UQP Writer's Room: Nova Weetman
Why did you start writing?
I wanted to be Agatha Christie. I was eleven. I carried a suitcase full of props – fake gun, sequined purse, a mirror covered in shells. And I wrote crime stories on an old black typewriter. I still have them. I loved that I could be lost in my head.
How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?
I’m not sure I did decide about form or genre. I just started writing what felt comfortable for me, which was real-world stories. I started out writing for adults and then had children and tried my hand at writing YA. Now I mostly write books for middle grade readers and that feels like my natural home.
Where was your inspiration for your latest work?
My latest book was inspired by watching my own children experience being on the cusp of puberty and of feeling awkward as they grappled with where they fitted in. I remember going through puberty and all the awkwardness of that. I wanted to write a book that both celebrated how open this generation is with talking about periods and their bodies, and also examined how overwhelming it can be for an individual.
How do you get started with a new project?
I usually just start writing so that I can find the voice of the book and of the character. Sometimes when I’m many words into a new project, I realise I have to backtrack and work out the plot, because I always start with character and tone before anything else.
Do you have a routine? What tools do you use?
My routine is trying to write each day, even if that’s just a paragraph. Mostly though I’m juggling other work and parenting, and I have to squeeze writing in. It’s only when I have a deadline that writing takes over.
How do you handle writer’s block?
If I’m struggling with the project that I should be working on, I usually start writing a short non-fiction piece because that allows me to think differently.
How important is research in the writing you do?
It depends on the project. I have just finished a co-written book that has a huge research component in it. It involved trips to the NSW State Library to trawl through archives and visits to many locations around Sydney. But many of my other books are set in contemporary Melbourne and so the research is more about locations, or what the setting looks like rather than any detailed historical research. Most of the research I do is to ensure that readers aren’t questioning elements in the book, like the steps involved in rock climbing, or skateboarding tricks. It’s little questions of detail rather than big story research.
How much planning is required when it comes to structuring one of your books?
I’m a dreadful planner, and structure is something I struggle with. I usually write a shabby first draft and then give it to author Emily Gale who gives me great structural advice. Then I have to write a series of drafts before the structure works. If only I planned first, I would save myself so much time. But I think it’s a little like not using a cookbook and trying to bake a cake on the fly, which I also do. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s a disaster, but I never seem to learn from past mistakes.
What’s the editing process like?
I feel very lucky to be edited. I think it’s the greatest gift a writer can have. I know how much my books improve from being edited. I find structural editing really difficult because I always know that I’ll have to do a lot of work in the redrafting stage, but I love being copyedited because the book has started to come together by that time and it’s just about refining the detail.
How did you come to be published?
I’d published short stories and written a couple of adult books that came close to publication but fell over at the last minute, when I decided to change tack and write a YA book. I’d just had a baby and I started getting up early every morning and writing because it was the only time in the day that the house was quiet. I think having a child made me start to reminisce about my own past, so it sort of made sense to write about that period in time. Then I sent the book off to an agent in Sydney and they took me on and sold it to UQP. By the time my first book came out, I’d been writing for decades. It was a long road to publication!
Social media – like it or loathe it?
I like a little of it. I don’t like the feeling of being exposed so I use Twitter more to connect with other writers and social movements rather than posting too much personal stuff. I also like that with Twitter you can find out in real time what is going on in the world.
How do you handle the reviews?
Depends on how strong I’m feeling. Sometimes bad reviews are manageable, but other times they really crush me. I thought that the more books I published the less affected I’d be, but I actually think it’s gone the other way. I feel more vulnerable now about how people think about my work than I did when I first started.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
I studied psychology many years ago, and I think I’d love to be a school counsellor.
What is your number one tip for aspiring writers?
Learning how to redraft was the best thing for me. I think it’s really important to know that you will have to write many drafts before a work is finished. So it’s also important to not show your work to a million people who give you different advice. If you want to share your work or get an opinion about it, then find one of two trusted writer friends who can offer you suggestions that improve it.
Plotter or pantser?
Tea or coffee?
Two coffees first thing.
When I’m not writing I’m…
Reading, op-shopping, cooking or hanging out with my kids.
My favourite place to read is…
In bed. Always.
Ebook or physical book?