I Heart Aussie YA #4 + Author Interview

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Title                    Measuring Up
Author               GJ Stroud
Publisher           Scribe
Genre                 YA Contemporary

Goodreads blurb:
Jonah’s life has been like riding the perfect wave—the wonderfully simple routine of school, partying, and surfing with his friends. With the stress of his senior year looming, he realizes all of that is about to change. Rattled by the fear that he is destined to live in the shadow of his legendary older brother, Link, Jonah’s self-confidence begins to waver, along with his mission to lose his virginity before turning 18. Just when he has decided things couldn’t get any more complicated, Link drops a bombshell on his unsuspecting family. Despite these overwhelming transitions, Jonah soon discovers that life has a funny way of sorting out the big issues from the small, and that the answers he’s looking for may be right in front of him. Frank and funny, this coming-of-age novel is a definitive tale of family, friendship, and the pressures of adolescence.

Measuring Up is written by the talented GJ Stroud. Full disclosure: Gab is also a good writing buddy of mine and one of my fellow hosts over at The Print Posse.
Measuring Up is an honest and witty look at growing up under the shadow of a small town mindset. The writing is sharp and at times, brutally honest. The MC, Jonah, is likable and relatable as he stumbles through the transition from larakin teen surfer into a young adult.

In Measuring Up, Stroud explores the perpetual struggle of youth in determining the Big Things in life from The Little Things. Stroud’s writing style is refreshing. No condescending stereotypes of teenagers, just real kids who might have sat next to you at school during lunchtime.

The Australian setting fits seamlessly into the story and is a gentle reminder of the different mindsets still prevalent in small towns. Measuring Up will have youth nodding in agreement and inspire a nostalgic smile in adults.

Try Measuring Up if you liked Puberty Blues,  The Flywheel or The Story of Tom Brennan.

GJ Stroud

GJ Stroud

Hi Gab, welcome to A Novel Indulgence. Tell me, where did the inspiration for Measuring Up come from?

There were two key things that inspired my ideas for Measuring Up. The first was a story my friend told me about how her sister calls her “Sib” short for ‘Sibling’ because before my friend was born, her mum told Big Sister that she was going to have a sibling and Big Sister was so intrigued by the word that she referred to the baby as Sibling forevermore! So my friend got “Sib” as a family nickname. That got me thinking about my own family – I’m the youngest. My eldest sister always always calls me Kiddo. There’s so much power in names. I explore that in Measuring Up.

The other idea came from my experience teaching Year 7. A girl from my Homeroom came to me after one lunch time of being harassed by Year 7 boys calling her ‘flat chested’. When I relayed the story to my sister she said “It’s so easy for boys because nobody can see their… you know – penis. So, we can’t call them “shorty” or “stumpy” – but for girls everyone can see their chest development. It’s not fair.” I thought about what this means for men and boys and asked myself – what would happen if a boy had a rapid and obvious transition into manhood? Just like girls, he would feel uncomfortable, awkward and possibly embarrassed. I explore this discomfort and the feeling of scrutiny throughout Measuring Up but it’s best reflected in the scene where Mel says to Jonah (the MC) “It’s like you got your first bra and your period all on the same day!”

The voice of your MC, Jonah, was authentic as a teenage boy. How did you prepare for writing from a perspective that could not be based on personal experience?

I think all my writing comes from something that’s beyond gender and age and all that… I like considering the human experience. What feelings and experiences do we share? Having said that, it was important that I really nailed the voice of Jonah. So, I did a lot of eavesdropping and note taking. And I befriended a guy around Jonah’s age at our local little supermarket. He worked in the deli and I would order a lot of ham and olives and soft cheeses just so I could interact with him and observe him. I remember watching him one day being torn between serving an old lady who had waited a long time and a gorgeous girl who had just walked in. The pain on his face was obvious!

Without spoiling the ending, some threads are tied and others are left open. As a writer, was there pressure to resolve all the story arcs?

Yes. My editor and publisher kept saying to me – is this story finished?

How long did the writing process take? 

Three years. Two years to draft and write and one year to edit and polish for publication. That included working full time and all the other stuff that life throws at you when you’re trying to write a book!

Were there any times when you nearly gave up on the project?

Yep. Heaps. But my dear friend Jess pushed, prompted, encouraged, shoved, prodded and just generally bullied me until the job was done.

You thanked Varuna The Writers’ House, what stage was your story at when you did your residency there?

My story was at a drafty draft stage. I didn’t know where it was going, I just had these great characters and the voice was strong and the words were flowing. I was wandering around inside my story while I was at Varuna. It was a bit special!

What processes did you undergo at Varuna The Writers’ House?

I was part of a residency and I was mentored each day by the mighty Peter Bishop who has worked with some of Australia’s best writers. This was an hour each day talking with someone who loved my story as much as I did. Peter has this way of making you think about things in new and unusual ways. He’s the kind of guy who if you gave him a jumper, he’d turn it inside out and look at the cuff of the sleeve and say “I wonder what the sheep was feeling when she grew this wool?” He asks you things that make you feel uncomfortable – things like “What’s the heartland of your story?” or “How will you know that your story is told?” or “Where are you in this story?” Conversations with Peter are both nourishing and challenging.
And each evening I met with the other writers and we talked, shared our stories, listened and sort of workshopped ideas together. There’s something magic that happens at Varuna and I’m sure the spirit of Eleanor Dark hovers in that lounge room helping writers to connect in very deep and personal ways.

How did you land a publication deal?

Just submitted it to Scribe. Simple as that. I was also going to submit it for the Text YA prize. Scribe rang me and said “Please don’t submit to Text.” It was the best day ever! I was pregnant and teaching full time and I was at school when I got the call from Scribe. I walked back into the staff room and clambered my big pregnant body onto the staffroom table and just stood there like a gold medal Olympian up on the dais. I was so darn proud of myself. Everyone thought I’d finally lost my mind completely.

Mrs Finlay – did you ever have a teacher like her?

*smile* I worked with a teacher like Ms Finlay. She was amazeballs.

What’s next for GJ Stroud?

You tell me and we’ll both know! I’ve got another YA fiction that’s looking for a home. Its pathway to publication has not been as straightforward as Measuring Up’s but I have confidence that the Universe will help that story find it’s place.

I’ll be at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival later this year as a guest on their 555 Roadshow AND at the Festival proper. That’s like a big WHOA moment for me.

I’m working on a novel about Post-Natal depression too – for adults of course. I blog regularly on my website, write freelance for some mags and journals. And endless other stories are constantly squirming inside me and vying for my attention.
I guess it’s just watch this space for me right now. I’m open to anything!

A huge thank you to Gab for joining me on ANI. Readers can visit GJ Stroud’s Goodreads page or head over to her blog to check out more of what she’s been up to.

Review – Withering Rose

 

Withering Rose cover

Title                      Withering Rose
Author                  Kaitlyn Davis
Source                  NetGalley
Genre                   YA Fantasy/Retelling

Withering Rose is the second book in the Once Upon a Curse series by Kaitlyn Davis and is a re-interpretation of Beauty and the Beast. While the framework of the timeless fairytale is evident, the setting of Withering Rose allows Davis to add a range of new complications to the storyline.

Book One in the series, Gathering Frost, was a loose interpretation of Snow White and book three continues with the fairytale theme. Strong heroines, swoon-worthy heroes with a heart of gold, and the all important curse ensures magic wielders have a struggle on their hands.

The premise for this book is interesting. A fantasy medieval-like world with magic at its heart has literally collided with modern-day Earth. The people from the two worlds struggle to reconcile their belief in magic. It is a clash of worlds in an almost post-apocalyptic landscape. Monarchs with magic verse armies with ammunition.

In Withering Rose, the curse on Omorose’s magic is a killer and if that’s not hard enough, she and her father are hiding in plain sight in a military command centre. Suppressing her magic is almost as consuming as dealing with the snarky kids in her class. An opportunity for escape presents itself and Omorose finds herself in the Kingdom of the Beast.

Knowledge of the fairytale gives the reader a sense of expectation about the relationship between Omorose and the Beast. While there are the anticipated elements to the story, there are still many unknowns that kept me hooked until the end.

In the children’s story, a witch casts a spell and the beast has until the last petal falls from an enchanted rose to break the curse. This curse, and the process of the rose withering away, is re-imagined in a clever way. This story also avoids the Stockholm Syndrome that so many versions of Beauty and the Beast rely on.

It does, to my delight, stay faithful to the inclusion of the library.

This was a good read. Both book one and two were an enjoyable adventure through a chaotic new world. Book three, Chasing Midnight, is scheduled for release in 2017 and until then, I’m going to work my way through Kaitlyn Davis’ back catalogue.