We chat to the Cape Town-based novelist about her new novel Mine.
Sally Partridge is not a new name on the local young adult literature scene. Three-time winner of the M.E.R. Prize for Best Youth Novel, she was named one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans in 2011.
Mine, her fifth novel for young adults, is the roller coaster love story of Finley September and Kayla Murphy – two teenagers trying to make sense of their lives in the Mother City. In each other, they find that all-for-nothing love they’ve been searching for – but also a sense of belonging. Until the ghosts from their past emerge to try and break them apart.
We caught up with Sally to learn more about her writing process and why she is passionate about telling young women’s stories.
1. How did you start writing?
I was a very imaginative child and would make up stories to amuse myself and my parents. Silly stories about fairies and unicorns. I used to draw a lot of my characters (I still do). Writing stories was a natural progression, I think.
2. What was the inspiration behind your new novel
I can’t remember what the exact moment of inspiration was. But it started out as a different story altogether – about a girl with blue hair that works in a bookstore and a boy who freaks out on stage, who both turn out to have latent superpowers. But then it evolved into something else and I realised what I really wanted to write was an all-or-nothing, explosive love story. Everything else just fell away.
3. What role does music play in the story? And what did you listen to as a teen?
Music forms part of the world that the two characters live in. Kayla studies classical music, while Fin is in a successful music group. It’s part of what brings them together but also what sets them apart. I wanted to show them as two completely unique individuals. Their taste in music is a small part of that.
I was an alternative kid through and through, so I listened to a lot of alternative and metal – anything that wasn’t mainstream at the time, which was very important to teenage me. Off the top of my head, I remember being into bands like Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, Soundgarden, Pantera, Sepultura, Nick Cave, Type O Negative.
4. Kayla’s story shows the pressures and double standards young women are subjected to. Why was this important for you?
Because it’s something that’s still prevalent, especially in schools, and it’s a subject we’re only starting to explore. Girls are still being raised to be accommodating and pretty and nice, while boys still engage in “the game” and “the chase”. We owe it to girls to tell them they don’t owe anything to anyone, that being themselves is enough, that they’re allowed to follow their dreams. In the same breath, we need to teach boys to respect women as people. You’re looking for a friend, someone that gets you, not a pretty cutout from a magazine. In the book, Fin and Kayla enter their relationship with a lot of scars from their past. I wanted their love story to represent real-life romance, which is complicated and takes hard work.
5. You write primarily Young Adult (YA) fiction. What draws you to write for young people?
It’s a time where everything is new and raw and wild and scary. Everything is bigger, more important, it’s when friendships and loyalties are born, and worldviews are forged. Who wouldn’t want to set stories in this world?
6. Why do you think that YA as a genre gets so much flack?
I don’t think it does. If you look at the hype around authors like Veronica Roth and John Green, the very opposite is true. It’s a dynamic, exciting genre full of daring, beautiful stories and diverse voices.
7. Many writers can’t read while they write. Do you, and what are you reading at the moment?
I’ve never heard that before. I always have several books open as well as more than one project going at the same time. Reading is an essential part of a writer’s toolkit. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been in the middle of a chapter and then scrapped it altogether after reading a beautiful passage in a book. Reading inspires me, it drives and excites me. The way other writers are able to sculpt with their words never ceases to amaze me.
I just finished The Wren Hunt, which is award-winning South African writer Mary Watson’s first young adult novel. It’s a superb piece of work and really encapsulates that dreamy, escapist quality that marks a good book.
8. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
If you feel like you have a book inside you, write it! Don’t worry about whether anyone will like it or if your parents approve. Just do it. It’s the most self-affirming thing you can do for yourself.