Lynette Noni is the author of The Medoran Chronicles (Arkanae, Raelia and Draekora), a Young Adult fantasy series following protagonist Alex Jennings as she stumbles upon the magical world of Medora and tries to make her way back home.
Wanda Wiltshire is the author of the Betrothed series (Betrothed, Allegiance and Confused), a series divided between Earth and the magical world of Faera; home to faeries and perhaps Marla’s long lost soul mate.
I sat down with both Lynette and Wanda and had a chat about their different writing styles, their inspirations and creative processes. Here’s what they had to say:
What inspired you to go into YA? Was it your own reflection of childhood, teenagers in your life or certain authors that really connected you to the genre?
Wanda: Well, when I started writing it was, the very short version of it, was the result of an epiphany. And so I just wrote the story that came to me. The story was actually the answer to a prayer quite literally. I had no kind of feeling about which genre it might fit into or who the audience would be or anything like that. I didn’t start to think about that until afterwards. But I definitely draw on my own childhood. Especially my main character Marla who kinda has had a bit of a struggle with her childhood and then slowly throughout the novel we see her find herself and find her strengths and use them, so in that way my childhood has inspired. And my audience actually, is not just Young Adult either. I think that’s the starting point but I’ve also got readers that are grandmothers who then pass it down to their children and their grandchildren so it wasn’t really a thought thing, it was just something that happened.
Lynette: I was reading, I’ve always loved reading younger books, and I was reading a lot of them at a time just before I started writing and I was growing increasingly concerned by a lot of the protagonists and the age of the readers to how mature the themes were in the books, and I wanted to write a book that had a lot of the normal mild tropes and enjoyment and escapism kind of elements, but with someone who was healthy to sort of look at. Not look at as in physically but look at as in be inspired by, be encouraged by. When a reader reads a book, especially in that age group, they’ll want to be that person. So I wanted to give them someone who was relatable and someone they could aspire to be but also someone who wasn’t teaching them stuff that I wouldn’t want my kids to be taught if I had them in that age group too. Basically I wrote the book I wanted to read.
So you were more influenced by what you’ve read?
Lynette: Yeah. I was reading a lot of books and they all had elements that I wanted in one book but they weren’t in one book, so I put them all into one book and Arkanae was a result of that, and again just making sure those themes that I thought might have been a little too mature for some readers weren’t there, just a kind of Disney/Harry Potter kind of style of book.
I read that you were influenced by Harry Potter, Narnia, X-Men.
Lynette: Yeah. My books are pure escapism. The tagline of my series is “Embrace the wonder” so I wanted to bring back the wonder that a child or a teenager will often have that [as] adults we kind of lose a little bit of. So as we age we get a bit more cynical of life and I wanted to have something that was an outlet for that. And I’ve got nine year olds reading this series and I’ve got 90 year olds reading it, men and women, boys and girls and just, I guess, escaping to this place that’s pure fantasy.
I’ve read the first couple of chapters of Arkanae and I thought it was very easy to read and it drew you in. I found Alex quite humorous.
Lynette: Yeah I’ve had a lot of people tell me that and it surprises me because I’m around a lot of funny people. Like, the people who are my friends and stuff, we banter back and forth. I wouldn’t say we’re witty, we’ve just got that jokey relationship sort of thing. Not all the time, just generally speaking. So Alex is very much a product of that. But because it’s such an easy read I would never claim that my book is a pure masterpiece of literary fiction, it’s just something to capture your attention and draw you in and in line with the voice of Alex, the main character. It sort of just goes with the theme of the story I guess.
And I noticed, Wanda, your style is more poetic with strong imagery.
Wanda: I tend to like things that do go quite deep and are poetic. I love the writing of Anne Rice and Margo Lanagan because it’s just so beautiful and poetic but I like the story to be strong within that as well. Poetry is what I used to do when I was young but then having children kind of took over for a while. I suppose it’s just my natural style of writing.
So what kind of approach do you take with writing or outlining a novel? Do you go straight for the technology when drafting or bust out a notebook and pen?
Lynette: I’m a typer. If it’s the middle of the night and I’ve had an idea I’ll grab either a phone or a pencil or pen, whatever’s beside me, and I’ll jot an idea but otherwise I don’t actually know what’s going to come out until I’m facing the screen and have a keyboard in front of me.
Do you use an application like Scrivener?
Lynette: No I don’t. I just use Word and a whole lot of other documents. I have a Trello board on my phone so I’ve got my characters and then I have descriptions and stuff. If you give someone glasses in book one they need to have them in book four. Just something like that because I’m at the stage where it’s a bit much to keep in my head. But I have documents on my computer, calendars and stuff like that for dates. Because otherwise you say it was two weeks ago when really it was three weeks ago. But otherwise for me everything else is electronic.
Wanda: I’m a bit the same, if I have an idea or an inspiration or something strikes me about the story I have to get to a computer as soon as possible because it will just float right out of my hair. I’m reading [Elizabeth Gibert’s] Big Magic at the moment and that’s apparently a thing. You know, if you don’t grab hold of that little inspiration it will go, you will lose it and that’s happened to me so many times. I do grab a notepad and pen sometimes and jot it down there but I have about fifteen at home and with all little bits in them mixed up. So I definitely try to get to a computer as fast as I can.
Do either of you have any writing rituals or quirks you’ve picked up in your writing process?
Lynette: Comfy clothes. I cannot be uncomfortable. I’m talking daggy house clothes…fluffy socks in winter and, like, in winter hoodies and just comfy, comfy… you know… uh… unashamedly pyjamas. I go out and have my day then I come home and jump into my PJs or house clothes and then I go out again so I get changed again. But I have to write in comfy clothes. I don’t know why. Just can’t feel restrained by you know, I don’t know, hair in a bun, you just look like a writer. *laughs*
So you don’t go down to a coffee shop or anything?
Lynette: I wish. I had this conversation, where I live is Buderim of the Sunshine Coast and they have the most beautiful bookstore called Books of Buderim. There’s a courtyard and there’s the most beautiful writing place that the owner’s like “come up here and write any time,” and I’m like “I wish I could!” but I would just people watch and wouldn’t pay any attention to what I was doing, so my goal is to be able to write at least a chapter outside of a closed space, of my bedroom or office. That’s my goal one day.
Wanda: I usually get up in the morning, make a cup of herbal tea and then sit down at my desk and write. But if I’m feeling I need inspiration I’ll get out into the rainforest. I’m very, very lucky I live near the only little bit of rainforest in New South Wales. So I’ll go for a lovely drive through there and look at the trees and imagine fairies in them and then I’ll go and sit on Bald Hill and just think, dream. So that’s my thing that I do when I think I need inspiration but then of course I’ve got to rush straight back home so that I can get it all down. But I’m definitely a comfy clothes person too. It has to be comfy clothes.
Have you written parts of a novel that have made you uncomfortable to write?
Wanda: Well I know I have definitely. There are definitely parts in my book that have made me uncomfortable. But I tend to leave a lot to the imagination when those uncomfortable parts come. I’ll go there and I’ll say certain things but I won’t be specific. But in my head I know what’s going on and it can be hard. If it needs to be there, if it really needs to be there then I’ll plough through and just feel uncomfortable as I go.
Is it because you have connected with the characters so much?
Wanda: Yeah absolutely. In this world [Faera] I’m my main character. When I’m in the world writing I’m experiencing everything and if I’m not experiencing it enough then I really go deep so I can. Kinda like method writing as opposed to method acting.
Lynette: I don’t put myself in my main character’s shoes. I don’t know why. I know a lot of authors do that. I just sort of think I could never handle anything as well as she does. I like the idea that I could but I sort of see it as a movie playing out in my mind, I guess. And when it comes to being uncomfortable there was a part in the second book, yes, but I don’t remember writing it because it feels like forever ago. But I’ve just recently written a fourth book and I did it in a really short period of time and there was one part where I knew at about the halfway point that something [traumatic] was going to happen. I don’t plot books so this really shocked me, and I really didn’t like it to the point where I was like, “no, just no,” and so my writing sort of slowed down a bit…and I was like, “no, I’ve got to find a way to deviate this,” and [the traumatic moment] just ended up happening. And even now I’ve reread it twice in the editing process and even as I approach that part I slow down my reading and procrastinate just getting [to that part of the novel] because it’s just so traumatic and so I don’t handle it. All my critique readers who have read it have just lost it at me over it. And it’s a beautiful thing that that’s the case but it’s just a horrible thing. It’s a couple of months on and I’m still grieving [over it].
Wanda: I think it’s important to put these things in though [the darker and traumatic moments]. Because they’re out there in the world, it’s real life. Life’s not all cups of tea and happiness there’s dark things out there so it’s really important to put those in. My third book in particular does get quite dark. Necessarily, it had to happen and I’ve had quite a few readers contact me and say they’ve been absolutely traumatised but they can’t wait to read the next book so that’s fantastic.
Do you find it gets drafted a lot? That the novels actually change quite dramatically from your original first draft?
Wanda: Some. But I do most of the work so by the time it gets anywhere else it doesn’t need to change much.
Lynette: Generally speaking, no. I write pretty cleanly. My process is I write a draft and then I re-read through it once and I’m pretty much ready to send it to my critiquers. Then they get back to me and I’ll do one more final whatever and then I’ll send it on to the publishers. Sometimes in the editing process through publishing there might be cutting out. For example in the second book in the series we cut out probably 100 pages in the beginning or got rid of certain events and condensed it and that’s probably the biggest change I’ve done.
Was that hard for you to let go?
Lynette: It was. And it’s really hard now because I have a lot of readers saying, “I would have really liked to have seen this,” and I’m like, “in the original version it was there! And we cut it out!” but at the same time the reason we cut it out was valid as well. It’s the kind of thing that maybe one day I’ll put up those scenes in a blog post. But it was really hard to condense those scenes and have it so that it wasn’t just like, “info dump! Info dump! Info dump!”
Wanda: I had a big section in Allegiance which I absolutely loved; it was my favourite part of the book. It was when Marla’s grandparents came to earth and experienced earth but somebody said to me, “I think that bit could go,” and I’m like, “Oh no, no, no, that stays,” and then someone else said, “I don’t know if you need this bit,” and I’m like, “no, no, it has to stay,” and then the Pantera editor said, “oh I think you could, if you wanted to, take it from here to here and get rid of that bit,” and I’m like, “okay, it’s gotta go,” and it made it worse when she said, “it’s up to you,” and I was like, “Ah. It’s up to me and I love it but no, if three people have said it, it’s got to go.”
You both have completely different writing styles but it’s clear you’ve put a lot of depth into the characters and as a result they come across strong and well developed.
Wanda: Well my character doesn’t start out strong, and I won’t say that she does. She starts out quite broken. She’s had a life wrapped in cotton wool and she’s been allergic to the whole world [Earth] so she’s missed out on things. She’s been forced to kind of be back from life really. But you really see her open up and really step into herself throughout the series. She becomes strong.
It sounds like you know her well.
Wanda: I know her very well, *laughs* we do though, don’t we?
Lynette: We have to.
Wanda: Yeah, as you write you get to know more and more about them.
Lynette: Exactly. I don’t plot, so if something’s going to surprise my character, I need to know how they are going to react to it. So I need to know them well enough to know their reaction. So that it’s authentic and realistic. They are very stressful [the characters], they’re like teenagers. You just can’t control them. You need like little human leashes.
It’s like it’s not your book it’s their book.
Wanda: That’s so true.
Lynette: They write themselves off the pages. I tell this story a lot but the third book in my series I plotted the book for the first time ever and I was so proud of myself and within one chapter my main character Alex was like “Haha! Nup!” and she just went this way and the entire thing changed, and now I’ve got this amazing plot over here which is nowhere near as good as the finished result, which is great, but I’m like “ but, but, but… you went off and I just have to now follow after you.” Imagine an adult with a little toddler that’s running away – that’s kind of how I feel as an author. I’m the adult running after the toddler.