In the March issue of Junior Bookseller+Publisher reviewer Natalie Crawford spoke to author Randa Abdel-Fattah about her most recent book.
This is your first foray into junior fiction. What interested you in writing for younger readers and how did you have to adapt your writing for this different audience?
I have vivid memories of primary school and can recall with excruciating detail the agonies and joys of making and keeping friends. Writing for a younger audience has been an absolute joy for me because I feel as though I’m turning back time, diving into my own memories and experiences to share the stories and adventures that have stayed with me all these years. It’s not that my writing is autobiographical, more that I am tapping into the emotional rollercoaster of pre-adolescence that I remember so well. Writing for this audience, and from the point of view of a girl in Grade 5, came very naturally to me—which proves to me that I haven’t really grown up all that much! Perhaps it also means that the insecurities and conflicts we experience as children never really change—that the emotions that drive us to crave other people’s approval and admiration as adults are the same as those we experience as children, only the setting and circumstances change.
The issue of friendship is central to The Friendship Matchmaker. Were you nervous about portraying the concerns of your characters in a realistic way?
Every writer worries that their characters’ voices might not ring true. As a writer, I am always conscious that I will lose my readers and compromise my own creative integrity if my characters are not authentic. The editing process was the best way to determine whether my characters were acting or speaking in ways that were contrived. But I rarely found this to be a problem as I tend to start writing with the main characters’ voices already quite clear in my head.
The use of narrative and inclusion of Lara’s Friendship Matchmaker Manual gives the reader two different points of view. Did you always intend to include the Manual in telling Lara’s story?
The FMM Manual was delicious fun to create. It was always my intention to have it running in the background, as an insight into Lara’s thinking, strategy and motivation.Although the book is a first-hand narrative, the manual is an even deeper, yet playful, insight into Lara’s mind and heart.
Was it fun or nerve-wracking having to immerse yourself in the world of a 10-year-old again?
It was terrific fun! I dived back into the world of friendship trios, playground spats and the emotional turbulence that comes with picking a friend to sit next to on a bus or play sports with. When I write ‘as a 10-year-old’ I find myself writing with two voices in my head: my adult voice and my voice as a 10-year-old. The product is a fusion of both levels of consciousness. It is that process and tension between young and old that I find most exhilarating.
There are some very peculiar characters in the book. Are any of them based on people you actually knew at school?
I had terrific fun in trying to balance between the comic and farcical when writing such characters as Omar (who only speaks in rhyme as training for being a rap artist one day) and David (who speaks to his basketball as though it were his best friend). None of the characters, with the exception of Chris the Bully, were based on people I knew at school. However, I still try to maintain a healthy respect for even my most ‘peculiar’ characters, humanising them despite the comic potential their various idiosyncracies offer. While some of my characters exhibit ‘odd’ habits and quirks, I still consider that my young readers will identify with these characters’ dreams, fears and insecurities.
Would you consider writing for a younger audience again?
Most definitely. Lara will not leave me alone. After all, she can be quite bossy and dominating! I can’t resist writing a story with her again so I’m writing a sequel. I’m also releasing my first ‘Aussie Mates’ title, Buzz Off in May 2011. It’s a story about a boy who has, well, a special connection with flies—he can hear them talk. Once again I had delightful fun throwing myself into the world of a young boy.
The Friendship Matchmaker is published by Omnibus. This interview first appeared in the March issue of Junior Bookseller+Publisher. Sign up for the free monthly Junior Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here.