Well, I might just have solved at least one of your gift shopping issues for this Christmas.
‘Clancy of the Undertow’ is a brilliant piece of contemporary realist fiction (ie set in the here and now) which would be perfect for any girl (or nuanced boy) aged 15+. You can read more it in the reflection I wrote recently.
Clancy herself is the wise-cracking, make-up selling, non-white, contradictory-as-only-a-teen-can-be heroine of this book. But she was written by a 30+ year old white guy. A pretty special writer by the name of Christopher Currie, who already has one (adult) book under his belt (The Ottoman Motel) and kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about his fabulous second book.
Is Clancy of the Undertow exactly the book you set out to write?
It actually is! I’m immensely proud of it, and especially proud of the characters I have created.
For me, the key to this book is Clancy’s voice. How did you get inside the mind of a 16 year old girl, who is yearning for all types of love?
I have certainly always been drawn towards coming-of-age stories in my reading, and there’s something universally relatable about going through your teenage years. Clancy’s voice is the thing I’m most proud of in this book, and I’ve certainly tapped into that confusing time in my life when I was figuring out not only who I was, but reconciling that with my perceptions of who everyone else thought I was. The first draft was written quite quickly, and I think this was instrumental in capturing that “lightning in a bottle” moment when you’re trying to inhabit a character’s headspace for an extended period of time.
Now – I know you’re talented, but I’m thinking you probably weren’t solely responsible for that gorgeous cover.
I am extremely lucky that my publisher (Text Publishing) has a blisteringly good in-house design team. My cover was designed by Imogen Stubbs, and the first time I saw it was when my editor emailed it to me! I remember I was waiting in line at the supermarket, checking my emails on my phone, when the image popped up. I definitely uttered an affirmative expletive and may have punched the air. As you can imagine, the other people in the line started to inch away from me.
In the first few pages, there’s a degree of delicious ambiguity about Clancy – to the point where I wasn’t sure if she was male or female. Similarly, there’s an undercurrent about her sexuality that only really surfaces mid-way through the book. Was this ambiguity intentional? To me, it speaks very much of the fluidity of being a teenager. Nothing is black and white….
It’s a funny thing trying to think about a character’s progression in a book you’ve written because of course I know who Clancy is from the very first page. There’s some ambiguity at the beginning, certainly, but you’re right in that Clancy doesn’t address her sexuality directly in her own voice until later in the book. The idea, I suppose, is that this reflects Clancy’s own uncertainty about who she is. Fluidity, as you say, is certainly part of it, but it’s also the concept of Clancy “admitting” things to herself. I really don’t want to be one of those authors who dismisses their character in terms like “she just happens to be gay”, because her sexuality is tied up so deeply in her identity.
Your first book The Ottoman Motel, featured a young chief protagonist but is described as a book for adults. ‘Clancy’ also features a teenage chief protagonist but is described as young adult. Can you define where the difference lies?
Mainly in the content. In The Ottoman Motel my main character is actually younger than Clancy, but there are also two other adult voices the story is told through. Ottoman is certainly a much darker story as well, with more of a mystery at its heart.
What’s your writing process?
It’s nothing special I’m afraid. I’m as guilty as anyone of preaching the benefits of regular writing, and then not following through with it. I was extremely lucky to obtain a 2-week residency at Varuna, The Writers House in 2013, where I wrote the first draft for Clancy, and surprised my editor by sending her a YA manuscript! I work four days a week at my day-job, and try to reserve one weekday and one weekend day for writing.
Authors you love, or who influence your work?
The first author that comes to mind, though, is Sonya Hartnett, who is legitimately my idol. What she can do with words is unparalleled, especially in the writing of young voices. I have been ridiculously lucky to arrive as a YA author at a time when so much focus is being devoted to Australian YA, especially through movements such as #LoveOzYA.
The best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Work hard and be nice to people. Which works just as well in any context, I suppose!
I wish I knew the actual answer to that. All I can say is that it calms me, and when I’m working I can disappear into it.