If you haven’t heard this name by now you must be hiding under a rock. Also, if this is your first introduction to Steph Bowe you’ll now become accutely aware of just how EVERYWHERE she is at the moment.

Steph Bowe is a sixteen year-old Melbourne novelist. Her first novel, Girl Saves Boy has just been published through Text. It was greatly anticipated, and has been met with huge amounts of enthusiasm. I was one of them – I was anticipating. I am enthusiastic.

Girl Saves Boy is a sophisticated novel about two teenagers both struggling with some huge issues. I admire Steph not only for achieving so much at such a young age, but also for being such a brave writer. She tackles big issues which many YA novels would be too superficial to touch. She even uses unusual character names, and you really need to have great characters to convincingly fill the shoes of people with names “Big Al”, “True” and “Jewel”. Steph pulls it off.

I also saw Steph speak at a panel this year at the Emerging Writers Festival, and she’s incredibly switched on. I get a lot out of reading her blog, Hey! Teenager of the year, where Steph posts a whole range of things from reviews and interviews, which she executes very well, through to inspiration posts (which is where the original idea for this one came from, so thanks Steph!) and posts reflecting on her position in the writing world. I think these posts are the ones I appreciate the most – Steph talks about how publication isn’t an end-point, and she doesn’t get too swept up in the fanfare – she’s certainly never become arrogant because of her success. Her reflective posts are something we can all think about, no matter where you are in your writing career.

I managed to have an incredibly brief chat with Steph (a number of things conspire against me at the moment, but that’s another post):

You’re a sixteen year-old novelist. Quite a celebrated one, at that – how does all that fit in with your regular life?
I do school by correspondence, which means I’ve got a whole lot more time than someone going to school for  seven hours every weekday, and I’m also pretty disciplined and self-motivated. My life now is the same as it was a year ago, except I just have more pressures and responsibilities. I perpetually feel like I’m behind the eight ball, and it’s difficult to stay on top of my various commitments – when you’ve got lots of schoolwork and writing and appearances and family stuff going on, it’s very difficult to find time to go out and relax or just do nothing – but my life is obviously still very normal (with the exception of the fact that I don’t go to school), and I’d say other teenagers feel similarly overwhelmed. Life is very busy!
How do you feel about the fact that there’s been so much attention to your age? Do you feel that, as a teen novelist, you’ve got a better feel for what readers your own age are looking for in a book? I certainly noticed that your book doesn’t dumb down or get superficial, like you have confidence in your readers.
I think as long as a writer likes and has respect for their audience, they’re capable of writing books for them. If you dislike teenagers, irrespective of your age, you’ll probably talk down to them in your writing. But you can be eighteen or eighty, and if you respect teenagers, you can write for them. The teenage experience hasn’t changed a whole lot over time – it’s about big emotions and feeling things for the first time and figuring out who you are. I just tried to write the sort of book me or someone like me would enjoy. I think the attention to my age can be annoying (people saying ‘oh, it’s a good book FOR A TEENAGER!’ drives me insane – you either like or dislike a book, the author or their age shouldn’t come into the equation), but I think it’s been helpful in that people, especially young people, have become interested in my age because of it.
Congratulations, by the way, on writing such a wonderful book! I just finished reading it, and I was really impressed by what you’ve done. You tackle some really heavy stuff in the book – mortality and guilt, blame, teenage sexuality and adolescent confusion. You’ve certainly taken on some things that are much bigger than what other YA novels seem to tackle – was this important to you?
I think that all teenagers are confronted with and think about these kinds of issues, and I think reading books are a really good way to explore experiences you might never have. And so for me, writing this was sort of 1) telling this story I had stuck in my head that wouldn’t leave me alone, and 2) really thinking about these issues and figuring out stuff for myself. I think there are quite a lot of YA books that tackle big issues, and others have lighter content, but they all express something worthwhile and can be enjoyable and/or thought-provoking for those reading them, whether they’re teens or adults.
And what kind of process did you go through to write this book – you’ve got some stunning detail in there that would have required a pretty intimate knowledge of issues, so did you spend some really hardcore time researching?
I’m actually not a particularly big fan of research, so I didn’t do a lot – I had to have a basic knowledge of what I was writing about so that I’d be confident having that detail, but at the same time the book is a lot more about the characters and emotional content than cancer or anorexia – I didn’t want it to be an issues book, but there are issues in it. The process started with months of the ideas growing into my head, and then once I knew what I wanted to write about, I researched a bit. And from there I wrote it, researching a bit more when I was trying to relate to the characters experiences and make them as believable as possible.

Thanks to Steph Bowe for answering my questions, go read her blog and buy her book. They’re both pretty awesome.