside her head and her heart. I did a lot of research on the effects of conflict on a child as well as ‘cred testing’ Allegra’s responses with my youngest daughter, Francesca (who was about 14 when I started writing the novel) and my cousin’s daughter, Molly when she was actually eleven.
The complexities of finding true friendships and navigating how the 'social hierarchy' works as a young adolescent also seemed to underscore Allegra's development in the story. Do you think much has changed around these issues in today's age compared to when the book is set?

Thankfully I think things have improved somewhat in that adults and educators are now much more aware of the damaging effects that bullying has on a young person. In the 1970s, when this book is set, sadly bullying was often seen as just ‘kids being kids’ and so many children suffered dreadfully at the hands of bullies. And of course scratch beneath the surface and the bullies were usually suffering in some way themselves too. I know from being on the Board of a large senior school that a lot of effort and resources are now dedicated to combating bullying and creative strategies are put into place. Even so, humans are still programmed similarly and navigating the 'social hierarchy’ remains a challenge for children and adolescents today. And of course they are dealing with things that weren’t around in the 1970s like social media.
A key strength of this book and what makes it so memorable for me is how well-developed all the characters are, especially Allegra's grandmothers Matilde and Joy. What did you find significant about having these two women feature in the story?

I wanted to show love delivered in different ways to a child within one family so Matilde and Joy, being neighbours but so polarised, gave me a great opportunity to do that. They have very different backgrounds, aspirations and world views but both love Allegra wholeheartedly. I wanted my readers to see these grandmothers in all their humanity, magnificent one minute, flawed the next. And even though readers' allegiances might swing back and forth between Matilde and Joy, ultimately I hoped by the end of the novel they would at least understand both of them and certainly care about them too. To me a well-developed character is someone I care about and I really worked hard to make that happen, so thank you for finding my characters this way.

Without giving too much away, is there a favourite moment or quote that struck a chord with you wen writing this book?

So not to spoil things for those yet to read Allegra In Three Parts I’ll nominate the strudel making scene, the I AM WOMAN scene, the glass house scene, the tent scenes and the final pages. I could go on…

About the author

Suzanne Daniel is a journalist and communications consultant who has also worked for ABC TV, the Sydney Morning Herald, the United Nations, BBC (London) and in crisis management and social services. For the past twenty years she has served on community, philanthropic and public company boards. Suzanne lives in Sydney with her husband and family. Allegra in Three Parts is her first novel.