Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Interview - Simmone Howell

Simmone Howell is a Young Adult (YA) author whose books have been published in Australia and abroad. Her first novel Notes from the Teenage Underground was a CBCA notable and won the 2007 Victorian Premiers Awards for YA fiction and the inaugural Inky Teenage Choice Award. Phew! And as if those accolades weren't enough, her second novel Everything Beautiful was a finalist in the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Best Writing. Simmone also won an AWGIE for her short film Pity 24, which was screened in LA, London and Barcelona! Wow! Simmone runs regular journaling workshops and I had the very good fortune of attending one in picturesque Daylesford last year. It was an invigorating and inspiring day of journal prompts, reflection, poetry, sketching and goal-setting. And cake. How can you not love a workshop with cake? For more about Simmone go here for a really cool autobiographical account of her life thus far. Now, without further ado (drumroll), let's hear from the author herself.

Simmone Howell (photo courtesy of the author)

Tell us a bit about yourself, your work and achievements.
I’m a writer and I run writing workshops. I’ve written two YA novels (Notes from the Teenage Underground and Everything Beautiful). Both books are published here and in the UK/US and Germany. I’m writing my third book now. It’s about missing girls and garage rock! My books usually have weird girl protagonists and lots of pop references. I’m interested in all sorts of things, but chiefly, art, writing, film and, you know, eternal existential crises-style questions.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer and what steps did you take to make it happen?
I have always written. I chose quite early on that this would be my ‘career’ but I had very lofty goals and if I could go back twenty years I’d probably advise myself to get something to fall back on. I started small – with short stories, I self-published, I did lots of hack writing, free writing, competitions. I did the RMIT Professional Writing course in the mid-nineties and that was probably when I first took myself ‘seriously’ and began thinking in terms of getting an agent and writing a novel. It took me ten years from graduating to get the book deal.

Simmone's work space (photo courtesy of the author)
Do you have any routines or rituals you perform before starting a day's work or a new writing project? How do you motivate yourself? 
I am not sure what motivates me. Sometimes the story will be enough. Sometimes it’s just that I want to FINISH something (because I start a lot of things that go nowhere). I don’t do much in the way of routines. I try and write each week-day in the mornings after a swim. I write for 2-3 hours. On computer. I tend to polish as I go. And it takes a long time. I buy a special notebook for each book/project – but then I forget and fill it all with life stuff or abandon it for some sweeter, newer notebook. A couple of times a week I go to a space where there is no phone or internet and it’s usually there where I can get a bit lost. When at home, I use the program Freedom to block my Internet otherwise I’d just fritter around forever.

How do you go about developing ideas for new writing?
I always keep a notebook. I’m always reading. There’s always something going in. Often I will see a person and they will become my ‘character’ and I’ll give them my life experiences until I’m brave enough to start inventing ones for them. I will point you to this Jim Jarmusch quote which sums up how to feed your creativity:
“Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.” 

You also run workshops on journaling. How do you prepare for these?
The workshops are a mish-mash of things I’m interested in – and how I can apply them to my writing. For the last one we touched on constellations (inspired by Leunig's sketch of ordinary constellations) and using flow-charts to plot story. Tarot cards and words cut from an old etymology book were all used as story starters. I believe that starting is everything.
A peek into Simmone's drawer (photo courtesy of the author)

Do you like to write by hand or computer and why?
I like both but my handwriting is awful. I always think I’m going draft in longhand and then type it up and make that the second draft, but in truth, it never feels ‘real’ until I see it on the screen. 

What do you do when you have a creative block and need to 'refill the well'?
I go for walks. I sit around drinking coffee. I love Tumblr and use it to fuel my writing. I listen to music. I read books/tips/writers’ self-help guides. (I recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing). Or I read the beautiful stuff that has always inspired me: the beats, Raymond Carver, Joan Didion, Gavin Lambert, J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I also love writer’s journals (Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath). Anything that makes me feel that art is worth it, and that I am not alone. Mostly I try not to panic.

Simmone, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today and for your very insightful answers. Thanks also for introducing me to such a great quote from Jim Jarmusch!

Simmone is running journaling workshops for teenagers called 'The Secret Life of Me' through Signal (beginning March 1). Go here for more information and to sign up. They're sure to be amazing so if you're in Melbourne and know a teen or if, in fact, you are a teen, get onto it!

For more about Simmone check out her website and blog.

Simmone Howell is also on Tumblr.