The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of Spark
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born and raised in beautiful Christchurch, New Zealand, and lived there until earthquakes broke our house and destroyed our neighbourhood in 2011/12. Whenever we go back to visit, the empty green paddocks of the eastside, post-demolition, make my heart sore. I hate that my girls will never know the city I knew, so many of our precious landmarks are gone. Now we live at the top of the South Island in sunny Nelson and I rather fancy my new small-town life. It suits me.
Growing up, I went to Burnside High School where I was greatly inspired by my English teacher Ms McColl. She took our creative writing class to my first ever Writer’s Festival in Dunedin where I sat in the audience moony eyed at the poetry of David Eggleton. At the University of Canterbury I majored in Classical Studies and Drama expecting to train and become a teacher in these subjects. Really, it was the literature in both that I loved the most and I became an English teacher instead.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I’m not sure about these ages … but when I was 5 or 6 I desperately wanted to be a Solid Gold dancer (think Beyonce in glittering gold spandex + epic afro), around 10, like most of the girls I knew, I imagined a glamorous future as an air hostess, but by 18 I had the acting bug. I did amateur theatre and short films but it was the scriptwriting that got my pulse racing. By 30, I had been teaching for a while but the itch to write was getting harder to ignore.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito would be the best Batman, Catwoman and Penguin of all time. (Batman Returns 1992). While Tim Burton is one of my top 3 directors (heads up: you’ll see locations in my novels named to reflect this) Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) upended this strongly held belief. Though he has retired the cowl, Bale holds my allegiance. If Affleck can win my attention I’ll be impressed. I reserve judgment on any future Penguins or Catwomen (Pfeiffer for the win).
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
For thematic influences I would site my favourite texts to teach in the classroom: Hamlet and Lord of the Flies. Hamlet for the exploration of moral dilemma and the consequences of action or inaction. Lord of the Flies for the exploration of human nature and poking at the flimsy scaffolding that keeps us from savagery. At University I loved Oedipus for the question of freewill versus predestination. In a somewhat less grandiose scale I have begun to attempt my own experimentation with these concepts.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Spark is a story about friendship, loyalty, courage and love mixed with a synthetic gene that creates guardians and killers known as Shields and Strays. Evie learns that she is a Shield, genetically engineered to save the life of her best-friend who is being stalked by a Stray.
Evie strives to learn how to use her new psychic and physical capabilities while managing grief, learning to live with her aunt and struggling to fit in at a new school. Added to these pressures is the complication of falling in love with a boy who is completely off-limits and totally irresistible.
Spark is the first novel in a sci-fi/crossover trilogy.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
A sense of investment in my imaginary world, that they’ve journeyed with characters they love and or loathe, that they give enough of a damn they’d want to visit again in the future.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
My favourite writer of all time is Margaret Atwood. I fell in love with her work when I was a teenager and the novelty has never really worn off. In contemporary literature I’ll read anything Kate Atkinson sets her pen to. Isabel Allende, for magical realism and Alice Hoffman too. In YA, I love Patrick Ness and the astounding Elizabeth Knox.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I would love to have readers from all over the globe discover my imaginary world, emotionally invest and embrace the characters, grieve their losses, rejoice in their triumphs, and then argue about it all online, print t-shirts with their favourite quotes, swarm at conferences, throw my books across the room when their favourite characters die, lose sleep to finish a chapter, fake sick days to stay home, neglect their chores and families because they’d rather read, text their friends when they’re watching TV and they spot someone who’d be perfect to play a character from the book in a non-existent movie adaptation, create playlists that remind them of the story and re-read, and re-read because it’s just like visiting old friends. I dream of this because these are things I’ve done with books I love.
I am an aspiring writer and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ve arrived, mostly because I’m never satisfied. From the beginning I wanted to be good more than I wanted to be published so I have always been hungry for the best counsel and the most honest criticism, to learn the craft and keep learning, refining, exploring and taking risks. Unpopular concepts like sacrifice, hard work and commitment are the price you’re willing to pay to realise a dream but passion, faith and obsession is what keeps you going.
Rachael, thank you for playing.