Author on the Grill & Giveaway: Rosie Borella

The One and Only Jack Chant  is available now in both paperback and eBook format where all great books are sold.
Thank you the fabulous Lara and Allen and Unwin
Check out My Review

She's won acclaim for her unique version of The Snow Queen, previously working as a journalist, sub-editor, editor, in public relations, marketing and science writing. She's a woman who's done it all. But Rosie's returned to her one true love, besides horses, and penned what could be one of the most intelligent, gentle and satisfying contemporary young adult novels that you're likely to read this year. Her name is Rosie Borella, and this week she's an Author on the Grill.

The One and Only Jack Chant's main storyline is centered around the Tranquil Banks Nursing Home. A unique concept in young adult, what was the inspiration behind the location?


I was working in a nursing home in real life, when the idea came to me to write a book set inside one. When I first left school I trained as a nurse because (like the main character, Amber) I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just did nursing because some friends were, and didn’t hang around long after I qualified. Then years later, I came back to nursing because I wanted a job where I could work part time, and see if I could write a book in my free time. I’d already written one book that wasn’t published, then it struck me, write something you know about. After I did nursing bootcamp (to requalify. I’m joking, but not much, about bootcamp!) I went to work in nursing homes, feeling very idealistic, to see if I could make a difference. But I didn’t really manage to change things. Then it dawned on me, maybe writing about it would show more people what it’s like to live inside a nursing home. Nearly every day I saw things that struck me as strange and moving, or funny, or sad. It became a challenge to see if I could capture some of that in a story.
Amber is a brilliant character, only sixteen and carrying the weight and expectations of her parents on her shoulders. Do you think that's a realistic representation of parents today, who place too much emphasis on teens becoming adults too soon? (Personally I do, and believe teens will resonate with what Amber's parents put her through).


I do think it’s weird that at 14 or 15, teens are being asked to make important life decisions and lock in particular subjects so they can work towards a certain career. I think education should be more general for longer to equip us better for life, rather than forcing people to narrow their choices and focus on specialities too soon. Some kids seem to know where they’re going, but like Amber, I was bewildered, and felt rudderless for a long time after finishing school. Also I think many kids are forced to grow up fast in other ways – to take a lot of responsibility early because their parents are working long hours, and are under financial pressure. Not the least is the pressure of materialism we all get caught up in – to have the latest and best stuff, and to update it all the time.
I absolutely adored the residents of Tranquil Banks, each with their unique personality and quirks. Considering most are each in a different stage of life, how were you able to accurately depict life within the nursing home and personal care to the residents?


I’d finally figured out I should write something I knew about – working in a nursing home. None of the characters in the book are ‘real’ – I just used the kind of situations you might see and hear in a nursing home – e.g. Marigold Hooper behaving as though she is somebody famous, but walking around half-nude, and Jack Hatchett thinking he’s back in the school yard, yelling at kids about doing detention. People with dementia often have strong memories of their early lives, even though they’re a bit lost in the present, and can act out their recollections of the past. That can be sad – but funny at the same time. In the middle of this, spare a thought for the poor staff who have to provide the personal care to somebody who believes she’s the 1960s answer to Angelina, and that she’s mistakenly stepped inside a very shabby hotel.
The One and Only Jack Chant is a book that can be deciphered to suit the reader. I found it wondrous, that the idea of Jack Chant and what he represented was more important to the storyline than the actual character himself. Was that a conscious decision to write a book that could be interpreted according to the reader?


It’s perceptive of you to say that what Jack Chant represented was more important to the storyline than the character himself. I dreamed him up in the beginning as a device – he was simply somebody to stand a little outside the action, somebody capable of asking: Is this how you treat your old people? He was to be somebody different from Amber, with a different worldview, say somebody from a society where the normal family unit is the extended family, a visitor from another country, another culture, or even another world. I really don’t know why he ended up being the character he did, except that he just arrived boldly, with his own story to tell. In the beginning I didn’t really know his background – how he came to appear in the nursing home – but I knew quite quickly where he was going to go. That is, I knew how the story would end, but not a lot in between. Amber had to unravel the mystery of Jack, and so did I. There are also strong similarities between Amber and Jack – both are butting their heads against authority, finding their own feet and their own way in the world, trying to decide what they want, instead of what others want from them. I always knew I wanted this to be Amber’s coming-of-age story, but I didn’t realise until I was writing it, that it was Jack’s as well.
How did the concept of Jack Chant translate from idea to being published and what did you find the most difficult during the writing process?


I’d had a short story called ‘Eternity’ published in a collection called The Wilful Eye (Tales from the Tower: Volume One). Allen and Unwin asked what else I was writing, and I was working on Jack Chant. In the beginning I had chapters alternating between Jack’s voice and Amber’s voice, but there was a lot more of Amber than Jack, because I knew more about Amber and the action in the nursing home. Allen and Unwin felt Jack’s voice wasn’t quite right, and asked me to rewrite the parts from Jack’s point of view. That seemed really daunting to me, because Jack was becoming a very strong character in the story. I didn’t want great chunks of text to be Jack telling Amber about his life – I knew I needed to ‘show’ in the story, rather than tell. So I hit on the idea of Amber ‘seeing’ and experiencing significant things that had happened to Jack, as though stuck inside his body, looking out through his eyes. As it’s my first published novel, I found a lot of things hard work, because I didn’t really know what to expect. Even things like making sure the action was happening in the right season – I was stuck in winter too long when, according to the time that had passed, the weather should have been getting hot.
Mr Hatchett was a favourite of mine, with his light fingers and outrageous life experiences. How did his character come about and is he based on any one particular person?


I think teachers get a hard time in a lot of YA writing, especially maths teachers! I had some very inspiring teachers, but one particular maths teacher stands out in my memory, for all the wrong reasons. And Mr Hatchett is nothing like him – sorry to disappoint! Except that they both yelled a lot, making my brain boggle – just like Amber’s. One thing I rather liked about Mr Hatchett was him turning out to have a slightly sleazy background that Amber, as a student, couldn’t have known about or understood. But a little bit older, working as a carer, she begins to realise… Oh – that’s what he’s talking about. And now she’s older, she gets to have a good laugh and realise just how outrageous his stories are.
A major turning point in the book, was the inclusion of the accreditation that the nursing home faced (and not a moment too soon). Was this something you needed to research, and how did you find the experience?


I didn’t have to do any research because I’ve been through accreditation in several nursing homes and hospitals. Like Amber I was always grateful to be working night shift to miss out on the actual visits from the Accreditation team!
If readers could take away one important message from the book, what would you like that to be and why?


Everybody knows an old person – say a grandparent or an elderly neighbour. Next time you meet them, ask them about their life. It might take a while (after all, they’ve lived a long time) but chances are, they’ll tell you something amazing. Try to think beyond the fact that they’re old. Try to see the person that was young like you once, with all your hopes and dreams. And try to think of them now as somebody with lots of wisdom and skills, who might be willing to help you achieve the things you want by sharing their life experience with you. Writing the book, I was niggled by the idea that elderly people are undervalued in our society, and that there must be a better way of looking after them, than lumping them all together in nursing homes and turning our backs on them, as a society. I just haven’t quite figured out the better way yet. In the story I wanted to bring a young person smack up against the cares and concerns of somebody elderly, and see what would happen.
The connection between Amber and Jack could be described as magical. With a unique love interest, was that a conscious decision to create a love story that breaks the typical young adult mould?


It wasn’t a conscious decision to have Jack and Amber fall for each other, or to create an unusual kind of connection. It just grew out of the characters. Amber is feeling lonely and left out, missing her best friend who’s gone off to uni, and unimpressed by the few boys who’ve stayed behind in her home town of Stockford. Then this enigmatic, unusual boy turns up. He’s also evasive, but that’s more because there are things he doesn’t know and can’t remember. Given the mystery surrounding him, Amber can’t help being intrigued by this good-looking boy. Jack realises Amber is someone he can confide in, with the courage and sensitivity to accept who he is, even though she may not fully understand him.
And finally, will we ever see a follow up of the elusive and endearing Jack Chant?


I’m glad you like him as much as I do, but I’m sorry to say I planned The One and Only Jack Chant as a single book. Now I’m working on two others. One is set in the future, with fragile social structures breaking down, and is centered on a damaged boy called Kade. The other is set here and now. The one set now is about a girl called Caitlin who’s fallen for her best friend’s boyfriend.

About the author

Rosie Borella has been crazy about two things ever since she can remember - riding horses and writing. A few years ago, she left behind a working life that had always involved writing - as a journalist, sub-editor and editor, and in public relations, science writing and marketing. She went back to nursing part time, so she could spend her free time writing what she really wanted - fiction. Her story 'Eternity' in the Tales from the Tower collection has garnered rave reviews. The One and Only Jack Chant is her first novel.

Rosie lives on a farmlet on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria. She writes from a room at the back of the house that looks into an overgrown garden. Being inside her writing room feels like being inside the Tardis. An escape hatch would make it just perfect.
Photo credit: With thanks to George Stawicki.

You can find Rosie at Allen and Unwin or on Goodreads

With thanks to Rosie and Allen and Unwin Australia, Australians have the chance to win a paperback copy of The One and Only Jack Chant.


1 comment

  1. OMG how am I supposed to pick ONE enchanting character?! I'm going to say Morpheus for now, because...Morpheus. Also, awesome interview! I haven't heard of this book (I know, what madness is this?!) and now I really want to read it. ;)


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