Author interview: Vikki Wakefield on her novel ‘All I Ever Wanted’

Author photo via her website: Vikki Wakefield

Today I’m welcoming Vikki Wakefield, début author of All I Ever Wanted (2011). All I Ever Wanted was shortlisted for Gold Inky Award, 2011. Currently, her novel is rated at 4.20 stars from Goodreads. Yes, please do your mind a favour and let it drool over this amazing work of fiction. (Book giveaways and links to Vikki and her novel at the end of this interview.)

A little more on the author before we begin the questions (You can check out an extended bio on her site):

Vikki Wakefield was born in Adelaide.

After high school, Vikki worked in banking, journalism, communications and graphic design. In 2009 she enrolled in TAFE’s Advanced Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing) and found her voice. Her articles have been published in newspapers and magazines and she is an award-winning short story writer. Two of Vikki’s short film scripts are currently in production.

All I Ever Wanted is her first novel.

Welcome, Vikki. Tell us more about writing and finding a publisher for your début novel, All I Ever Wanted.

This will sound trite, but there’s not a lot to tell. I wrote, some days were easy, some days felt like I was voluntarily sticking my head in a lion’s mouth, but I got there. I write very slowly. When I knew I couldn’t do any more (it turns out there was a lot more to do) I sent my ms to an agent. And they didn’t want to see past my three chapters and synopsis. Yes, I was rejected.

Buoyed by stories of multiple rejections (Stephen King, On Writing), I sent it off again. This time I received a lovely email from a reader (a brilliant author who I once inadvertently outed, which I will not do here) and she told me she laughed and cried and that Mim’s story gave her goosebumps. Now this reaction was so far from that cold ‘With Compliments’ slip, I started to hope. And I wondered about the subjectivity of this business and questioned whether I was strong enough to handle the highs and lows. I hoped for a week. I crossed my fingers and my intestines and other people’s intestines and lo—a contract. An agent.

After that, things happened very quickly. The Text Publishing team were each given a copy, homework for the weekend (this restored my faith in publishers—they are people, booklovers and they work on weekends) and on a mundane Monday which turned out to be one of the greatest days of my life, I got a phone call. They wanted my book. And the next one, which was little more than a couple of disjointed chapters. I fell off my chair.

See? Not a lot to tell (I have taken a vow to be humble).

What book is your novel similar to? Is it a cross, or does it have similar themes or storylines to other novels?

All I Ever Wanted has been described as ‘Underbelly’ meets ‘Hating Alison Ashley’, which I love. I don’t believe its storyline is similar to any other novel, but its themes are common in both fiction and life. I have also heard reference to Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell—another flattering comparison. Either way, I hope that All I Ever Wanted is uniquely mine; my style, my story, my characters. That’s all I ever wanted (haha) to achieve as a writer.

Vikki's sketch of the protagonist, Mim

As an author, do you have particular inspirations for your writing?

I’m inspired by people, by what they say and do and often by the disparity between the two. A single image or moment can spark off a whole series of ideas, for example, in All I Ever Wanted there’s a scene where a toddler gives Mim the finger (that actually happened to me). All I have to do is present the reader with that image. I don’t feel I have to explain how or why this kid is rude and perhaps wiser than his years, I just let the reader make up their own mind. A perfect image makes much more impact than a paragraph of exposition.

Inspiration is everywhere. I’m a dangerous driver and a lethal cook because I get distracted. If I can’t find a pen and notebook, I’m rocking in the corner.

“Tudor Crescent, one through forty-six, an arid alley of half-houses and not a Tudor or crescent sight. A lost street in a forgotten suburb, an hour from the city. Low, chicken-wire fences that don’t keep anything in, or out. Corrugated-iron roofs that peel and flap in the wind.” That’s an excerpt from the beginning of chapter two in All I Ever Wanted. How did you develop your writing style?

I break a lot of rules when I write but, luckily, I’ve been allowed to get away with it. I fracture sentences and bastardise words. I murder punctuation. My grammar sucks. My style is not a conscious development at all, it’s more a letting-go. I don’t censor or nit-pick.

I think the way I write is much like a musician who plays by ear but can’t read music—it’s all about rhythm and beat and whether I like the sound of it. There’s no deliberate use of technique at all. The most important thing is how I feel when I’m writing.

The sense of place in each scene is incredibly well-built, like the attention to a perfect representation of a small-scale car. What do you think sets your novel apart from the competition?

Thank you! I’m still star-struck in the company of other writers, so I don’t set myself or my writing apart. I’m just thrilled to be a part of it all, as a peer and not a stalker. I’m ecstatic that the YA genre is coming of age (and coming out)—it’s no longer uncool to be an adult who reads YA and you can browse the shelves without pretending you’re buying a gift for a teenager (you know who you are). Thank you Ms Rowling, Ms Meyer, Ms Collins…

Sense of place is very important to me when I read and when I write. I try imagine setting as another character. A two-dimensional character is boring. So is a flat setting. On the other hand, it’s easy to bog the reader down in description. I feel an urgency to get it over with so I can get back to the action. It needs to be colourful, dead-on and short because I care more about what my characters do than what they look like.

You have completed an Advanced Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing). What’s your opinion on people studying these types of courses to expand and improve their writing?

Actually, I’m only halfway through the course—I’m a drop-out! Publicity for All I Ever Wanted and writing my second novel takes up so much time, plus I have two kids. Life is nuts. I will finish the course someday because I consider myself an emerging writer and I never want to stop learning. The second half of the course starts to channel down into a chosen elective—for me, that’s fiction writing. A major component of this is an extended project i.e. the novel. I feel like I’ve achieved that already so when I do go back I’ll probably veer off into something else, like writing for the screen.

I’m a huge advocate of TAFE’s Professional Writing course. I’m proof that, with the right support and direction, an introverted nerd with low self-esteem, no spare time and a bad habit of starting things and never finishing them, can succeed.

I also believe that a course like this sorts the people who are compelled to write from those who are just in love with the idea of being a writer.

How important are beta writers or critique partners to you?

I didn’t have either when I wrote All I Ever Wanted. The aforementioned reader was the first person to read my manuscript. I was very secretive about my writing and I didn’t have any connection with other writers at that stage, so, in hindsight, I was lucky. It was my own ignorance that made me go it alone.

With my second novel, I’m a little wiser and I’ve made some wonderful friends in the writing community whose opinion I value, but I haven’t lost the belief that my own instinct is there when I need it. If writing is hard and complicated and my head hurts; if I still laugh or cry or get shivers when I read through for the umpteenth time, I know it’s good and I keep going.

What’s the best opening to a novel you’ve read?

It’s a long one. Annie Proulx’ The Shipping News:

‘Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.

Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.

His jobs: distributor of vending machine candy, all-night clerk in a convenience store, a third-rate newspaperman. At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he had never been nor thought to go.

A watery place. And Quoyle feared water, could not swim. Again and again the father had broken his clenched grip and thrown him into pools, brooks, lakes and surf. Quoyle knew the flavor of brack and waterweed.’

Annie Proulx spits out her main character onto the page. I get him, straight away, this ‘hapless, hopeless hack’ who can’t swim. And I want him to win.

Some advice for aspiring authors?

I’m so bad at this. I am not a good role model. I’m a pantser and a dreamer and I think I have an unfair advantage (a fairy godmother, somewhere, but I’ve never seen her). For what it’s worth, here goes:

  • Get into the habit of finishing—it’s the most important habit to cultivate.
  • Find your passion and write about a main character who makes you yearn.
  • Give your ideas time to ferment or fester before they hit the page.
  • Try writing short film scripts—it’s a very different style of writing and it teaches you to show and not tell (it never sank in for me with those text-book examples). This discipline will add dimension and polish to your writing like you’ve swallowed a magic potion. It just does.
  • Don’t let your desire to write overtake your desire to read. It’s a nasty side-effect that nobody warns you about.
  • Self-doubt is the other one. Don’t give it space—it’s a Pacman that eats muses.

For fans like me who are itching to read more novels from you, can you tell us if we can expect more from you?

See, that’s the perfect equation for me. You want to read more and I want to write more. Happy days. I’m finishing the major draft of my second YA contemporary novel ‘Street’ (working title) and I’ve started a third. I like to juggle more than one project at a time because my inspiration rarely strikes in the right place. I need a back-up plan so I can feel like I’m moving forward. ‘Street’ will be out in 2012—after that, we’ll see!

I want to say thanks to every blogger/reviewer who has taken the time to read and comment on All I Ever Wanted. You guys keep little books like mine from sinking without trace. Thank you!

***

Vikki Wakefield is giving away FREE, signed copies of her novel, All I Ever Wanted, on her website. Scurry on over the her ‘blog’ page right here.

***

Buy her novel in paperback here and here as an eBook.

Visit the author website here.

Read reviews here (Goodreads) and via Text Publishing‘s website here.

I’m one lucky person to get to interview one of my literary idols. I want to thank Vikki Wakefield so, so much for giving me the opportunity to chat and share her astounding début novel with you. 

Readers, what do you think of the interview?