Specul8: Mark Smith
With: Mark Smith, author of ‘The Road to Winter’ and YA Indie Book Award-winner for ‘Wilder Country’.
By: Speculate volunteer Ophelia Meagher.
What inspired you to write positive stories about and for teenaged boys?
In my life outside of writing (i.e. my paying job), I work solely with fifteen-year-old boys, who I think often get a bad rap. They can be articulate, strong and resilient when they want to be – they just struggle to do it consistently.
Does your writing have an educational intention? Do you have a message you want to get across?
I think it’s a trap trying to write to get a message across. I want to write books that keep young people – male and female – reading. It’s a balance between writing a page-turner and underpinning it with enough issues to get conversations going in the classroom and at home.
Do you think in the future you’ll write other novels that focus on engaging teenage boys with reading and with contemporary fiction?
I’ve become a strong advocate for boys’ reading, though my books are written equally for girls. I think we are doing some great things in YA in this country, particularly in the areas of diversity and different aspects of identity, yet somehow we are still managing to leave our boys behind.
How would the trilogy have differed if Finn was less the moral compass of the storyline and more like Kas or Rose?
It would have been very different. The authenticity of Finn’s voice is reliant on his vulnerability and inexperience. He’s out of his depth from the start but somehow finds the courage to confront violence without resorting to it himself.
Do you think writing engages readers more if it’s set in a place you as the author know intimately rather than a setting that’s unfamiliar or your own creation?
I think it’s a truism that you will always write better about something, setting included, you have an intimate knowledge of. That familiarity with setting will hopefully ring true for the reader as well, drawing them into the story.
How important do you think it is for a text to be connected to a real place and/or time?
There is lots of fantasy and science fiction that isn’t connected to a real place or time, but I know as a reader I am much more engaged with a story if I can picture the setting and time. I think you read a story differently if you are familiar with the geography.
Do you think there’s importance in having stories with an Australian setting?
I do, but not exclusively. I read novels and stories from all over the world. However there is a particular quality to a lot of Australian writers’ evocation of place – never seen more clearly than in Tim Winton’s ‘The Shepherd’s Hut’.
What were the difficulties associated with balancing the setting and plot while maintaining the authenticity of the teenaged characters?
I didn’t find this difficult at all, in fact it helped with establishing the authenticity of the teenaged characters. Finn is very much a product of the small coastal town he grew up in.