An Interview with Verse Novelist, Kristy-Lee Swift

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the book launch of It’s Your World, the debut young adult novel from Kristy-Lee Swift: fellow member of Peninsula Writers’ Club, talented writer, and all round cool chick.

 

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Kristy-Lee Swift (Photo by Julia Madotti)

It’s Your World, published by Guillotine Press, speaks to young adult readers through the voice of  Evie, who is trying hard to decide what to believe, think, and do, as her world stretches around her. She navigates her world without a mum, without a fully functioning, post-brain aneurysm dad—and without a clue.

Between juggling her family and writing life with a busy promotional schedule and karate lessons, I managed to steal a few moments of Kristy’s time to ask her a few questions about It’s Your World

Well done on releasing It’s Your World into the wild. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for It’s Your World and the character of Evie?

There was a girl in my year level in high school. She had been in my year ever since Prep. She sat down on the mat next to me and I leaned over and whispered to her, “I don’t like this teacher.” So, we’d gone through school together from day one; not always friends but always familiar with each other.

Her mother had passed away in a tragic airplane accident when she was very young so she grew up in a single parent, single-dad household and had an older brother – just like Evie. She was around fourteen when her father suffered a brain hemorrhage – just like Evie. But, unlike my school friend, Evie is a very different person in temperament and character. All the things that went into creating Evie were totally fictitious. Evie is an amalgamation of many characters both real and imaginary. But, a couple of those central events in Evie’s life were inspired by that school friend, who, many years ago, was kind enough to sit with me and chat about some of the logistics of her dads’ illness and the kind of headspin that kind of event, under single-parent circumstances in particular, can send a teenage girl into. But that was when I didn’t even know, for sure, that I could pull off this verse novel idea.

I was following up a writing prompt that had been given in a ‘writing for young adults’ TAFE class. The class was very interested and supportive of what I started with and, each week, wanted the next verse/chapter. By the end of the unit, my tutor suggested I continue to build the story as she felt it had publishing potential.

Verse is a form not commonly associated with novel-length works, particularly in contemporary literature. Why did you choose this medium to capture Evie’s voice? Have you always gravitated towards verse, or was it experimental for you?

Kristy sign

Book Signing at Launch of ‘It’s Your World’ (Photo by Gayle Convey)

Slowly, over years and years of being put away and brought back out, It’s Your World became a novel length, fully fledged story with the degree of plot and subtext and characters and character interactions and, of course, crisis’ and resolutions you’d expect to find in a prose novel. It just happened to be written in verse.

There’s always concern when taking the road less travelled, as I chose to do with It’s Your World, but, the narrative style is getting great appreciation and positive responses from adult and tween/teen readers alike.

Younger readers (the more mature 10-12 year olds whose parents have read and deemed the text suitable for their child) are telling me they like that they don’t feel overwhelmed by the book. They feel like they can pick it up and put it down, get back to their spot easily and believe in their ability to complete it. Such readers are making comments about the accessibility of the book in this respect and the feeling of being confident that they will be able to finish it.

It’s also had great response from slightly older readers who have a lot going on in their lives (in one particular case, ADHD) because it speaks to them in a way that is, I’m told (by the kids) ‘cool’ and (by parents) easy for them to digest and relate to quickly enough that they don’t lose interest. And, again, an achievable task for a lot of kids who appreciate they can say that they not only conquered a whole book quite quickly but also read poetry and ‘got it’.

From the older reader’s perspective, and let’s face it, YA is popular with adults as much as it is with teens and young adults, I’m told it’s great for the time poor and brings back memories of the feelings of powerlessness and frailty as well as exploration and invincibility that is a part of that mountain we call ‘adolescence’ and all had to climb in one way or another.

I have always written poetry, at least, from a very young age. I’ve also been very drawn to music. Perhaps it’s the gentle rhythm of verse or the flow that I find myself in when writing in this style that enables me to harness the voice of my character and maintain it.

I still love to write and read single piece poetry. I expect I always will. I particularly love The Romantics and, on the other side, the gritty and raw works of more modern poets like Charles Bukowski.

I’ve always said I love to find words that complement each other perfectly. This is what defines verse writing for me, personally.

Your writing has an innate ability to capture the everyday flaws and frailties of the human experience and the fragility and intensity of family dynamics, underpinned by unique – but highly relatable – observations. It can be a challenge to capture an authentic teen voice. What are your tips?

I think, in a lot of ways, we carry our teenage self with us forever. It’s easy sometimes to forget what it was like. But, it only takes a moment’s reflection, and you’re back there and thinking ‘if only I knew then what I know now…’ and empathising easily with the young people in your life who are in that place and can benefit from reading about those ‘everyday flaws and frailties and intensity of family dynamics’ you speak of.

I remember thinking I was the only one going through all that challenging growth and development.

So, channel your past self and talk to young people. Be open with them so they can be open with you. They’re just people, just fresh, new versions of us who don’t yet know some stuff that they’ll, one day, wish they did. And then some.

What issues and themes does It’s Your World explore, and why do you think they are important? 

It’s Your World explores some heavy stuff. Coming of age, dealing with parental illness and mortality, Postnatal depression, sex, alcohol and the youthful exploration of belief (philosophical and religious understandings). Then there’s the lighter stuff, kissing boys, friendship dynamics, dying your hair and sneaking in and out of home. These are, mostly, typical to the experience of adolescence but they require scaffolding by parents, older family members, teachers, and, of course, literatur.

Without support, adolescence can be a frightening, depressing, lonely and, at times, dangerous place to be hanging out for at least ten years or your life. For some of us, even longer.

Kristy-Lee Swift and Cr Simon Brooks (Photo by Julia Madotti)

Kristy-Lee Swift and Cr Simon Brooks (Photo by Julia Madotti)

I also wanted to portray Evie’s growth out of a mindset where she felt she required saving. She felt victimised, held back and neglected. I wanted her to grow into a more proactive, self-defining, self-creating, powerful young woman who had the confidence to take steps that would make her life better on her own terms, often without a net, without a knight in shining armour, but with a positive and life-affirming attitude. I guess that falls under the meta-narrative of ‘Identity’.

Can you tell us a bit about your publishing journey? 

The publishing journey has been a long and winding road. From having an agent and almost being picked up by Penguin to my agent being involved in a pretty serious accident. She suddenly had to close up shop completely. I tried to chase the Penguin link but that was no use. They have the iron gates of Wonka’s chocolate factory.

A friend encouraged me to go down the partnership publishing track. I kind of started, freaked out, and decided it wasn’t for me. I had too many reservations and Writers Victoria gave me some great counsel on that one, encouraging me to keep searching for a more traditional publisher. Particularly since the manuscript was good enough to get attention from Penguin.

I went on to receive some great feedback from some of the publishers I approached, particularly Ford Street Publishing.

Finally, I was entering a poem for the Adrien Abbott Prize (shortlisted, by the way) when I saw a call for submissions from Guillotine Press. I jumped on that and was offered a contract very quickly; in a matter of days, actually. Mark Rafidi has a strong background in education as a secondary teacher and he felt the book had great potential as an in-class text. And we were on our way.

It was all the work that came after that shocked me. Picking fonts. That got me in a tizzy. I’m not a visual person but my publisher likes to have author involvement in all aspects of production as he feels it’s important in maintaining the integrity of the book.

Then came launch time. And, let me tell you, that’s a good six weeks of hard work in pulling it all together, shamelessly self-promoting and networking, talking to bookstores, starting up a website, getting on the radio and local paper, and getting out there and really being a part of the writing community.

The launch preparationg has been a wonderful, character building, exciting and exhausting experience that I’m so glad I did but, now that I’ve done it once, I shall never do again. It is a killer!

Like most writers, I expect you’ve got a towering ‘to be read’ pile. Which books are on yours at the moment, or what have read and enjoyed recently?

Ah-huh! Great question. I do always have a book tower. I’m traditionally a reader of classics. But I am currently trying to be modern and up to date for a spell.

Begin.End.Begin the #LoveOZyaAnthology edited by Danielle Binks, Jacinta DiMase Literary Agency YA specialist, is on top of the pile right now (Danielle had a pre-production read of the internals while I patiently awaited the first print run and said “I have had a read of It’s Your World and it’s indeed gorgeous,” which was a great boost at a nerve wracking time).

Along with the anthology, I have Jo Johnsons’ Stories Sell: How to use YOURS to explode your business. A very active content writer and coach, Jo runs a closed FB page to aid, coach, inspire and encourage writers, business folk and entrepreneurs of all walks. I am becoming more and more enticed by her peninsula writers retreat.

I also have Perfect by Ellen Hopkins (verse novel), a Billie B Brown detective story I intend to read with my five year old (she’s a massive fan of Sally Rippin as am I), The Curious Guide to Things that Aren’t (thoughts and riddles for young people that encourages critical thinking and logic), and, I’m hunting down a copy of My Best Friend is a Goddess by Tara Eglington on a ‘I’ll buy yours if you’ll buy mine’ deal I made with a fellow Australian YA author.

I’ve recently read Baby and a Backpack by Jane Cornelius. What a brave, bold, hilariously entertaining and clever lady and a wonderful memoir (I’m not usually a memoir girl but this one was an exception.)

I also plan to re-read a whole lot of Blake very soon.

Let’s not even get into the science, sociology, martial arts and mythology books I’m ogling. There are not enough hours in the day!

So, what’s next from Kristy-Lee Swift? Are you working on any special projects, or have anything else in the pipeline for release?

Well, I’m really looking forward to getting my next manuscript closer to completion. It will be a verse/prose blend which is the real experiment for me. The story is written. Everything’s in place. Or time, for that matter, it’s set in 1994. But I want that narrative blend to really pop! So, I can’t wait for a closed group meet up/day retreat that’s coming up in early June at All Smiles café under the wing of US author Ann Lamb.

I also have a fantastic character called Molly Oddball who has many a middle grade tale to tell about her existential zen-like approach to life, living and understanding the world around her. She’s a character I’ve worked on for a long time and I’m very much in love with her. She also has a pet frog named Oddfrog.

So follow me on FB, Instagram or check up on my slowly developing website (getting the hang of it now) to keep up to date with what’s coming up.

And – just for fun – what’s something random about you, that not many people might know?

What some people may not know about me is that I love my Tempur bed and say a prayer to NASA every night giving thanks for the technology that was developed that made my bed possible.

Also, I’m loving Karate classes at Peninsula Karate under the excellent guide of Sensei Amanda, a young woman who is really kicking goals in her field of fitness and is advanced beyond her years. A real inspiration; and, the only mental break I seem to get throughout the week between bookish things and parenthood.

And, one more, I’m married to the sensational Jimmy Mook of the psychfunk musical duo known as The Scullamooks. Live beats and acid blips with trance tangents and an amazing live aspect.

It’s an artsy place, my house.

♥♥♥

Thanks so much for your time, Kristy. It’s great to know more about the girl behind the book, and the book behind the girl.

Kristy and Bec

Kristy and Me

 

If you’d like to know more about Kristy and her work, you can catch her at the next Peninsula Writers’ Club meeting (June 6) where she’ll be ‘in conversation’ at Cakes and Ales, Sorrento talking about her writing journey. You can find the event details here.

Or say g’day to Kristy and other scribes at ‘Poets Corner’ the last Sunday of the month for dinner and poetry readings at the Blue Bay Cafe in McCrae.

It’s Your World is available in paperback or Kindle edition. To get your hands on a copy, visit Guillotine Pressunnamed

And to keep up to date with what’s new in Kristy’s world, visit her website or follow her on social media:  Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn
BIO – Kristy-Lee Swift

Kristy Lee Swift is a Mornington Peninsula based author who has recently realised her dream to publish a blended prose/verse novel for young adults.

With a proficient writing background, Kristy has contributed to Voiceworks and Lip Magazine, as well as written for Singapore-based educational/youth/ESL magazine—‘Vita Edition’. Kristy has taken much of her inspiration over the years from respected teachers and writers over the years including the dazzling Alicia Sometimes, performance poet extraordinaire, editor and radio broadcaster.

Kristy is a writer who doesn’t do the café writer thing; she spends as much time as possible sitting in the middle of her king size Tempur bed with as many books, notebooks and devices as will fit.

 

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About Rebecca Fraser

Rebecca Fraser is a full time copy and content writer and part time speculative fiction author based on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Her dark short stories, poems, and flash fiction have appeared in various anthologies, magazines and journals since 2007. Rebecca holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing and a Certificate of Publishing (Copy Editing and Proofreading). To provide her muse with life’s essentials, she supplements by freelancing for the corporate world, however her true passion lies in storytelling.
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