Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you've been in the industry?
I've been writing stories since I was a little girl, but I seriously took pen to paper in 2005/2006 and wrote my first middle-grade fiction called Celia Snoop the Fairytale Detective. Of course, this never saw the light of day, but by then I found I couldn't stop writing. I wrote countless middle-grade and picture books, but it wasn't until I won a place in the 2011 Maurice Saxby Mentorship Program and found my voice as a YA writer that I started to write my first YA novel, Unspoken Rules, which was later published by Rhiza Edge in 2017.
Describe your typical work desk.
My typical work desk is pretty much my laptop, which often lives on my dining room table, but also at times travels to my favourite cafes. Between fulltime work, two young children and the chaos of life in general, I often write when and where I can, so you might see me having a latte at my favourite cafe on a Sunday morning, or at my local library after hours. Basically, it's an hour here, a few hours there, and anytime I can find in between. It's not ideal, but for now, for me, it works.
Culture and identity are prominent themes in your book. What interests you most about these topics?
These topics interest me because they are strong themes in my own life. My family immigrated here in the early 1980s from Turkey, and I spent my youth and teenage years walking a swaying cultural tightrope. I often found myself conflicted, attempting to understand where I fit in the world, at school, at home, within my community.
For these reasons, cultural conflict is close to my heart and I love exploring all the implications and impacts of culture and cultural differences within a YA setting in my work. Culture encompasses so much — from food, to celebrations and traditions, to family expectations and religion — the scope is broad with endless fodder to ponder and explore.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader, especially with a teenage audience?
I'm always mindful that teenagers are on the cusp of adulthood yet are often still somewhat naïve and innocent about life. They come to things fresh, with so many firsts, a great deal to learn and experience. I instill this, in differing degrees, into my characters. I will of course always sense-check my work through my wonderful writerly friends, who I trust will be honest with me. All this helps me to shape my characters and stories so that I'm not overstepping or oversimplifying.
What is your top tip for writing stories that draw on personal experience?
I believe that every writer, to some degree, needs to delve into themselves, into their own experiences, feelings, beliefs and thoughts to find that topic or idea that energises them the most. For some, these ideas/thoughts will become a paranormal romance, for others a picture book, but regardless, my tip is to fearlessly delve right in. Find what turns your dial and then build characters and worlds to explore that.
If you could live a day in a literary character's shoes, which one would you choose?
I grew up wanting to be Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables so I would 100% choose her. Her ability to stay positive and hopeful even when the world around held so much bitterness and ugliness, so many scrapes and drama, so much judgment and tribulations, was amazing and inspirational. I've always tried to approach my own life with the same attitude.
Describe your panel for the Wombat Books conference.
I am so honoured to be on a panel with Aunty Ruth Hegarty and Kate Gordon that discusses the role personal experience has played in our writing. I was a massive fan of Kate's Girl Running, Boy Falling, which deals with the confronting topic of youth suicide, and I was fascinated by Aunty Ruth's Is That You, Ruthie?, an account of her time as a dormitory girl. They are both amazingly talented and beautiful writers.
For more great panels like Lora's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the link below for more information.