NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2022 - author interview (secondary) - Amie Kaufman
Amie Kaufman is well-known to both YA and middle-grade readers as the author of numerous sci-fi and fantasy novels. She joined Anushka from Girraween High School backstage at the 2022 Sydney Writers’ Festival Secondary Schools Day to talk about writing with your friends, finding inspiration everywhere, and why science fiction helps us make sense of the world around us.
Suitable for secondary audiences.
Transcript – NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2022 - author interview (secondary) - Amie Kaufman
ANUSHKA: Hi, I'm Anushka, and I'm a student from Girraween High School. I'm here today on Cammeraygal land of The Concourse in Chatswood as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival Secondary Schools' Day. And I'm so excited to be interviewing Amie Kaufman, the prolific author of an impressive list of books, including 'The Other Side of the Sky' duology, 'The Aurora Cycle' trilogy and 'The Elementals' trilogy, much, much more for the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge. Hi, Amie, how are you doing?
AMIE KAUFMAN: I'm amazing. I'm so excited to be at the festival.
ANUSHKA: I'm so excited to be seeing you. Most people in high school might know you for your young adult series like 'The Aurora Cycle' and 'The Other Side of the Sky' series where the protagonists are around 16 to 18 years old. But the first book of yours that I read was, 'Ice Wolves', which has 12-year-old twins. How do you make the switch between writing middle grade and young adult stories?
AMIE KAUFMAN: Oh, that's a really good question. I think they have a lot more in common than people might think, because I think readers of any age are kind of asking the same types of questions. But I think perhaps when you're writing for a slightly younger age group, they are still working out the world a little bit more. And when you're writing for YA, perhaps, they're working out who they are a little bit more. So, mostly, it's just a case of explaining a few things that kids who are a bit younger might not have learned.
And apart from that perhaps, it's thinking a little bit more about that issue of, I don't know, world versus self identity.
AMIE KAUFMAN: Sometimes, you're just writing stories and it turns out that's how old the characters are though.
AMIE KAUFMAN: Sometimes, it's not that clever at all.
ANUSHKA: Yeah. Also the humour-- like the humour is very different. Like I'm reading this one now, and it's very relatable. It's really funny.
AMIE KAUFMAN: Oh, thank you.
ANUSHKA: Throughout your writing career, you've co-authored several series with other authors. You wrote-- you've written 'The Aurora Cycle' and 'Illuminae Files' trilogies with Jay Kristoff, the 'Unearthed', 'Starbound' and 'Other Side of the Sky' series with Meagan Spooner and 'The World Between Links' with Ryan Graudin. I'm really curious about how the process of co-writing works, especially when the other author lives in a different country. I honestly couldn't tell the difference in narration between reading the different perspectives in 'Aurora Cycle'. Does each other author write a particular character or do you have different strategies?
AMIE KAUFMAN: That's another really good question. So, I would say we create the characters, and we set up how they're going to be, but then after that, we're both writing them. So, say there is-- say I create in 'Aurora', the character of Fin and I write Fin's first chapter. Very quickly, Jay will be writing chapters that have Fin in them, which means he's writing Finn's dialogue, and he's writing his jokes and his lines. And so for the first few chapters, I'll edit them quite heavily, so that I'm teaching how this character works, and he'll do that for the characters that he's created.
And then once we're underway, we've both learned how it's working, and so we're both able to write everyone. But we edit each other the whole way through the book, and I think that's one of the reasons it sounds like it's from one person rather than from 2 people.
ANUSHKA: Would you say you're good friends with all of your co-authors?
AMIE KAUFMAN: Oh, yeah. I was friends with each of my co-authors long before we decided to write books together. And I think that's my top tip for co-authoring with someone is be good friends, because if you're good friends, then you don't want to drown each other's voices out. You should be writing with someone because you love what they do and you want to hear what they say, not because you just want them to do some of the work for you. So, yeah, we've always been-- always been good friends.
And we joke, it's lucky we are, because we've spent a lot of time on tour together. And if we didn't like each other, then boy, would we be sick of each other by now.
ANUSHKA: How would you compare the process of writing or coming up with ideas now that you're a successful author to when you first started writing? Like where does your inspo come from? Are there any books based upon past experiences, dreams, goals in life, or maybe inspired by shows you like?
AMIE KAUFMAN: Oh, look I think they're inspired by all of those things to some degree. You sort of put it all in a mixing pot. A friend of mine recently said to me that she thinks of it like gathering bits of stained glass from all over, and then you put them together to make a window, and I really liked that comparison. But I'm always gathering stuff up. I'll see-- I've got a big draft email, because that way I can get to it on my phone, I can get to it wherever I am, and if I see-- think of a line I like or I see a cool piece of research or a fact, I like, all just goes into this giant jumbled up file.
And sometimes, I trawl through it, looking for ideas and find things that I'm like, 'Mmm, I wonder what that meant?' But I also find stuff that I'm like, 'Oh, yeah, that was interesting to me.' So, I write-- I write based on experiences that I've had for sure. I write based on what I'm wondering about or what I want to talk about. I don't think you should write to teach lessons. I think that you should write to ask questions and invite readers to answer those questions for themselves.
ANUSHKA: Do you think there's a difference between when you first started writing and then when you're writing now?
AMIE KAUFMAN: I think there was maybe more of a difference in the middle, because when I first started writing, I was quite confident, because I had no idea what I was doing. But I was like, 'All right, let's give this a go.' And then I learned a bit and became like, 'Oh, no, there's a lot I don't know. What will I do?' And I think these days, I'm a bit more confident again, not that I'm always going to get it right, but in the end I will get it right.
I've had enough moments now where I've looked at a book and thought, 'Oh, no, I've just realised it's terrible, and I'm terrible and everything is terrible.' And it always comes right in the end, so I've learned to just hang on and keep going even when I'm not really sure.
ANUSHKA: One of the things I've noticed about your books is that you write predominantly sci-fi. But in your latest series, 'The Other Side of the Sky', you merged fantasy with science fiction. Where does this inspiration for sci-fi come from and how do you find the storytelling process different from writing fantasy elements?
AMIE KAUFMAN: Sci-fi has a long tradition of being the way that we ask questions about our own world. So, if you look at old 'Star Trek' stuff, for instance, and you have the green people being terrible to the blue people, it's a lot easier to think about it when you are neither green nor blue than to think about it when you're like, 'Well, I'm one of those people, and what you've got to understand is--'. So, I mean that's a very basic example. But we use sci-fi both to look at things that are happening in our world now but also to project them forward and to think, 'What are the future consequences going to be of what we are doing now
and how do we feel about those consequences?'
Whether it's about climate change or whether it's about the part that corporations are playing in our world or on any number of issues. We use sci-fi to explore what outcomes might come from them without having to live those outcomes, and that may or may not lead us to make different decisions or to keep going down roads that we're going down at the moment. So, I think that's what draws me to sci-fi more than anything.
ANUSHKA: Yeah. Adding on to that, what were some things from your childhood that you think sparked your love for reading? And what do you personally enjoy reading?
AMIE KAUFMAN: OK. So, I read so widely. I read all kinds of stuff. There's a theory I really like from JRR Tolkien who wrote-- you may have heard of him, 'Lord of the Rings', that kind of thing. And he talks about creative compost; about the idea that every book you read, every TV show you watch, every place you go, every person you meet, every food you eat, everything falls to your mental forest floor and what you create grows out of that. So, you can curate what's on your forest floor. So, I read really widely.
I love reading fantasy and sci-fi, but I also love reading non-fiction. I love reading romance. I'll read the side of the cereal box. I read everything I can get my hands on. And I do that partly because I love it and partly because it influences my own reading so much. I've been reading as long as I can remember. When I was little, my dad would walk me down to our local bookshop and buy me a Baby-sitters Club book whenever I was having a rough day or sick or we just felt like it.
I mean, there's a lot of them, so he could afford to do that a lot. My mum-- it was the one thing she never said no to doing was getting us a book or taking us to the library. There were some books I borrowed from the library so many times that she got me my own because she's like, 'Sweetheart, we've got to leave it on the shelf for someone else to read eventually.' And I also had a really amazing school librarian called Mrs Amiot, who would just hand me book after book after book.
And lots of things that I might not have picked up by myself. Something new would come in, and she'd go, 'Oh, you'd like this' and give it to me and that always kept me reading as well.
ANUSHKA: I can tell that you're one of those kids who has that one librarian who they love.
AMIE KAUFMAN: I am. I still deliver a finished copy of all of my books to Mrs Amiot, and I still invite her to my--
ANUSHKA: That's so awesome.
AMIE KAUFMAN: Yeah. I owe her a lot, and she's great.
ANUSHKA: Now I follow you on Instagram, and I notice that you have multiple interests. I know that you have a highlight for baking, and you have a highlight for your dog, the cutest thing in the world.
AMIE KAUFMAN: Yeah.
ANUSHKA: Do you have any other hobbies that you take interest in when you're not writing?
AMIE KAUFMAN: Yeah, I do, I love hiking, and I do that a lot. There's something for me about getting away from technology and just having the quiet. I find that I think differently when I'm doing that. I also love sailing. I grew up sailing. I took my first steps on a boat. My next fantasy novel is set on boat. So, I love-- I love going sailing and being on the sea just calms me down no matter what. And I also have a just turned three-year-old, so I also spend a lot of time at playgrounds these days. 'Don't jump off that! Oh, never mind, you're OK.'
ANUSHKA: Now finishing up for a really difficult question, which character that you've written is your favourite? And which one do you think you'd be besties with?
AMIE KAUFMAN: You cannot ask me to choose a favourite character. That is 18 books worth of characters, and also I feel like favourite characters are like favourite children, like even if your parents have one, they should not tell you. But who would I be besties with? There's a lot of them that I would be-- that I would get on pretty well with I think. I think I would get on pretty well with Aurora from 'Aurora Rising'. She's a bit of a nerd like I am, and she likes to get outside and go hiking.
And I think she handles ending up 200 years up in the future maybe a bit better than I would. I think there'd be a lot more screaming on my end. But yeah. I think I could probably get on with her pretty well. A lot of them, I think would be a great time, but I don't know if they'd be my bestie or if I'd be exhausted afterwards.
ANUSHKA: That's great. Thank you so much for letting me interview you today, Amie. It's been amazing talking with you. I hope everyone watching out here enjoys reading your incredible novels as much as I did while they worked to complete the PRC Challenge.
AMIE KAUFMAN: Happy reading, everyone.
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