Join us for a conversation with Lili Wilkinson, conducted by our Word Play Ambassador Claudia Blomberg. Read more about Claudia here.
How did you first get published?
My very first publication was a poem in the wonderful Voiceworks magazine, when I was twelve. My first book came a bit later. I was working at the Centre for Youth Literature, writing a lot of articles and reviews. I’d known Andrew and Maryann, the publishers at black dog books for a long time - they published my mum, and I used to babysit their kids when I was a teen - and they had been reading my stuff and thought I had potential. They asked me to write a non-fiction book for kids about the life of Joan of Arc - not something I knew anything about, but I dove headfirst into the research, and that was my first book!
What is the best skill a writer can have?
Why did you choose to write a novel in the apocalyptic genre?
I read an article about doomsday preppers, and just knew I wanted to write about them. It seemed like such a perfect follow-up to The Boundless Sublime, which was about cults. And once I knew I was writing about preppers, I knew there had to be a disaster.
Have you always known you were going to write? When did you realise it was a career you wanted to pursue?
I knew from about age five. But when I finished high school I briefly thought I wanted to be a film director or editor, so I studied a lot of media stuff at Uni, then realised I was quite bad at those things, and that writing was the thing I loved the most.
What is the best advice you could give your younger self (regarding your schooling/career in writing)?
Care less about what other people think about you. Write what you love, read what you love. You don’t need to be pretentious about it.
What is your opinion on character diversity in speculative fiction?
I think character diversity is important in all fiction. I try to make the characters in my books represent the diverse world around me. When I’m writing characters with identities and experiences that are different to my own, I do as much research as I can, and reach out to people who can help me. I’m doing a lot of listening and learning in this area.
What makes writing novels different from what students do in schools (short stories, flash fiction etc.)?
Time. It takes me about two years to write a book, including all the editing and a lot of waiting while it’s with my editors (I’m usually working on three or four different projects at once). That means you spend A LOT of time with the story and characters, which is good, because you have the opportunity to hone and polish and make it the best story it can be. And bad, because you get really, really sick of it by the end.
What’s your favourite book?
Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones. But recently I’ve loved Alison Evans’s Highway Bodies, Claire Coleman’s Terra Nullius and PM Freestone’s Shadowscent.
What do you admire most in other authors?
Really beautifully crafted language. Great commercial instincts. Humour.
How do you write such realistic teenage perspectives, as an adult?
I’m chuffed that you think I do! I think honestly that adults and teenagers are not nearly as different as the world would like us to believe. We all want the same sorts of things. We all love and grieve and roll our eyes. The only difference is that teenagers feel those things in a purer, more intense way, because they’re not as distracted by boring adult stuff like taxes and mortgages.