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NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2023 - SWF author interview (secondary) - 05. Lauren Draper

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[intro music]

ANAYA: Hi, my name is Anaya. I'm a student from North Sydney Girls High School, and I'm here today on Cammeraygal land at The Concourse as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival Secondary Schools Day. I'm excited to be interviewing Lauren Draper as part of the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge. Hi, Lauren. So nice to have you here. How are you today?

LAUREN DRAPER: Thank you. Good. Thank you so much.

ANAYA: Well, I loved reading your book. My first question is, your main character goes through a lot of-- is dealing with a lot of grief in the book. What drew you to explore the theme?

LAUREN DRAPER: One of my very dear friends actually passed away very suddenly when I was in my early 20s, and at the time, it was so devastating that I really stopped doing a lot of the things that I loved, which included reading. And when I finally found my way back to books, I picked up John Green's 'Looking for Alaska', if you've read it, and somehow did not know that one of the main characters also passes away.

And although I was devastated and I bawled my eyes out all night, I also thought in the back of my mind, 'Well, that's not really how grief works.' And when you lose somebody so suddenly, it doesn't often feel like there's a lesson to be learned. And you don't get better in a few weeks, and sometimes you don't get better in a few months. And so Reece is very much, I think, an echo of myself feeling very lost and very alone in the world, but also on a realistic path to putting herself back together again.

ANAYA: Oh, that's really nice. And so Reece was your self-insert, I think it's fair to say, character. Were there any other characters in the books that were inspired by events or people in your life?

LAUREN DRAPER: I would like to say that Reece is very different from myself in many ways, but I do think that there is an emotional sense of sameness that authors sometimes put into their works, even if it's not necessarily their personality or their whole selves. I don't put myself into other characters. I actually find it really difficult to write about myself in general.

But I think there's pieces of my friends and my family. Nina is very much all of the bluster and confidence and cheek of my very best friend. But she's also very different from her, and I don't think that she would have recognised herself in that either. As authors, we're always stealing little bits and pieces. But it's not theft if you change it enough.

ANAYA: [laughs] I mean, the friendships that you wrote in the book also were super complex and super authentic. How did you write such strongly-built and fleshed-out characters?

LAUREN DRAPER: Female friendship is something that has been so important to me throughout my entire life, and I was very privileged to go to a school where my friends and I were not only very close, but we also geographically lived one block next to each other. So we would all stagger, and we would all get on our bikes and go to someone's house.

And those friendships in high school were sustained for such a long period of time, and I think we shared a bit of that quirkiness that Reece and Miles and Gideon share, where they're very different people, but they've sort have found their way together.

ANAYA: Oh, that's really cute. In terms of your book, it's a YA contemporary book. Is this a genre that you write in often? Do you like writing in it?

LAUREN DRAPER: I love writing in YA. I will probably always write in YA. I always read YA, and I think it's because when you grow up, you realise that adults are a little bit boring, and they're a little bit sad, and that every day has-- it loses a sense of its magic and adventure that I think is really fun to write for that young audience.

And so I have written my second book. It's also a young adult novel. I'm working on a third book. It's also a young adult novel. So I think for the next while, I'll be staying there.

ANAYA: Nice. Why did you start writing?

LAUREN DRAPER: Gosh. I started writing when I was a teenager, and I bought this sparkly blue notebook that was absolutely hideous. And I was so frustrated with myself, because I took it to the beach, and I'm like, 'I'm going to write a bestseller,' and reader, I was 12, and I was so disappointed with myself that this book wasn't 'Narnia', and it wasn't 'Guinevere Jones', and it wasn't Meg Cabot, and I was devastated.

But I think writing is a muscle, like anything else, and like a sport, you practise, and I just kept doing it because I loved it. And I was sort of periodically told by teachers, you're quite good at it, and I wanted to pursue it at uni, and I mistakenly went into a journalism degree, and I'm grateful every day since that I did not enjoy that, and I found my way to a professional writing program, and that's sort of how I got my proper start.

ANAYA: Since you've been 12 writing at the beach to now, what's the most important thing you've learnt?

LAUREN DRAPER: People will say, 'Write every day,' and that is garbage advice, because nobody has the time and the resources, and you are not a lesser writer because you do not have the time and the resources to do so.

I do think the best piece of advice that I can give anybody, irrespective of age, is to read everything that you can, but especially read in the genre you want to create. Because there's nothing more obvious than when an author is trying to write for young people especially, and doesn't know them very well, and I think it's just so important that writers have to keep reading.

ANAYA: Speaking of books, what are your favourites?

LAUREN DRAPER: [gasps] My favourite books. My goodness, there's too many of them. One of my eternal favourites is a fantasy book called 'Graceling' by Kristin Cashore. I reread it every few years or so. I'm scared that one day, it will lose its magic. But thus far, it's hanging on.

I recently read a book called 'Yellowface' by R.F. Kuang, and I think that that's becoming one of my favourites. It's a book about the publishing industry, where I work, but that's not technically young adult.

And last year, I read a book called 'Completely Normal and Other Lies' by Biffy James, and it is so funny, and it is so sad, and it is brilliant in every way that a novel could possibly be. So there's a few. You can pick one.

ANAYA: Recommendations.

LAUREN DRAPER: Yeah.

ANAYA: In terms of this book-- which I loved, by the way-- what was your writing process like?

LAUREN DRAPER: Oh, gosh. This book was difficult, and I think it was difficult because I resisted writing it for a really long time. I was working on a fantasy novel that I was absolutely dead set had to be finished. I wanted it in the world, but I kept finding myself stuck. I was sick of googling what rooves were made of, and whether or not you wore underpants in the 1800s, and how you went to the toilet, and what kind of flowers grew in a particular part of the world.

And I wanted to use my voice, and I wanted to use my friendships and my family, and a world that I recognised. And so the start was in little bits and pieces. And then I realised that the Text Prize was open for entries in 6 months, and I thought, 'Well, I'm just going to finish it,' and I did. So if your teacher says you can't do an assignment the night before, that is a lie.

ANAYA: That is so personally nice to me. Also, another thing-- I mean, I loved your book in so many ways. But one part about it, it's super nostalgic and very small town. It's a very comforting book. How did you create that type of atmosphere?

LAUREN DRAPER: Have you ever seen 'The OC'?

ANAYA: No.

LAUREN DRAPER: OK. Well, I stole from 'The OC'. That's it. That's the answer. It is a little bit inspired by movies and TV shows that I loved growing up and that I felt nostalgic for.

But people often ask where the book is set, and I chose the name Hamilton because there is a city in every state of Australia called Hamilton, and I wanted people to be able to picture their childhood beach holiday, and to think that the town that they were in could be a little bit magic, and it could be a little bit special, and that Gideon might appear at the end of the pier next time they're there. And I wanted everyone to have that yearning for summers gone by, for childhood, for youth, for adolescence, because I think it is such a special period of time.

ANAYA: You mentioned before that you're going to have some new books coming up, which I am very excited for. What are some topics that you'd like to explore in those future works, or that you are exploring?

LAUREN DRAPER: That is a fantastic question. I'm really drawn to friendships. I really would love to explore female friendships more. I think they're so important. I think that when you're a teenager, often your friends know more about you than your family does, and they're so formative. They're so important.

I am always drawn to this adolescent experience of not knowing what comes next, and this imperfect feeling of coming to the end of high school and having absolutely no idea what comes next, and perhaps even feeling a little bit behind your peers, and I will always be writing for that particular person. I will always be looking for that particular moment in my novel, to reach out to the person who needs to see it.

ANAYA: Those things are things I really loved about your book, and part of why it was so comforting to me. I read it in one and a half hours, really quick.

LAUREN DRAPER: It's a big book. That is impressive. It's a chunky book.

ANAYA: Yeah. I don't know. I was, like--

LAUREN DRAPER: You're speedy.

ANAYA: --sat in my armchair. Well, thank you so much for this interview. It was really nice talking to you, and I've really, really liked your books, and I'm definitely looking forward to the things that you write. I hope for the audience out there, you guys loved reading her book for the Premier's Reading Challenge as much as I did, and yeah, thank you so much for being here.

LAUREN DRAPER: Thank you so much, Anaya. You have been an absolute superstar.


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