Congratulations on your fourth YA novel. Can you introduce us to Taylor and Isolde the two main characters in The Long Distance Playlist?
Absolutely! I am so excited for readers to meet them!
17-year-old Taylor Hellemann is a former pro-snowboarder, fifteen months out from a life-changing accident. Known in the boarding scene as ‘Hellfire Hellemann,’ he once pulled off tricks on the slopes that made heads turn and jaws drop. Post-accident though, he’swondering if anyone will ever see him the same way.
15-year-old Isolde Byrne is focused. For as long as she can remember, she’s made ballet everything in the hopes of eventually winning a place at the prestigious National Ballet School. But when her boyfriend dumps her – for another dancer – and she messes up the audition she’s spent years working towards, she goes from focused, to lost.
Taylor and Isolde used to be best friends – before THAT FIGHT, 18 months ago.
It’s been radio silence between them ever since – especially as they live an ocean apart (Taylor lives in Queenstown, New Zealand, and Isolde’s in Sydney, Australia) – until Taylor emails Isolde to sympathise with her breakup. Isolde intends to email him back just that onetime, to be polite. But what starts out as break-up themed Spotify playlists, and shared stories of bad ex’s, quickly becomes something much deeper.
Where did the inspiration for these characters come from?
The inspiration for The Long Distance Playlist, and the crux of this story’s heart – two people, kilometres apart, but closer than anything – dates back to when I was 15 years old, and writing to a boy, who lived on the other side of the world. We were pen-pals, and we exchanged letters and emails across a four-year period. This boy made my teenage years (15-19) a little brighter, and better. What started out as pen-pals – a boy from a land of frozen lakes and snowy skies, and a girl, from the beaches of Byron Bay – became something much more, as we navigated our way through a myriad of experiences in our late teen years. This connection was a huge part of my life at the time, and I knew that one day, in the future, I wanted to write a novel about a boy and girl, who were kilometers apart, but incredibly close, emotionally.
Even though the initial inspiration for The Long Distance Playlist came from real life, the characters of Taylor and Isolde developed bit by bit, in my imagination, over a long period of time.
I always wanted to write about a girl who dreamed of being a professional ballet dancer. In the early 2000’s, my sister was one of the youngest students ever accepted into a full-time elite dance school in Australia. Her talent, bravery, and persistence were inspirational to me.I think I’ve always been fascinated by the world of young professional athletes – the hard work, the immense talent, the sacrifices they have to make to be the best in their field – and I loved exploring this through both my protagonists – Isolde, the dancer and Taylor, the daredevil Big Air snowboarder.
What do you hope readers will take away from The Long Distance Playlist?
The Long Distance Playlist is, for me, a celebration of friendship – of the people in our lives, that we can call upon, in the middle of the night, in any time zone – and find understanding, empathy, comfort and love, waiting for us. The things that Taylor and Isolde are wrestling with in this story – heartbreak, disappointment, recovery from a life-changing accident, family problems – are major to go through – especially in your teens. But they have each other to lean on. Through all the ups and downs, and across the thousands of kilometers physically separating them, they are there for each other – which is such a beautiful thing.
I vividly remember my teen years, and how my friendships – including the one I had with my pen-pal – were the lifelines that helped me cope with a wide range of difficult and painful situations. I really wanted to honour that when writing this novel.
Ultimately, I’d love for readers to reach that final page of The Long Distance Playlist and feel uplifted and hopeful.
It’s a very modern love story and much of the story is written in DMs and texts. Why did you choose this style?
I love epistolary novels (novels told via letters, or documents) and one of my all-time favourite YA books is Feeling Sorry for Celia (Jaclyn Moriarty). I’ve always wanted to writeone of my own – and when I started drafting The Long Distance Playlist in 2017, I knew I wanted to incorporate various forms of communication into the novel, that felt immediate, intimate, and modern.
The majority of my family and friends live interstate or overseas, so text, DM, email and Skype has been an essential part of how we have continued to connect across months, or years of physical separation. So it felt quite natural and authentic to me, to write a love story using these mediums.
With The Long Distance Playlist, I wanted to explore how some of the closest connections in our lives, can take place across vast distances. How the way in which we bond with each other online, via social platforms, DM, text, Skype, and shared playlists, can feel just as real, meaningful, and poignant as any in-person interaction or catch-up. Even though Taylor is in Queenstown, and Isolde is in Sydney, through their emails, and playlists, skype sessions, and cross-country calls, it’s clear, as the novel progresses, how they start to lean on each otherfor support, and how the distance between them, starts to feel not so distant after all…
On your blog you write that stories create connections. How do you continue to connect with your readers and make your stories relevant to their lives?
One of the most amazing things about being an author in the social media age, is the way in which you can connect with your readers across the world. I am a huge fan of Instagram, and love sharing my day-to-day life via Instagram Stories, along with also exploring the stories of my friends and followers. So many of the Instagram DM conversations that I participate in daily, are with my readers. I’ve been chatting to some of them for years now –and they love sharing the books, movies and TV shows they are reading and watching, and the things they are passionate about. I feel so lucky to be able to connect in this way with so many fantastic people – and to be able to then really consider what they might like to see from me next as an author.
Above all, I know they adore love stories – so I am super excited to share The Long Distance Playlist with them!
What are the YA books on your TBR pile at the moment?
- The Girl with the Gold Bikini by Lisa Walker (Feb 2020) – this has been described as a cross between Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars, and is supposed to be hilarious, witty and great fun!
- Making Friends with Alice Dyson, by Poppy Nwosu – I’ve heard fab things about thiscontemporary YA.
- Weapon by Lynette Noni – action packed, with multiple twists and turns – this is a true page- turner.