Steven Herrick's new book Cold Skin is being released today by Allen & Unwin. Steven is a an author living in Brisbane. He writes poetry and verse-novels for children and teenagers and his books have received many awards.
Steven took time out of his busy schedule to chat to us here at the Sydney Writers' Centre. Here is a transcript of the interview ... I hope you enjoy these wonderful insights from a successful Australian writer.
Valerie Khoo: Verse-novels aren't very common. How did you get into it and why do you like writing in this way?
Steven Herrick: I wrote my first verse-novel 12 years ago. I was a little bored writing poems that didn't really connect with each other. Seaching through my bottom draw of cast-offs, I found four poems about a sixteen year old boy that were linked - I couldn't even remember writing them, so it must have been a few years earlier still.
They formed the basis for "love, ghosts & nose hair". I've written 10 verse-novels since then - I love the form - it tells a story in a simple, direct, economic way without losing any of the emotional power of poetry, hopefully.
Valerie: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
Steven: I was eighteen - I didn't have a job and was just bumming around the country. One night, with nothing to do, I decided to write a poem - when I returned to my mum's house a few weeks later, I typed it up and sent it to a magazine. They accepted it and sent me five dollars!!! From then on, I read lots of poetry and kept writing and sending poems off.
Then I started performing my poems in music venues around the country. I actually had a record out before a book. So I've always been interested in poetry as a spoken AND written medium. And, thankfully, this has meant I've made a living as a poet for the past 20 years - through book sales and live performances.
Valerie: How did the idea for Cold Skin come about?
Steven: Every week, my son Joe and I drive to Lithgow to play soccer. We drive the back way through a little valley. I loved the self-contained nature of the place and the fact that it was such a historic mining town, so I decided to set a story in that location.
I've changed the name and the year - it's set in 1948. I wanted to explore how a "self-contained" town responded to a murder - the story is told through nine narrators. It's probably the most adventurous verse-novel, in terms of form, that I've attempted.
Valerie: What's so appealing about writing for the young adult market? Do you write for the adult market and, if so, do you find it hard to "switch" between the two?
Steven: I don't actually think of who I'm writing for, as such. My books are packaged for the young adult market, but, thankfully, I seem to have a lot of adult readers as well. The advantage in writing for the young adult market is you have large numbers of readers - they don't seem so hung-up about reading poetry or verse-novels. So, sales and overseas deals seem so much easier in this market. But, frankly, I don't mind who reads my books - as long as they enjoy them!
One real joy of having teenagers read my books is they like to email and respond to what they've read - it's always nice to hear from your readership.
Valerie: What would your advice be to aspiring creative writers in terms of how they can make the most out of the writing process? Do you have any particular tips, mandatories or rituals that you find work for you?
Steven: Put simply, the best advice to aspiring writers is to read lots and widely. And when you sit at your desk, try to write something without thinking too much about the quality. Editing can fix that up!
You can discover the secrets of writing for children or young adults in our popular course, Writing for Children and Young Adults with eminent Australian children's writing expert, Judith Ridge. The next course starts:
When: Every Wednesday for 5 weeks from Wednesday 17 October 2007
For more information on this writing course, visit our page on Writing Books for Children and Young Adults.