Writer, curious, connecting with youth
There’s no time in your life quite like your teens. The newness, the emotion, and dear god, the hormones! Miranda Luby not only remembers those times well, but she also embraces their subtle, and sometimes not so subtle nuances, on the pages of her soon-to-be published novel. It’s this type of raw honesty that avid Youth Fiction readers lap up, and which has led to this life-long storyteller becoming an Australian Young Adult writer to watch.
I was immensely lucky to work with Miranda at Zoos Victoria; she was at Werribee Open Range Zoo, I was at Melbourne Zoo, both as Senior Reporters. From day one, I had a boundless admiration for her strong work ethic, knowledge and positive attitude when it came to everything from her ability to craft an engaging narrative, to the hard slog of PR pitches. Possibly the result of an eternal knowing that she was going to be a writer; clarity acting as a motivator to do whatever it takes to make that dream come true.
Miranda is the first to admit that making a career out of writing is a hard slog. The dichotomy of having to back yourself to sell your work and your skills, constantly battling against the typical writer’s impostor syndrome. Pouring your heart and soul into a manuscript, to then be told it is “good, but needs a total rewrite” is enough to break any creative’s soul. But that speaks volumes to the resilience and sheer determination of someone like Miranda.
To this day, she’s graced the pages of BBC Travel online and National Geographic Traveller Magazine with her epic tales of adventure, provided much-needed food-for-thought to the masses through her weekly columns with the Geelong Advertiser’s weekend magazine, and been the hype PR queen for brands of every shape and size. It’s a true testament to how diverse you need to be as a writer to just pay the bills.
But it’s her step back into the literary pages of Youth Fiction that is set to be her greatest accomplishment yet, with her novel Therefore I Am recently earning her a nomination in the 2020 Text Prize and a debut book contract with Text Publishing. I spoke to Miranda about the roller coaster ride that has been the journalism and publishing industry over the last decade, her advice to anyone wanting to take the freelance leap, and the exciting, honest and raw world of young adult fiction.
Miranda Luby is…
My initial response would be to say I’m a writer, which at first sounds like, well, that’s not who you are, it’s what you do. But I’ve never separated the act of writing or being a writer from my identity. To me, part of writing and being a creative is a way of seeing the world. It’s following piqued curiosity down a path where you want to know more about something or you want to explain something. It’s as much of a job as it is a way of interacting with the world around you.
I think it’s a reflection of who you are, as well and kind of what you do. Which leads into my next question, why do you do what you do and when did you get to the point where you knew this is I want to give back?
Essentially, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve never thought about doing anything else. I always knew that if there was a way to write for a living, then I was going to do it. If there was a point where that was confirmed for me, it was probably my first job, which was writing a column for a local Geelong magazine. I started to get feedback from readers saying they identified with my writing. Being able to paint a beautiful picture and to have people connect with it and enjoy it meant I was actually doing what I intended to do.
Tell me about your writing career and how it’s changed over the years, especially in terms of how writing as a medium has evolved?
I studied journalism thinking that I wanted to be a news journalist. You are told at school that you can’t write fiction for a career, you must be a journalist – ideally, a news journalist. But I did about six months of news journalism and decided that it wasn’t for me. I realised I didn’t care much about the news, I cared about words and people.
I really cut my teeth at a magazine where I was writing travel and opinion pieces. Being a small publication, you’re writing a lot, but you’re also editing, doing design, commissioning pieces, and working with photographers.
This really helped when I went freelance, as you have to do a huge range of skills if you want to make a buck in this industry. I do everything from travel pieces for BBC and National Geographic, to product descriptions for brands, social media copy, communications plans, and even copy editing monthly reports for a financial institution.
At the end of the day, you’re still making words make sense to people, which is lots of fun to me regardless of what it is. Now I’m wanting to focus more on fiction writing as well, which was part of the decision to go freelance.
Obviously not having a steady income can be quite terrifying for a lot of people. What advice would you have for those wanting to take the freelance leap?
I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy to make living from it. It’s a fairly well known fact in the industry that a lot of freelance writers aren’t living entirely off what they earn from words. My advice would be to give it a proper go for a year or so, and you’ll get to know pretty quickly whether it works for you. But know that you can go back to full-time work if it doesn’t. It’s not for every personality either – it can be pretty anxiety-inducing always having to chase somebody for money. And you’ll probably have to do work you may not have envisioned on your way to your dream creative writing career.
Has the appetite for certain types of content changed over the years?
Yeah, definitely. These days, websites need to have the most clickable content possible. Our attention span is being spread far and wide and the readership now decides what’s clickable or not. Sometimes it’s pretty sensationalist. I have nothing but respect for the writers that create that content, but it doesn’t always work for me.
I understand you just got nominated for the 2020 Text Prize for your Youth Adult novel Therefore I Am, which is very exciting! Can you tell me about your fiction writing career?
I’ve always wanted to write fiction since I could read books. It took a long time for me to build up the courage to actively pursue it in a meaningful way because I cared so much about it. I worried that if I tried and failed, then it would prove that I couldn’t do it.
While I had entered and won a couple of small competitions, it took me until I was maybe 25 or 26 to get to the point where I decided that not trying would be more of a failure than trying and never having a book published. I wrote some real rubbish, which is exactly what you need to do.
I submitted a book to an agent a couple of years ago and while she gave me some great feedback she said it needed a complete rework. I had put so much energy into writing that book, so much energy into suppressing the fear of failing, that I couldn’t face rewriting that book as it was.
I actually ended up taking about eight months off writing, even though I had this agent waiting for me. In the end I wrote a different book, which I submitted for this prize, one that was based on some of the most truthful things I know. It’s about experiences that I’m close to, about being a 16-year-old girl. That to me was easier to write because it was something I know so well.
They shortlisted seven books for the Text Prize and, although I didn’t win, Text Publishing still offered me a contract!
Now that I have more confidence as a writer, I have gone back and almost finished the rewrite of that first book.
You always hear people say to write what you know, because if it’s a situation or an emotion that you’ve experienced, it’s likely someone else has too.
That’s right. And, really, I think any feeling conveyed in the most truthful way will resonate with people. It’s the feeling of what it’s like to be human.
Why is it that you write for young adults and what sort of topics do you cover that you think are important for that age group to discuss and be aware of?
I think I write for young adults because I think that we’re all still young adults in so many ways. I like to write about figuring out the world and your place in it, what it means to be alive and how you want to live. What it’s like to fall in love. Because these aren’t just kids’ experiences. They’re thing we all experience throughout our lives. So, to me, it’s actually not that different to writing for adults in some ways.
In terms of the issues that you explore, you can’t write from a moral viewpoint. Teens will see right through it. You just have to write the truth and they can take what they want from it. But I do explore topics like mental health, the impacts of technology, those issues that I think anyone would like to explore. It’s a real honour to write for that age group.
Yes Young Adult fiction writers are not scared of portraying life in all its messiness! Do you find the writing community is quite supportive of everyone else in their journey?
So supportive. Even though it’s a competitive industry and there’s only so much money to be made, it’s incredible that people are just so supportive. I think they know that you’re in it for the right reasons.
There are also some great resources out there for anyone looking to get into the industry, including magazines, subscription services and the Australian Writer’s Centre. Also, many well-known authors give online courses or manuscript assessments.
So, what else does the next 12 months kind of have in store for you?
I’ve almost finished that first novel, which I hope will be my second published novel. I will rest it for a bit and then start on my third. I’m looking to what a career in fiction writing would look like as an author and how I can make that work.
I feel like I’ve also got some big fish to fry in the non-fiction world. There are certain publications that I’d love to write for, including local Australian literary magazines – to get a story in those would really challenge me as a writer and be really exciting. I’m challenging myself to see how far I can go.
To read more of Miranda’s wonderful words, head to https://www.mirandaluby.com/