Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Interview - Melina Marchetta (The Piper's Son)

Melina Marchetta burst into the Australian literary scene in 1992 with her debut novel, Looking for Alibrandi. Alibrandi won her the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year for Older Readers, as did her 2004 sophomoric release, Saving Francesca. Her third title, On the Jellicoe Road (or Jellicoe Road as it is alternatively titled in the US), won the 2009 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and her latest US release Finnikin of the Rock won the Aurealis Award for best long fiction in a YA release.

Marchetta, an English high school teacher until 2006, now devotes her time to writing. Her fifth title and first sequel, The Piper's Son was released in Australia on March 1, 2010 with the US release scheduled for March 2011. My review for The Piper's Son can be found here.

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Marchetta on this new story featuring familiar faces.

Why do you think it was Tom that starting speaking to you after completing Saving Francesca, instead of Francesca herself or even Tara?
I think it’s because Georgie (his Aunt) spoke to me first and Tom found me through her. I didn’t actually think Tom was big enough a character to carry a story. If it had to be anyone from Saving Francesca, I thought it would have been Will Trombal or Tara.

But I figured Tom couldn’t be too insignificant because he gets two pretty important scenes in Francesca. One is when they dance Venus in drama class together and the other is when he comes across Frankie and her brother crying in the library. The line in Francesca, ‘I want to be the first male in the Mackee family to reach 40 and still have a liver’ stuck with me and it became the basis for Tom living with Georgie and Joe during most of Year 11. To be honest, Tom has been one of my biggest surprises and I’m glad I didn’t kick him out of my head.

I have a thing for Marchetta love interests, Will isn't an exception (most probably as they have an awesome first snog). How much thought went into where Frankie and Will would be five years after the events of SF?
I had to make sure that their relationship never dominated Tom’s story so I sent Will to Sumatra to work. (I’m always sending poor Will overseas). I had to be really careful with Will and Frankie. There had to be reasons why they were still together and not just because my Francesca readers were expecting it. Will also had to have a purpose in Tom’s journey regardless of how the two feel about each other, so when Will was on the scene I made the best of him.

You've mentioned previously that Georgie elicits one of two very strong reactions from readers. Why do you think this is the case?
The guys in this novel are responsible for unintentionally damaging each other and their families. I don’t hear a peep about what bastards they are. But friends and family have told me they want to slap Georgie. Really hard. Others have told me they want to shake her. I love that reaction because it’s so emotional but it makes me realise that Tom gets away with things because he’s young and Dominic and Sam get away with it because they are male. It’s almost as if people believe that women of a certain age can’t go around making mistakes because they should know better.

All your novels have a strong focus on family. How much does this reflect on your own life?
Regardless of whether the Finch-Mackee family is different to mine or yours, on a cultural level, the emotions are the same and many families are constantly working at holding it together. There’s a scene in Piper’s Son that I really love where Georgie, Tom and Nanni Grace are in the backyard with Sam’s son, Callum. That was almost an identical day to one of ours except for the content of the conversation. All of us in my sisters backyard, very vulnerable and there’s my six year old nephew walking around with a crazy hat on, a satchel over his shoulder and the cord of a night gown in his hand, whipping trees. When I asked my sister what he was doing she told me he was being Indiana Jones. Some of our most beautiful photos come from that day. That’s what I wanted to capture in this novel. People holding it together and succeeding some days and failing other days.

The Piper's Son felt like an unofficial companion piece for Looking for Alibrandi as there are three generations of males coming to grips with what hadn't been said but staying strong despite this. Is that a fair assumption?
I jokingly refer to Alibrandi, Francesca and Piper’s Son as my inner west trilogy, but apart from the three generation similarity to Alibrandi I mostly used Francesca as a guide to write this and not just because the novels share characters. In Francesca I concentrated on a couple of months in her life and I had two major settings: school and her house. With Piper’s Son I concentrated on a couple of months in Tom’s life and set it two places: Georgie’s house and The Union pub.

I need to know where Jimmy is...do you even know?
I have no idea. At this point I can honestly say that there is no Jimmy Hailler novel. Jimmy is being very Jimmy and not telling me anything.

Did the relationship depicted between Finnikin and his father influence the development of the Tom and Dom relationship in The Piper's Son?
It helped. Especially that the fathers in both novels don’t do much talking. In Finnikin I had to convey so much love between those men through their actions because Trevanion wasn’t the chattiest person in the world after ten years in a barbaric prison. With Tom it was even more difficult. Father and son had been so close all their lives and now there’s total silence. If I counted how many pages of dialogue between them, there’s less than three. But I’d love to think that every time Tom and Dominic are in the same room they’re so achingly aware of each other.

You've tried a couple of new things in this novel; a contemporary male perspective, a middle aged female perspective and duel protagonists. Do you feel this reflects your growth as a writer?
Hmm. I’m older than Georgie and if anyone refers to me, or my friends, as middle-aged we get a bit on the cranky side.

But the answer is no to whether I believe Piper’s Son reflects my growth as a writer. I felt Jellicoe did that and then Finnikin. They were both very tricky novels to write and they hurt my head. Piper’s Son hurt my heart, but writing it on a technical level wasn’t difficult. I read a wonderful review the other day but it was prefaced by the fact that I had returned to form. What I’ve done is returned to a world that my Alibrandi and Francesca readers loved, but in my opinion my best writing has been in Jellicoe and Finnikin.

Is there much pressure with The Piper's Son's release as your previous works have received critical acclaim?
I try not to get caught up with the pressure because there is absolutely nothing I can do to change how people are going to react to my work or their expectations. I don’t think I reinvented the wheel with Piper’s Son, so it’s not going to throw people. The worst thing for me would be an indifference to it. I’ve always said that what writers want most is for people to read their work.

How had it been knowing Finnikin of the Rock has joined your other works in the US market?
I always worry for my novels in the US market because there are so many released over there and I wonder how mine is going to survive, especially that Finnikin is a traditional fantasy and not part of the popular genres flying off the shelves. I’ve read wonderful reactions to it and I’ve read not so wonderful ones, but the majority have been good and I've received quite a few starred reviews, so I feel as if I’m off on a strong start. I’ve heard people complain that it’s not Jellicoe. Here in Australia when Jellicoe came out I heard people complain that it wasn’t Alibrandi.

What do people mispronounce the most - Alibrandi or Marchetta?
Definitely Marchetta. When I was teaching and the boys would hear it mispronounced, they’d hiss with fury. I don’t worry too much about the way Alibrandi is pronounced. I just say it with the Italian “a” vowel sound (Alibrundy). I was at a function at the Art Gallery once with friends and I bumped into a very pretentious acquaintance who introduced me as the writer of Looking For Alibrumby. There have been many Brumby jokes as a result since then.

What YA titles have you read recently that have excited you?
I haven’t read enough of anything recently to properly answer that, but the most recent was Some Girls Are, which I thought was fantastic and last year my favourites were Everything Beautiful , Bloodflower and Raw Blue. I was asked to blurb Wintergirls and I had a few envious moments reading it because the writing was just so beautiful. Will Grayson Will Grayson is another one that charmed me and made me laugh. I have a massive TBR pile and I know some great titles are coming soon. I’m dying to read Monster of Men, Guardian of the Dead, Saltwater Vampires and Little Paradise.

What are you working on presently?
I’m working on Froi, who I introduced in Finnikin of the Rock. Very hard work because he did something pretty despicable in Finnikin and it’ difficult beginning with an incredibly flawed and sometimes amoral character. It takes place three years after the end of Finnikin and I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but the story excites me, especially the new characters, and I feel a bit resentful that I’ve been taken away from it at the moment.

I’m also writing a novel for eight year olds called The Gorgon in the Gully. It’s about Danny Griggs conquering his fears (with help from his older brother who is consequently fighting a territory war out bush).


Did that last statement make you jump up and down clapping your hands as I did? Or did the connection between Danny and a certain rugged, fatigue wearing hard-ass completely pass you by? Regardless, leave some comment love for Melina and order this title so you can read about the Saving Francesca gang and be formally introduced to the fantastic Georgie!

A big thank you to Melina Marchetta for taking the time to answer my questions. It is an honour hosting her on this blog.


A.J. said...

Loved the interview! You asked some very great questions. :D

Did that last statement make you jump up and down clapping your hands as I did?
YES!! OMG!! And then I gave the link to this interview to a couple of buddies who love Marchetta's novels! lol They enjoyed it as well and were happy about the news. XD
I haven't read Finnikin of the Rock, so I don't know who Froi is yet, but I'll know when I start reading it in a few days. :3

Also, The Piper's Son sounds amazing! Cannot wait! Did Marchetta happen to know which publishing company would be releasing it in the USA? :)

Anonymous said...

Great interview. I'm glad you asked about how much the family stories reflect the author's life because I couldn't help but wonder about this, too--the family relationships just seem so real.

‘I want to be the first male in the Mackee family to reach 40 and still have a liver’ That got me, too. I found out about Marchetta in the Books Alive trilogy and I'm so glad I did. The Piper's Son had me crying for HOURS.

CeeCee said...

I enjoyed the review and gasped to read that Will was overseas but was content with the fact that Francesca adn he are still together (I'm assuming).
Now I really want to read it.
If there is one good thing about living in Australia it is that Melinda Marchetta books come out first or at the same time as other countries.


Cait said...

Fantastic interview!
I just finished reading The Piper's Son last night, I was in tears... but then, in the middle of the night, the thought struck me: Ben the Violinist that Justine likes, and the two guys in his band - can they possibly be the Ben the Violinist and the Mullet Brothers from Jellicoe?

Did anyone else find this?

Sorry for hijacking the comments here, but I literally could not sleep for thinking about it!

Anonymous said...

Okay...wait a minute...there's a possible companion novel to Finnikin of the Rock about Froi! and, AND a book about Griggs' brother!!!


woot, woot!

Awesome interview!

Alix said...

Fabulous interview. I adored The Piper's Son, I was so happy to revisit those characters (and very happy Frankie & Will were still together) and meet Georgie and the rest of Tom's family.

I can't wait for the two new books and then I'm hoping Jimmy decides to pop back into Melina's head :)

Anonymous said...

Great interview!!!! I love all her books and I can't wait to read her new ones but since i am in the US it'll be a while til they come out :( I'm sooo excited that she's revisiting Lumatere and Grigg's little brother!!!