I was back home in Western Australia recently and, as always, made a point to visit the local speculative fiction specialist bookshop (Stefen’s Books, if anyone is interested – I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area!). While there, I was recommended a YA fantasy novel by a local author: Waer by Meg Caddy.
When I sat down to read the novel, I absolutely devoured it. I knew immediately that I wanted to get Meg on the blog. Not enough is made of the wonderful Aussie spec fic writers – and while I may be biased, I am sure as hell going to toot their horn whenever I get the chance!
Waer contains a fair amount of violence. Why do you think it is important for darker elements to be included in YA literature?
I was very conscious of the violence in Waer while I was writing, and the way it was treated. It’s something I feel strongly about. Young adults are exactly that. They’re not children any more, and they’re starting to find their way in a large, complicated world. Even at a young age, they might have already been exposed to difficult things, like violence or grief. I think YA literature helps young people to understand the darker elements of life, and explore different ways of processing these things. It can help them identify healthy and unhealthy ways of grieving, of recovery, of dealing with conflict.
You wrote a dissertation on pirates… tell us about that!
I’ve always been fascinated by pirates. A couple of months ago I actually went through and found photos from every year since I was sixteen, either dressed up as a pirate or messing around on boats. It’s an ongoing obsession (my friends are undoubtedly thoroughly sick of ‘pirate facts’ by now).
When I did my dissertation, I wanted to look at the cultural response to piracy in the Early Modern period, focusing specifically on the way political engagement with piracy influenced the way pirates were written about. My research spanned three centuries, royal proclamations, newspapers, books, ballads, and religious sermons.
I kept my eye out for stories of female or gender-nonconforming pirates in particular and found some incredible stories: Grace O’Malley, Elizabeth Killigrew, Charlotte Badger and Ching Shih to name a few. I found myself caught on the story of Bonny and Read. Anne Bonny is actually the protagonist of my new book, Devil’s Ballast, which comes out with Text Publishing next year.
What do you think YA speculative fiction can explore that books for adults might struggle with?
Earlier this year we saw teens across America mobilise to stand against gun violence. Highly traumatised young people put aside their own safety and time for recovery in order to fight for what they believed in. I was emotional watching that. I work with teenagers and they always surprise and impress me with their capacity for courage and resilience. I also have a teenage brother whose compassion and forward-thinking humbles me.
I think YA speculative fiction confronts and reflects, time and again, the different emotional challenges young people have to face as they come into the world. It also shows us the very best of these young people. Even in dystopian worlds, horror stories and tragedies, we see teenagers who make tough decisions and do the best they can. I think sometimes cynicism can be an easy default, and YA speculative fiction pushes back against that. In that sense, YA Spec Fic is filled with hope that I don’t always see in books for adults.
Are there any YA fantasy tropes you would like to see disappear/any you want to see more of?
You know, until recently there are some tropes I’d throw under the bus but I read Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince this year and it was an education in spinning tropes. There are so many things in that book I would normally dislike but which in Black’s hands I loved. I’m trying to be more open-minded, especially about romance.
As to what I like? I am a sucker for ‘found family’ in any genre, but especially in fantasy. Please, please, more female friendships that aren’t disrupted by romance. More gay, of any variety! Any asexual representation – any at all! Revenge and heist narratives (Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows rules my heart). Vengeful and power-hungry women (V.E. Schwab’s Delilah Bard and, once again, Jude from Cruel Prince). Emotional, complex representations of masculinity (Glenda Larke’s Gilfeather, Juliet Marillier’s Grim!).
Yes, I know this just ended up being a list of authors I adore. I’m okay with that.
Why should our readers pick up Waer? (The pitch question!)
Well, I have two cats to feed.
But other than feeding my growing feline army, if you like revenge and redemption, women with swords, flawed heroes, quests, and a twist on the traditional werewolf (waerwolf) myth, it might just be your jam!
On that note, if you like pirates, ships, more revenge, and historical fiction, keep an eye out for Devil’s Ballast next year!
Meg Caddy has a BA in English Literature and History from the University of Western Australia, and is currently writing an Honours dissertation on pirates. In 2013, her YA fantasy novel Waer was shortlisted for the Text Prize, which led to a contract with Text Publishing. Meg was the 2013 Young Writer-in-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, and has been mentored by fantasy author Juliet Marillier. Her short story Amphibian Summer was shortlisted for the Questions Writing Prize, and her poetry has been shortlisted for the Ethel Webb Bundell Poetry Prize.