Q&A

Veron­ica Roth, au­thor, 30

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Front Page - By Cathy Os­mond ◖ ◗

Your bril­liant ca­reer – 40 mil­lion nov­els sold – kicked off when your de­but Di­ver­gent be­came an in­stant best­seller in 2011. You were 22. How did you cope? I had re­ally good peo­ple in my life, and also the uni­verse has a way of re­mind­ing you how small you are… You don’t get too caught up in all the big fancy things that are go­ing on. When I learnt that the se­quel In­sur­gent had de­buted at num­ber one, I hung up the phone, turned around and my dog was pee­ing on the floor.

The teens in your sto­ries are thrust into ex­treme cir­cum­stances: dystopian fu­tures, war­ring plan­ets. Why does this ap­peal to writ­ers of young adult (YA) fic­tion?

It gives you an op­por­tu­nity, through ex­ag­ger­a­tion, to ex­plore cer­tain is­sues you might en­counter in ev­ery­day life. When you’re a teenager it feels like life is that try­ing – you haven’t learnt how to cope, how to bear pain. Ev­ery­thing feels a bit more in­tense – at least that’s how it was for me as a teenager.

Though strug­gling with anx­i­ety, you found the courage to spruik Di­ver­gent to agents while still at uni in Illi­nois. How did you rec­on­cile your fears with your am­bi­tion? Anx­i­ety af­fected me in mun­dane ways, like plac­ing or­ders in restau­rants and ba­sic tasks, but for some rea­son I had good cop­ing skills when it came to writ­ing. I had to de­velop them with other things.

What are the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­her­ent in writ­ing YA fic­tion? It’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than you might imag­ine: what I’ve learnt from teenagers, and from hav­ing been one, is that they’re at this del­i­cate point where they’re try­ing to fig­ure them­selves out, so it’s im­por­tant not to ram a par­tic­u­lar view­point at them; bet­ter to ask ques­tions and give them food for thought about things they care about. Even when writ­ing about ex­treme sit­u­a­tions that don’t seem that grounded in re­al­ity, I try to tell the truth.

Now you’re an old lady of 30, do you worry about the need for a youth­ful view­point in your YA writ­ing? One of my favourite writ­ers is Lois Lowry (The Giver, Num­ber the Stars), an older Amer­i­can who writes poignant and re­lat­able books for young peo­ple. I had the great priv­i­lege of meet­ing her. Her books re­mind me that while you do have to be care­ful not to speak down to read­ers, the dis­tance can be help­ful. I can give my teenage self a lit­tle more grace...

The Aus­tralian YA writer John Mars­den said re­cently “we ro­man­ti­cise child­hood and we de­monise ado­les­cence”… Wow, I think that’s so true. When­ever peo­ple ro­man­ti­cise child­hood I think, “Man, you must have had a dif­fer­ent child­hood than I did!” Not that it was bad, but I re­mem­ber quite a bit of angst. I think we find teenagers an­noy­ing and silly and we don’t want to look back at our teenage selves. I was loud some­times, ob­nox­ious and surly, but I could also be thought­ful and sen­si­tive. I had the seeds of who I was go­ing to be­come.

eV­eRy­thing feels mORe in­tense when yOu’Re a teenageR

The hero­ine in your new sci-fi novel The Fates Di­vide is the daugh­ter of a dic­ta­tor. Where did you look for your re­search on pro­pa­ganda? North Korea, Ceaus­escu’s Ro­ma­nia and of course Or­well’s Nine­teen Eighty-Four. I was writ­ing it around the time of Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, which was al­ready up­set­ting, even be­fore the term “fake news” started to be used as a weapon. And: “We’re gonna build a wall!” We put that sort of thing in dystopian fic­tion be­cause it’s such a clear sign that some­thing is go­ing very wrong. Veron­ica Roth is at the Bris­bane Writ­ers Fes­ti­val, Septem­ber 5-8, and at events in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne Sept 10-11. More at harpercollins. com.au/veroni­carothoz

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