Deborah Abela – 1st Interview with CKT

Deborah Abela

Q. How do you come up with your story ideas?

Mostly I have small images, incidents or characters that spark an excitement in me. Then I then stay with those ideas longer, stretch them out, play with them and ask myself, ‘What if…?’ The ideas grow beyond those initial few flimsy ideas into something I never knew was there. Grimsdon, my latest novel, began with my frustration with governments all around the world doing a lot of talking about the environment but not much doing, so I wondered if we kept up all this talking and something went wrong. It then became a novel of a group of lost kids in a flooded city, flying machines, sea monsters and sneaker waves. After ten years of writing novels I still find this fascinating and completely flooring.

Q. How did you crack the publishing world?

I’m not sure I’ve ‘cracked’ the publishing world but rather found my way inside for a bit and each novel I write I aim to try and keep my place in there. I worked for 7 years writing and producing a national kids’ TV show for Network TEN. It was great fun, super busy and exciting but there was the constant pressure of writing scripts for every weekday of the year, even over the holidays. That’s a lot of scripts especially on those days when I wasn’t feeling very inspired. I wanted to work on a piece of writing over a longer period. To sit with it and work on it and see it grow. I wrote my first novel while I was working at TEN and luckily had it picked up by Random House Australia, who not only offered a publication deal for that novel, Max Remy Superspy Part 1: In Search of the Time and Space Machine, but also offered me a contract for another one. I got the phone call telling me that just as I was about to go into the studio and record 6 shows, so I was delirious but distracted and realised I may have sounded underwhelmed when Linsay Knight (Head of kids publishing at the time) told me, ‘This doesn’t happen very often that a first novelist gets a two contract offer.’ I made sure she knew how excited I was before rushing downstairs into the studio and shooting the shows. There were celebratory drinks afterwards when we finished. So back to the question. I often think TV and novels have the similar aspect that you are only as good as your last piece of work. With each novel I try to push myself, use what I learn in talking to kids and leading writing workshops, sitting in on author talks, going to writing classes and reading. I never want to get lazy about what I do or take it for granted…just because I have a contract now, doesn’t mean I’ll have one next year, but hopefully hard work will mean I’m in there with a chance.

Q. What do you do when your characters want to take the story in a different direction from where you were headed?

Let them!!! This is such a great question. When this happens, I am usually a few drafts in and my plot has been developing nicely and I have become so familiar with my characters and know them on a much deeper level than I did at the outset. Peter Carey talks about the osteopathic click that happens when you truly get to know your characters and then they’re away. It’s not a matter of trying to work out what your character would do in a particular situation but simply watching them act and this is one of my favourite parts of writing.

Q. How do you road test your ideas before presenting them to a publisher?

I often show my books to kids before it goes to the final edit. It is so helpful to get kids’ opinions. They can sometimes see flaws or holes us adults don’t see or at least don’t see as important. I also take a very long time to write…I sit and mull and sit some more and have those lovely lightbulb moments where I can see how it will all fall into place. The last one was on a plane where I grabbed my computer and belted out the second half of the novel plan. It was such a high feeling, finished off just before we were told to put our electronic devices away. Phew!

Q. What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Write about what excites you, write not to cater for audiences, trends, ‘holes in the market’ but for you and the story. The next step you take in writing always has to be in the best interest of the story and characters. Write because you love it, because you have a story to tell, because you can’t wait to find out what happens next. I went to a writers’ meeting lately where a person said she was joining the group because she felt she had done her time working hard in life and it was her turn to stay at home all day in her pyjamas writing kids’ books. It was possibly the most insulting thing she could have said to all the hard working writers there who spend time at home, yes, but also lots of times at other jobs to support themselves, in schools, taking writing workshops and working other jobs to allow themselves to write. It felt like the entirely wrong reason to write.

Q. If you could be any character from any book for a day who would you be and why?

I would love to be Isabella Charm from my novel Grimsdon. She lives in a flooded city with a group of kids she protects. She is feisty, brave and undaunted, but also harbors a broken heart knowing her dad was probably killed in the floods trying to save the tone that was now lost underwater. She’s also very good with swords which I would love to be but I’m dangerous with a butter knife.

Q. And finally what’s next in store from Deb Abela?

Oh that’s exciting! I’ve written two series, followed by two stand alones – books I thought only needed the one novel to tell the whole story – but next year I have the first two books of a brand new series being launched. I can’t really say much yet, but it all stems from a meeting held in secret in Trinity College Cambridge in 1855. A bunch of suited men got together under candlelight to talk about something that was frowned upon at the time but was to become a huge phenomenon. The club that was begun all those years ago still meets every month in London to talk about the very same things.


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