Clare Strahan is a first time author, she created an modern day Aussie contemporary about family, friends, finding yourself and standing up for what you believe is right. I wanted to ask Clare about her inspiration behind her first novel. Thanks to the lovely Lara at Allen and Unwin, and the fabulous Clare. Cracked is due for release in Australia in June.
A wonderful debut novel that captures the essence of real, messy teenage lives: of action and consequence, of poor choices and fragile friendships, of standing up for what is right, and the attempt to make sense of a world when everything feels like it's falling apart.
At fifteen, Clover is finding the going tougher than she expected. Her life is close to being derailed on the rocky terrain of family, friendship, first love, acts of defiance and a planet on the brink of environmental disaster. So when Keek breaks his promise to her, and school sucks, and her mother is impossible, and her beloved old dog is dying, and her dad is in the wind, and the girls at school are awful and the footy boys are bullies and she's arrested for vandalism. well, what else can she be but a little bit broken? Can Clover pull herself together - or will she spiral further out of control?
When life feels like it's fracturing, how do you find a way to feel whole?
What inspired you to create Cracked?
Answer:I was in the throes of a parenting a teenager which stirred up my own inner teenager (who’s never too far from the surface, let’s face it, however old I get) and I wanted to explore the mother/daughter relationship in the context of ‘growing up’ and finding independence. I loved writing Cracked, but I’m not sure I came to any definitive answers, though what became clear, for me, is that with families the only thing that matters in the end, is love.
Clover is a brilliant character who loses her way trying to find herself, are any of her experiences based on that of your own?
Answer:Thanks for saying that about Clover.The novel’s entirely fictional, of course, being a novel, but I’d say if you smashed the teenage me’s experience of school and the eastern suburbs, and my daughter’s experience of Steiner and mainstream school together, and laid over a liberal dollop of imagination and moods and ideas drawn from my whole life and the lives of everyone I’ve ever met, you could say that her experiences are based on that of my own. I’ve certainly been the foolish victim of unrequited love, and it’s object (which is equally painful unless you’re a cad). And I’ve shared good friendships – and longed to fit in as one of the group but to be individual and unique both in equal measure (still do!)
What struck me most with Cracked was the realism. I was able to deeply connect with Clover and sympathise with her. What was the inspiration behind her character?
Answer:Oh Kelly, thank you, that’s wonderful – that’s just what I wanted for Clover, that readers might connect with her.Inspiration is a mystery. What comes to me now is the fact that the teenage me couldn’t understand the priorities and politics of the world around her, either. I made inner sense of the world through words, writing poetry and stories, and by acting in plays and reading novels and poetry – Clover tries to make sense of her world through visual art. (And of course, I’d secretly love to be a visual artist.)
I’ve always had a bit of the protester about me, depending on my levels of courage and disillusionment. I marched against the introduction of fees for universities back in the day (sorry, shoulda marched harder and shouted louder) and if I were a young person today I’d be in the streets making sure higher education doesn’t return to the bad old days of being available only to the rich and those select few ‘poor folk’ patronised by the rich. I’d also be marching to demand a fair go for trade apprentices, too. There’s no justification for this class-driven push to deny ordinary young people their right to live purposeful and enjoyable lives.Clover came slowly, revealing herself in bits and pieces, first from afar, looking back on events, and then rewritten from within as events unfolded. She’s complex and contradictory and so I guess the inspiration was partly wanting to make her real.
Keek was a character that had a quiet confidence that sadly didn't extend to his home life. How did his character come about?
Answer:I love Keek. He rode into the novel on his pushbike and took up residence in the skate-park of my heart. The spark of him came remembering back to primary school, to the moment I first realised that collectively, adults weren’t necessarily sanely in control of things, and the deep shock it gave me (I had a generally very dreamy and peaceful childhood) – and those certain kids that I was drawn to but in a weird, adversarial way. I had some beautiful boy friends at high school, and some beloved teenage lads have come and gone from my home and work over the years of being a drama-teacher, aunty and a parent – perhaps Keek amalgamated himself from them? He appeared and made himself indispensable, that’s all I know. I think Cracked is as much Keek’s story as Clover’s.
Without giving anything away, did you find Lucille's storyline emotional to create? And why do we need Lucille's as part of our storylines?
Answer:Ah, Lucille. Yes, the writing of Lucille most certainly did make me laugh and cry and I’m so happy she features on the cover of the book – wonderful. It’s the Lucilles in life that teach us about unconditional love, I reckon – because that’s what they offer us. Dogs have always been a part of my life – I grew up with a cocker spaniel called Sheba who lived to be 15 years old and have lived with a dog or dogs pretty much ever since I left home. My old black staffy, Tasha, lived to be 17 and was almost the same age as my daughter (she’s now 21). Loving Tasha definitely spilled over into loving Lucille.
The pop culture references gave the storyline character, such as Banksy and Led Zeppelin. How many were your own preferences blended into the storyline, and how much was research?
Answer:That’s good to hear, thank you. They’re my own preferences. My editor, Jodie Webster, and I did toss around ideas of a more contemporary (to Penny) rock icon, but I came to the conclusion that there’s no one else like Jimmy Page – and while deliberating, I sat next to a young woman at ‘Lentil as Anything’ in Abbotsford showing her friends portraits on her phone she’d drawn that week: and they were of Jimmy, which assured me he was the right choice. Mind you, that exchange of Rock-god research emails is one of my favourites from the whole editing experience (which I generally loved).
What I absolutely loved and applauded, was a situation in which one of the sexually active female characters wasn't shamed. Clover posed the question, why is that acceptable for males and not females? We're you conscious of your audience in wanting to spread a positive message?
Answer:Yay! Thank you. It makes me so happy that you read it that way.Yes, it galls and shocks and saddens me to hear anecdotally that there’s still a perception that if boys have sex, they’re manly and if girls do, they’re shamed – and that girls still feel that they ‘owe’ boys something in this regard. And then there’s the rampant sexualisation of girls’ and women’s bodies generally with the ‘accepted’ perception that sex appeal ‘sells’ and is a powerful influence on how we regard a girl or woman’s general worth, but at the same time our society oozes with hypocritical righteousness that girls and women shouldn’t, for and in themselves, be sexual beings or have sexual desires, or if they do, they’re somehow ‘wanton’ or threatening. If Cracked can make a space for even one positive conversation about such things, that would make me very happy. Also, the question of consent is one that’s close to my heart – what is it? what does it look/feel like, when two people are truly, freely consenting to each other? I think this would be the best ‘sex ed’ there could be.
Looking back, if you could give teen Clare a few words of advice, what would those be?
Answer:You know, I never was one for taking sage advice, being pretty sure no one understood me, so I know for sure that it would be a waste of breath for my adult self to offer my teen self any advice at all. I do wish, however, that I could hold teen Clare’s hand through the dark times the way she holds mine now, lit with the flame of her naïve-romantic soul and idealistic heart. I’d rather say thank you for reminding me that no matter how stupid and small and mean and destructive the ‘powers that be’ are with their wars and crimes and shocking disregard for the morality of kindness toward humanity and nature, the longings of a girl’s mind and soul are beautiful and important, and that it’s okay (in fact, essential) to believe in goodness and compassion with all my heart, however wracked with despair I may get.Hang on, no, some things are worth wasting one’s breath on: I would definitely offer this advice: Say NO to perms.
What's next for Clare Strahan?
Answer:I’m writing another YA novel with a working title of The Property.Thank you very much, Kelly, it’s been a pleasure.
Clare Strahan is a Melbourne writer who once rattled out a novel on a manual typewriter by candlelight. She is also a drama tutor with a passion for Shakespeare, a graduate of RMIT's Professional Writing & Editing, a writer of fiction and poetry for humans of all ages and has published in Overland, where she curated their first fiction anthology and volunteers as a contributing editor. She is a freelance editor and creator of the Literary Rats cartoon.
and via her Allen and Unwin Profile Page