Australian YA author Will Kostakis writes about the importance of connecting with young readers in person, and his time on the road with fellow writers in rural NSW.
As a teenager, I was exceptionally lucky to attend a school that could not only afford authors visits, but that hosted a literature festival every two years. I know the positive impact of author presentations because I lived it. I remember feeling energised, inspired. I wanted to read more, write more, achieve more. Everything felt a little more possible, every dream a little more tangible.
I achieved my dream at a young age. I released my first book at 19, and tied to that dream was paying it forward, being the author to visit schools to inspire the next generation. After eight years on the road, visiting school after school, one harsh truth has become clear: author visits are a luxury.
The expenses incurred – speaking fees, agent fees, travel and accommodation costs – are prohibitive for many Australian schools, especially public ones. And while many authors are generous and donate their time, those same expenses prohibit us from looking past our own backyards.
The rural librarians I connect with online and at conferences often have the same story to tell. They can’t remember the last author who visited their school, “if ever”.
Geography should not keep kids from feeling as I did at their age, so earlier this month, Ellie Marney (Every Breath) and Shivaun Plozza (Frankie) joined me on a road trip into the heart of New South Wales. We talked shop, sang off-key to ABBA, drove 1500 kilometres, and were thrilled to engage with students in Bourke and Nyngan.
“I grew up in a small town in regional Victoria so I understand first hand that regional schools rarely have access to opportunities such as author talks,” Shivaun says.
“It meant a lot to take part in this tour, to offer these kids something I’d never experienced myself (but would have loved!) and to show them that regional voices can – and should – be heard too.”
Shivaun’s debut Frankie is a look at life in inner-city Melbourne. It’s part-crime, part-romance and follows Frankie Vega as she attempts to find her missing half-brother and keep herself from getting expelled.
“Touring is about connecting with communities and schools, and most importantly, connecting with readers – and those readers aren’t always located in the urban centres,” Ellie adds.
“Sometimes you have to go the extra mile for those kids who don’t usually get access to writing events, or the chance to meet an author in person, and it’s totally worth it. It opens up new experiences and ideas and possibilities for them. And the sharing flows both ways – I’d never been to that part of New South Wales before, never met the communities or seen the landscape there. That all goes into your treasure trove of writing and teaching experiences.
“Plus, I got to sing to ABBA in the car with Shivaun and Will, and let’s face it, that’s definitely what I’d call value-added.”
Ellie’s Every series is a smart, contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes (think: teen Sherlock falls into trouble and into his girl Watson’s arms) and the first book in the series, Every Breath was listed as one of Australia’s most-borrowed YA library books in 2015.
About Will Kostakis
After dabbling in celebrity journalism and reality TV, Will Kostakis now writes for young adults. His novel The First Third, won the 2014 Gold Inky Award. It was also shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year and Australian Prime Minister’s Literary awards. The Sidekicks is his third novel for young adults.