Q & A with Liana Skrzypczak

Here at Lectito we love having a natter with all manner of creative types to hear about their work and how they are inspired and influenced by their reading.

For our FIRST EVER (!!) Q & A sesh, we spoke with emerging YA-crossover fantasy writer, Liana Skrzypczak. Liana is an Adelaide girl with a big imagination and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone more enthusiastic and excited about storytelling. Her first novel, White Horse, was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Writers and her current work-in-progress, Gold, has been shortlisted for the Hachette Mentorship Program. In short, the lady is going places and we were keen to learn how she works her magic.

First off, congratulations on having your work-in-progress shortlisted for the Hachette mentorship program! Can you tell us a little bit about your novel?

Thanks! And sure! Gold is about a 20-year-old university student named Declan, who lives in a dystopian Australia that has made a radical decision to split society into two: ‘Daylighters,’ who live and function during the day, and ‘Nocturnals,’ who do so at night. While productivity is doubled, traffic is dispersed evenly over twenty-four hours, and resources are exploited to their fullest potential, it is a graveyard transition into a world eclipsed of hope for those who must live the rest of their lives in darkness. For Dec, it means leaving his first love behind and uncovering a family secret that could spark an energy revolution.

Take us behind the scenes, what’s your writing process and what do you hope to gain from having a mentor?

My writing process is very … haphazard. I’ve heard of authors using all sorts of techniques such as, ‘The Watercolourist’, ‘The Bricklayer, ‘The Oil-Painter’ and the ‘Snowflake’, which all sound great. Unfortunately, mine feels more like the ‘Floundering around in Quicksand’ method, and usually involves a bunch of very strange rituals from listening to music associated with the mood of a scene before writing it, and recording voice memos on my phone via Siri, which always makes me feel like a crazy person. My best ideas seem to come when I’m driving. The idea for my next novel came to me while I was on my way to work and almost had me running a red light! Whoops.

I hope that having a mentor will provide me with both industry and craft-related guidance. I’d like to learn more about the realities of working in this industry and how my writing fits into the wider scope of YA fantasy/speculative fiction genre. In terms of craft, I’d like to get advice on my world-building, backstory weaving, POV (which is the tricky 1st person present), and voice. I’m currently writing from a male perspective for the very first time and would like to achieve as much authenticity as possible.

Why fantasy? What appeals to you about the genre as both a writer and a reader?

I’m not really interested in real-world stuff. I’ve always had my head in the clouds. My parents say I was a massive ‘space-cadet’ as a child. I don’t have brothers or sisters so I used to play by myself for hours on end without getting bored. I guess you could say I’ve been making up fantastic worlds and scenarios for as long as I can remember and it feels good to put them all down on a page and give them a kind of concrete being.

What books and writers have most influenced you and your work?

My all-time favourite books include the entire ‘Alanna’ series by Tamora Pierce, Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah, and the ‘Harry Potter’ series by J.K. Rowling. All of these books are about an underdog triumphing against all odds. Now that I think about it, the protagonists in both my YA fantasy and my current WIP are unlikely heroes who are placed in situations that require them to rise to the occasion.

Your first novel White Horse, which was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Writers, was for written for adults. Your current manuscript is YA-crossover. What appeals to you about writing for this readership? And how have you found it different from writing for adults?

Actually, they could both be YA crossovers. I guess that’s because the characters range from 18-25, which is the age of most of my friends. I think there’s a lack of books that identify with the early twenties (especially in science fiction and fantasy) – YA is too young and adult is too old. My friends and I often lament about this. We love the YA voice, but find the themes in these books irrelevant to our current circumstances. I hope my books will be something my friends can read and enjoy.

Now the big philosophical question: why do you write?

So deep! I could go on for days but I guess I write for two main reasons: For myself because I need to have an outlet for all the stories and scenarios swirling around in my head, and for others because I want to share these fantastic worlds and stories. One day, I’d like to teach creative writing to students and to pass on the magic of storytelling, but that’s a whole essay in itself.

What are your plans for the future?

  1. Polish the WIP with the help of a mentor
  2. Submit the WIP to agents and publishers
  3. Write a 3rd book
  4. Polish the 3rd book
  5. Submit the 3rd book
  6. Write the 4th book
  7. And so on and so forth until I exhaust myself.

What’s your best piece of advice for all the aspiring writers out there?

I’m still aspiring myself, so I’m always listening out for new advice. The best advice I’ve heard came from John Marsden when I attended his masterclass as part of the Salisbury Writers’ Festival. He said something along the lines of: ‘Getting published is great but don’t let it rule you. If you weren’t happy before you got published, you probably won’t be happy after.’

The second piece of advice came from Delwyn Jenkins, co-ordinator of the RWA Newbies Facebook group. She said: ‘The publishing industry is not for sissies.’ It was a lovely way of saying if you want to be in this industry, you’ve gotta ‘harden up’. And it’s so true.

Finally, an uplifting quote I’ve kept with me. I think I saw it on Twitter. ‘If you reach for the stars, you might not catch one. But at least you won’t come up with a pile of dirt!’

What are you currently reading?

The first book of the ‘Twinmaker’ series by Sean Williams, a fellow South Australian YA sci-fi writer who I’ve seen speak at many festivals around Adelaide. He’s got a knack for world-building and he writes very successfully from a female perspective, which is interesting. I can learn a lot from his writing.

I’ve also been working my way through some classic dystopian texts on audiobook: Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Cloud Atlas. You know, all the ‘light stuff’ :P. They’re not books I’d normally read, but they come up in the vernacular so often that I’d like to be able to have an input in these discussions when they do arise (mostly so I don’t look like a complete idiot). Someone once scoffed at me and said: ‘You write dystopian fiction and you’ve never read Margaret Atwood? Shame!’ Tail between my legs, I went home and read, The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m glad I did. Atwood is a genius.

For more about Liana and her work, head on over to her website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.  

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