Vikki Wakefield has established herself as one of Australia’s finest young adult authors with her award-winning titles All I Ever Wanted and CBCA Honour books Friday Brown and Inbetween Days. Plus she’s incredibly good at announcing random giveaways that will make you scream with excitement! (I’m serious, if you could hear screaming around Melbourne the other day, that was me reading her giveaway offer.)
Text is utterly thrilled that Ballad for a Mad Girl by the ever-talented Vikki Wakefield is out this month. It’s a chilling and gritty portrayal of a teenage outsider and life in small-town Australia.
We cornered Vikki and demanded she answer all of our questions on pain of stormwater pipe! She not only kindly told us everything she knew, but also has offered up an exclusive giveaway to her most fanatical fans (that’s us!) of a signed set of Vikki Wakefield books. Yes, you did read that right.
Read on to find out all about her new book and a few things you never knew about the talented Vikki Wakefield, as well as how to win...
Ballad for a Mad Girl is flat-out scary. Why did you decide to write the creepiest ghost book ever?
I’m a fan of understated horror. I blame it on the novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley JacksonーI read it at fourteen and it gave me a taste for the Gothic. I find stories that never reveal the true shape of the monster more unsettling because they leave room for the reader’s fears. I prefer to watch horror films alone; I like being scared. And I think what makes BfaMG scary is that Grace’s emotions and experiences have rational explanations (or at least many can be attributed to her state of mind) but, if you find Grace relatableーor believableーthe line between what is real and imagined blurs. At the end of the book the reader has a choiceーbut that doesn’t mean a sceptic won’t be scared. We can still be afraid of things we don’t believe are real.
Who’s your favourite author right now?
Right now I’m loving Fiona McFarlane’s short stories, Daniel Woodrell’s back catalogue, and a bunch of new Australian YA. My favourites so far: My Life as a Hashtag (Gabrielle Williams), Remind Me How This Ends (Gabrielle Tozer) and Night Swimming (Steph Bowe). I’ve also had the privilege of reading Paula Weston’s new thriller, The Undercurrent, and I can’t wait for this one to hit the shelves. But I can’t possibly list all of my favourite authorsーthere are too many.
Who would you cast as Grace, Cody and their Dad in the movie version of Ballad for a Mad Girl?
I’d cast Sara West as Grace (she has the most extraordinary range of facial expression), Ryan Corr as Cody, and Eric Bana as their dad (he could totally pull off the required macho-vulnerability). All-Australian cast, of course.
What did you have for breakfast this morning? (be honest!)?
A Scotch Finger biscuit. I shit you notーI need a quick sugar hit before I leave the house because it’s usually 11 a.m. before I have time for real food. (Refer to BfaMG’s dedication.)
What do you love best about Ballad for a Mad Girl?
It was a huge challenge to write a pacy novel with a complex plot without sacrificing character. I’m not known for blinding pace, I think. I usually have to write up, not cut back, and character always comes first. I cut a number of favourite scenes (20k words) to hold the structure in straight line, so I was relieved to read through after cutting, thinking, ‘Yeah, Grace is still there’. It helped to think of those deleted words as pieces on the cutting-room floorーwhich scenes would make it to the screen? If I didn’t cut them it would have been a very different novel, so I love that with this book I learned to let go.
How do you choose the names for your characters?
I used to flick through a dog-eared book of baby names (the one I have has ‘profiles’ based on societal perception of a name rather than its origin or meaning, which is very handy), but I couldn’t find it when I needed it. For these characters I rolled some names around on my tongue until they felt right.
What was crossing the real-life stormwater pipe like?
Terrifying. Exhilarating. Cold. Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done (not the dumbest, either).
What books are on your bedside table right now?
None. I don’t read in bed otherwise I’d never sleep! They’re everywhere else though. I can be partway through three or four books at any given time. Here’s a quick inventory of books in various stages of reading: The Reading Room (refer question below): The Death of Sweet Mister (Daniel Woodrell); Caravan Story (Wayne Macauley) and The Upside of Unrequited (Becky Albertalli). The Kitchen: Into the Water (Paula Hawkins). The Back Verandah: Night Swimming (Steph Bowe) and Release (Patrick Ness). The Dining Room: The High Places (Fiona McFarlane). The Toilet: (just joking)
Grace is a strong and determined teenager, despite everything falling apart around her. Are her character traits based on some of yours and your past experiences?
I don’t think of myself as being a particularly strong or determined teenager (stubborn, yes), but Grace and I are similar in some ways: we’re cynical, a bit socially awkward, and we use humour as a smokescreen. We’re also ruled by curiosity, not common sense. I remember sitting up late one night watching An American Werewolf in London (at the time we lived in a small rural town, on the side of a what was basically a giant sand dune in the shadow of a hill called Mount Moon). At night a flock of yellow-tailed black cockatoos would settle in the scrub in front of our houseーduring the moors scene (when the werewolf is stalking David), the cockatoos suddenly took flight like giant bats, shrieking, and I saw something skulking through the front paddock. Of course, I grabbed a torch and went to investigate. (In horror films there’s an obvious plot device: a girl hears something outside and goes outside. I’m herーI’m a plot enabler.) I’m fascinated by things we see out of the corner of our eye, things without a name. I go looking for them in life and in writing. (It was the neighbour’s dog.)
Where is your favourite place to read?
We have a tiny formal lounge room I call The Reading Room. It has a wood fire, two packed bookshelves and no TV. Consequently, nobody else goes there.
Why should everyone be reading Ballad for a Mad Girl right now?
Well, now is a good time to announce a reading challenge: the first reader to spot the glaring omission from this book (in comparison with my other books) and contact me with the (very specific) correct answer, will receive signed copies of each of my books. Anyone who knows my style well will know the answer.
What are you waiting for? Start reading Ballad for a Mad Girl now!
To win the signed Vikki Wakefield book pack, contact her directly at all her known social media haunts: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with your answer to her above question. Entries close Thursday 15 June, 5 p.m. Vikki Wakefield will contact the winner directly.