Interviewed by Ben Payne
One of an increasing number of talented Australian YA authors, Penni Russon is the author of the well-crafted and moving Undine trilogy, composed of Undine, Breathe and Drift. Her webpage and blog can be found at:http://www.pennirusson.com/
1. Your Undine trilogy might perhaps be characterised as YA urban fantasy. Your characters have a lot of depth and the books have an almost literary sensibility to them… there’s certainly no sense in anything having been “dummed down” for a YA market. What made you choose to write a YA trilogy, and did the awareness of the market permeate the writing, or was it something that came afterward?
It seems I forgot to grow up and stop reading kids books and start reading adult books. I mean I do read adult books, but only if they are good enough to lure me away from literature for children and young adult. I think of YA more as a genre than for a particular audience. I like stories that are driven by narrative and character, plots that are, you know, plotty… I knew I was writing for YA as I wrote them, but I wrote freely, with no sense that I was modifying my voice or vocabulary for an audience. I love the term “urban fantasy”! I wish there was more of it in adult literary fiction.
2. What is your impression of the field in Australia at the moment? What has the reception to your books been like and how do you see yourself fitting into the broader context?
I have always loved Aus lit. I think it’s a very exciting field at the moment, receiving lots of international attention. It’s a growing field but there will always be an element of smallness to Australian lit and I think – as a writer – that’s quite nice. My books have been extremely well reviewed, though they’re not runaway bestsellers or anything (dammit!). Apparently at the Reading Matters conference my books were held up as an example of future trends…but I can’t remember specifically why! I think probably the crossoverness of them is indicative of the way a lot of writing is going. Books for older teenagers who might previously have read adult books. Books that blend and bend genres or write towards a new genre. Like I said above, I’d love to see more crossover between fantasy and literature in adult writing in Australia.
3. Now that the trilogy has been wrapped up with Drift, what are your future plans? Will you be working within the YA genre still? What are you writing at the moment?
Okay, just let me breathe into a paper bag for a minute. I seem to be writing at least three novels, no make that four. I have a contract for two with Allen & Unwin, but I am not entirely sure what those two books are going to be. I am just writing my way into all of these stories and seeing which one carries me. One is a verse novel, based on a very sad true story. One is the first book in a fantasy trilogy, more strictly fantasy than Undine, I guess, though I am inclined to say more fairytale than fantasy – as a mother of daughters I started thinking a lot about princesses lately, why they’re being so heavily marketed and if they are empowering or projecting stifling, materialistic or restrictive values and I want to explore the princess construct through fiction. The third is a younger kids book, a family drama, which is the most progressed but I am losing steam on it. And the final is a spooky little number about a tiny Thumbelina type character – I have the whole story shape in my head but the voice is being very elusive. I am also writing a Masters thesis on Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline, which I think is pretty much a perfect children’s novel.
I do have an Aussie Chomp coming out in September and a novel called The Indigo Girls coming out in February next year with Allen & Unwin. So I haven’t been bone idle or anything.
4. Enough about writing. What books have you really enjoyed in recent times?
Right now I’m reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. I think it’s going to make me cry – it’s so beautiful and tiny and crafted. I loved Uglies/Pretties/Specials by Scott Westerfeld – I thought they were very accomplished, and very morally complex, they spun my head around a few times. I’ve also been reading the Fables comics, with which I am entranced. I think it’s my first time reading comics as an adult – I was drawn (ha ha) to the beautiful artwork, but the narratives are truly addictive.
5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’re given the opportunity to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most. Who’s it gonna be?
Snape (don’t judge me). This might be an Alan Rickman Truly Madly Deeply thing though. But it might also be a lack of closure thing.