Tania Roxborogh was in Christchurch primarily to promote her latest book Fat Like Me — an adult non-fiction publication based on her own experiences in which she challenges peoples’ perceptions about obesity — but we were more interested in what she had to say about the her teen novel Third Degree …
Author’s note …
“In 1973, I suffered third degree burns in much the same manner as Ruth. While I was in hospital, all the children in the ward were injected with some type of bacteria and then, if we got sick, were given a foul-tasting, creamy medicine to ‘make us better.’ My mother had no knowledge that this ‘test’ or ‘experiment’ took place.”
Interviewed August 2005
- How autobiographical is Third Degree?
- Very! Much of it really happened although, of course, there’s a lot of fiction included to help fill the gaps.
- The descriptions of your hospital stay are very vivid - the smells, the peeling walls, the constant noise, the excruciatingly painful removal of dead skin and flesh - is it just as vivid in your memory?
- Oh, yes. Absolutely.
- How many other novels have you written?
- This is the eighth and I’m hoping to break into the American market with this one. A publisher in the States is very keen on it and I’ll probably be able to revert back to the original ending which is centred around a court case.
- When did you start writing young adult fiction?
- It was after I read Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden. I absolutely loved it and thought - I can do that! So I did. And now I’ve reached a point where I simply want to give up teaching and write full-time.
- When do you find time to write?
- Well, I’ve got four books on the go at the moment! Two young adult novels and two for middle school but I mainly write during school holidays and when there’s a bit of a lull. It comes in waves really and at times it’s almost overwhelming - when I simply have to get it out and onto the paper. It seems the more I write, the more I need to write.
- What was your first book?
- My first published one was If I Could Tell You but the first one I ever started to write was an adult one … but it still isn’t finished! I wrote about 18,000 words ten years ago. It’s a fantastic story and it’s one I want to go back and rewrite and finish. It’s set in a school but this time it’s from a teacher’s perspective and not from one of the students.
- Who would be your very favourite from all your characters and why?
- Sophie from Grit - mainly because she is one of those real gutsy, ballsy types of girls, you know?
- Which of your novels would you like seen made into a movie?
- Probably Compulsion. I think it has great potential to make an interesting movie although there’s a possibility that Whispers may be made into a TV movie for the American market.
- Is it difficult writing from a teen male perspective?
- Well, let’s just say that if I could go back I’d make certain changes to some of my male characters especially with one of them because I wouldn’t have him acting like such a wimp! It helps being a teacher though as I source a lot of my information directly from my students.
- What do you consider to be the three most important ingredients for a good novel?
- Interesting characters. Pace. Good conflict … really good conflict.
- What’s the most difficult thing about writing?
- Finding the time!
- And the easiest?
- Going with the flow! When the writing’s going well it’s so easy to let go, to get immersed in it. Hours can pass without my even realising.
- What inspires you?
- I love stories and I love telling stories. I guess I want others to understand my view of the world, my take on it, through the stories I tell.
- If you were isolated for a few months, which three books would you take with you?
- The Bible. The Bone People. One of Glen Colqhoun’s collections of poetry.
- Do you have a favourite memory from your writing career?
- My first book launch for If I Could Tell You which was held at the East Coast Bay’s Library. It was a real celebration of hard work.
- Is there any interview question you’ve never been asked but wished you had?
- How do you feel about negative reviews?!
They’re hard to deal with sometimes and what’s especially difficult to handle is when someone you really respect says something derogatory. One thing I don’t understand is why, if reviewers like your work, do they still feel obliged to find fault with something?
You put your heart out there, you know, because when you’re writing, that’s where it has to come from …