How do you become a writer?

You write.

Oh, you want more?  You read and write. Most of the time, you love it, but sometimes it’s hard and frustrating and you’ll think your well’s gone dry and you’ll never write another decent sentence again. But there’s no way around it (unless you’re one of those writers who publishes one brilliant book, wins a Pulitzer, then never writes another word because the love wasn’t there—these people are freaks).

Publication doesn’t make you a writer, either. The trick is to be a writer before you get published. You’ll know when you are a writer because a big, blue dot appears on your forehead (oops, that’s what I tell my kids when they’ve told a lie)—you’ll know it when a part of your brain separates itself from The Main Brain and begins to function independently. It will whir and click in the background as it messes with daily life. You will feed the dog lamb chops with mashed potato and your children will get dog biscuits and a worming chew.

Mostly, writers love what they do and we can’t stop. You’re not a writer if you go around saying ‘I’m going to write a book one day, when real life stops getting in my way.’ You are one if you don’t let life get in the way. Give up things like television, shopping, meaningful relationships. Writing is like a virus—once you catch it, it’s in the blood. In the beginning, you have to go out of your way to catch it (like sending your kids to a pox party), but once you have it will be life-changing and irreversible.

Why do you write for young adults?

Part of me will always be sixteen. I was the shy, hunch-shouldered, maladroit kind who borrowed personalities from the people around me. A sort of shape-shifter.

I remember my teenage years as being something to be endured, rather than enjoyed. But it was also the time when I felt the purest emotion—love, fear, anger, humiliation—without reason, accountability and hindsight getting in the way. I think it’s the best and worst time of life and who wouldn’t want to read about that?

I love reading adult novels too, I just don’t want to write one. Yet.

Are your characters and settings based on real people or places?

I’m not great at creating new worlds or new people. I always start with real people and places I have experienced. Then I rip them apart, paw through the entrails and pull out the pieces I like. I put them back together and when I’m finished I have a composite character or fictionalised setting, unrecognisable and safe from libel or slander laws. I hope.

Is All I Ever Wanted’s main character, Mim, based on you?

No. Yes. Maybe.

Do you have any tips for young writers?

Write. Read. Get your writing out there because validation is sweet. The only way to find out if your writing is any good is to let it go, see how it affects people. Make them laugh, cry, vomit, write you hate mail—but make them feel something.

Learn the craft. That means reading a lot of books, good and bad, and writing a lot. I love this analogy: an artist has to paint a thousand works to consider himself a master; a writer has to write a thousand boo… ahh, that’s just soul-destroying, isn’t it? Look, if you’ve read a thousand books, you’re on your way. Talent is a wonderful thing, but it will either give you a small head-start or a big ego that’ll weigh you down while the turtle plods to the finish. Be a plodder. Be tenacious.

Immerse yourself in the world of writing. Go to festivals and join your local writers’ centre. Most other writers are a big-hearted bunch and they’re often willing to signpost the shortcuts.

Do you have any tips for old writers?

All of the above plus Glenfiddich.

Where do you get your ideas?

My ideas arrive fully-formed, 20/20 clear with detailed footnotes about how to implement the changes to my WIP. Apparently I have a gift. It’s a crap gift however, when these ideas drop in at 2am when my brain is incapable of controlling my hand well enough to write notes. The subconscious is my muse and she’s a nocturnal, screaming fishwife whose echo I hear in the morning—but by then she’s not making much sense. Sometimes, that faded wisp of an idea is all I have left, but it’s enough to get started.

Ideas are infinite and they just keep on coming. I have too many ideas. It’s following through on one at a time that poses a problem.

Who are your favourite YA authors?

It’s a long list and I know I’ll forget to mention somebody.

I love everything ever written by Robert Cormier, S E Hinton, Cath Crowley, Sonya Hartnett and Meg Rosoff. I’m inspired by Australian YA authors like Melina Marchetta, Marcus Zusak, Kirsty Eagar, Belinda Jeffrey, Simmone Howell, Fiona Wood and Leanne Hall. I credit Colin Thiele, S E Hinton (again), Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden Mysteries) and Harper Lee for fuelling my imagination when I was a child. Even Virginia Andrews (gasp) gets a mention.

I’ve read so many thousands of books in my lifetime, I can’t begin to list all of my favourites, so I’ll stop now.

What would you be if you weren’t a writer?

I’d be a demolition expert on Mythbusters. Or a stunt designer on Jackass. Or a ninja on Prank Patrol.  Are we sensing a theme here?