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Kids' Q&A

Justine Larbalestier

Describe your latest project.
My next book, How To Ditch Your Fairy, comes out in September 2008. It's set in a world where everyone has their own personal fairy. Fourteen-year-old Charlie's best friend has a clothes-shopping fairy, her worst enemy has an all-boys-will-like-you fairy, but she's stuck with a parking fairy, which means her family keeps borrowing whenever they need to a good parking spot. How to Ditch Your Fairy is the story of Charlie's quest to get rid of her lame fairy and find a better one.

  1. Magic or Madness (Magic or Madness Trilogy #1)
    $5.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

  2. Magic
    $5.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

  3. Magic Lessons (Magic or Madness Trilogy #2)
    $4.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
E. Lockhart is one of the smartest, most innovative writers in young adult fiction today. I think her books tend to be overlooked sometimes because they're so funny. People often don't notice what a brilliant writer you have to be to make comedy work. Lockhart is a genius at it, and her latest book, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, is her smartest and funniest book to date.

Tell us about your pets.
I travel way too much to have any pets. But if I could have one I'd want a quokka. They're basically small kangaroos native to Western Australia. They make a cameo appearance in my new novel.

What was your favorite story as a child?
Oh no! That question. I'd tell you but then all the other books on the shelves would get jealous. Well, okay, here are some books I loved when I was a child, but I don't love them more than any of my other books:

They're all Australian classics. I was also very in love with Alice in Wonderland. Still am.

What is your idea of bliss?
Eating good food is my favourite thing in the whole world. Nothing is more blissful.

My loves are many pretty much any fruit or vegetable ever, but especially mangosteens, custard apples, figs, mangoes, grapes, apples, rambutan, avocados, chillies, tomatoes, carrots, beetroot, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, Lebanese cucumbers. Okay, I have to stop or I'll wind up listing every fruit and vegetable ever. I'm also very fond of white chocolate especially the Belgian kind. Yum. Also caviar. (But not together.)

My favourite cuisines are Thai (which I miss terribly when I'm not home in Australia or in Thailand), Mexican (which is dreadful in Australia), French, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Modern Australian and American, Greek, Moroccan, Lebanese, Ethiopian, Japanese. You see? There I go again! I'm listing every cuisine ever. Every new country I visit I discover some new wonderful food. Traveling is also blissful.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I'm one of those sad cases who've never wanted to be anything but a writer. I started writing my first novel when I was five years old. I have no idea what it was about but I do remember spending considerable time trying to get the title right, though this had more to do with crayon colour than scansion.

My second effort came when I was eight or so, written for the delectation of my younger sister, chronicling the adventures of Silly Sausage Susan. It had several chapters, none of them longer than a page, and filled up almost half an exercise book. I was stunned by my own prolificness. I wrote a book! I can't remember much of the plot except that Silly Sausage Susan fell over a lot. I would act this out for my sister with appropriate sound effects (farting noises — I understood my four-year-old demographic). My sister thought it was hilarious.

Why do you write books for teens?
I'm one of those sad cases who've never wanted to be anything but a writer. I started writing my first novel when I was five years old. I have no idea what it was about but I do remember spending considerable time trying to get the title right, though this had more to do with crayon colour than scansion.

My second effort came when I was eight or so, written for the delectation of my younger sister, chronicling the adventures of Silly Sausage Susan. It had several chapters, none of them longer than a page, and filled up almost half an exercise book. I was stunned by my own prolificness. I wrote a book! I can't remember much of the plot except that Silly Sausage Susan fell over a lot. I would act this out for my sister with appropriate sound effects (farting noises — I understood my four-year-old demographic). My sister thought it was hilarious.

Why do you write books for teens? There are so many reasons it's hard to know where to begin. I started writing YA because those were the books I was reading and loving the most. I was inspired by the writing of, for example, Holly Black, Diana Wynne Jones, M. E. Kerr, and Margaret Mahy, Philip Pullman, and Megan Whalen Turner. Writing YA meant being able to write whatever genre I wanted — fantasy, mystery, realism, science fiction — there are no limits.

I didn't really think about my audience, the teenagers who would read my books, until after I was published and started receiving letters from them and meeting them at appearances. I've heard from teens who've thanked me for writing about non-white characters, for writing about a girl who loves maths, for writing characters that they recognise, characters who are like them.

I've heard from kids who wound up being raised by their grandmothers, whose mothers were very young when they had them — just like Reason, the protag of my Magic or Madness trilogy. Part of what those readers enjoy about my books is being able to relate to the situation my characters are in.

I remember that feeling when I was a young reader, finding books that were set in Sydney with Australian characters was incredibly exciting. I remember the first time I read a book set in my part of Sydney, I Own the Racecourse by Patricia Wrightson. My head exploded with joy. I recognised so much in that book.

But I wasn't thinking about issues of representation when I started writing this genre. That came from readers' responses. Meeting my teen readers has totally changed how I think about what I do.

If you could pick anyone to illustrate one of your books, who would it be and why?
Shaun Tan. He's a brilliant writer and illustrator from Western Australia. His latest book, The Arrival, is a wordless reflection on the immigrant experience. Immigration is something I've been thinking about a lot lately as I spend more time in the USA, far from my home in Sydney, Australia.

Unfortunately for me, Tan's doing so well with his own books that I'm pretty he sure he doesn't illustrate other people's work anymore. I can dream though.

÷ ÷ ÷

Justine Larbalestier lives in Sydney, Australia, and New York City with her husband, writer Scott Westerfeld. For more facts about Justine visit her web site, JustineLarbalestier.com.

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