This isn’t your first book that deals with the death of a parent or an unreliable parent and the impact this has on a teenage character. What are you hoping readers will take away from Promise Me Happy?
Absent parents can make life tricky for some teenagers. In Promise Me Happy, I wanted to explore what can happen sometimes when teenagers, especially young boys grow up without good male role models in their lives. It’s such an impressionable time, a time when you’re trying to make sense of the things around you. It’s also a time when you’re trying to work out who you are. Without good examples in their lives young men don’t get shown what it means to be a good man. This in turn can have a huge effect on their behaviour, their relationships and their attitudes to a whole range of things.
Teenagers now have an abundance of wonderful YA books to choose from and this genre appears to be more popular than ever with teens and adults. Why did you choose to write in this genre?
Writing YA felt really natural to me. It felt right straightaway. I suppose it had something to do with my own childhood. Even though my younger years weren’t always easy, it’s a time that I love revisiting in my stories. It’s a time of new experiences, heightened emotions and high stakes where something like breaking up with someone can seem like the end of the world. I love the intensity that comes when writing YA.
Why do you think it’s important for teens to reflect on the issues that you write about?
In my work as a fire fighter I’ve been exposed to many confronting incidents. I’m constantly reminded how some kids get dealt a really bad hand in life. Through no fault of their own some kids are up against it right from the start and so I like writing stories for them, stories where they get to see themselves and see others in similar situations. And while those stories are important for those young people doing it hard, they are also important for young people who come from more privileged backgrounds. Exposing young people to all aspects of life in stories sometimes means writing confronting stories. But I never write them without my secret ingredient. Hope.
You have three daughters and work as a full time fire fighter with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. How do you balance this with a successful writing career?
It’s about being organised, snatching writing moments whenever I can and milking the times when the writing seems to be flowing. I also have a very supportive and understanding wife.
What are some of the YA books that you read when growing up that have stayed with you?
Watership Down was the first book that I really got lost in.
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle.
The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe.
I also adored the Tintin comics. We had a dog named Snowy and I made my mum knit me a turtle neck jumper!
Robert Newton works as a firefighter with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. His first novel, My Name is Will Thompson, was published in 2001. Since then he has written seven other novels for young people, including Runner, The Black Dog Gang (shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards) and When We Were Two (winner of a Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction). He lives on the Mornington Peninsula with his wife and three daughters.