In anticipation for the upcoming release of ‘The Build-Up Season’ (July 31st) Megan Jacobson is going on a blog tour to promote this heartbreaking yet hopeful novel. Today, she has stopped off at my blog to answer a few questions. Also, check out my review of the book at the end, and yes, it is one of my favourite reads so far this year!
I just wanted to start off by saying that I LOVED The Build-Up Season and it’s a story that will stick with me for a long time! Also, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions.
(Thank you, dear human!)
1. The Build-Up Season is such an intense, emotional and thought provoking story. How did you come up with the idea and did you draw inspiration from anything?Again, thank you. I work in TV news production at the ABC and I’ve been really hyper-aware of the issue of domestic violence since covering the Rosie Batty story. It deeply affected me. Then a few years later we did a story about how women between the ages of 18 and 23 are twice as likely to experience DV than older women. This surprised me, as most of the abuse narrative we hear involve older women.
When I was in my early 20s I dated a guy who I now consider abusive, but I didn’t identify the relationship as unhealthy at the time because I hadn’t had enough experience to know what a healthy relationship should look like, or what my boundaries were. I was raised on the narrative that if a guy is controlling or jealous, then it just means he really loves you (hello Edward Cullen!) When my boyfriend pushed me to the ground or didn’t like me hanging with my friends or punched a wall, I didn’t classify it as abuse, because Hollywood told me that abusive relationships were black eyes and broken bones – and most of the time my boyfriend was actually pretty nice, and after he ‘lost his temper’ he seemed genuinely remorseful. It wasn’t as black and white as the Hollywood ‘monster myth’ with the woman staying because they feared for their lives. I loved him.
It shocked me, discovering just how many of my friends also experienced similar abuse in their early relationships. These are strong, confident, smart women. We didn’t see ourselves in the cowering, quiet archetypes we’d seen abuse victims depicted as in movies, so we didn’t see our own relationships as abusive. This is why I wanted to make Ily strong and feisty – to show how it can happen to anyone. I wanted to show Troy as the extreme end-point to violent behavior, but mostly I wanted to show the early signs, so that young women can identify what to look out for, and to identify what is and isn’t healthy in a relationship. I wanted to show the insidious way abuse ‘builds up’.
2. What was your writing process for The Build-Up Season? Was it different or similar to when you wrote Yellow?
The Build-Up Season was slightly easier, just because by then I’d already written one book, so in those moments I was despairing whether I could ever finish it, I had the confidence to keep going, because I knew I’d done it before.
With both books I had a few key characters in my head, and I wanted to discover the stories they fit into. I always start with the characters coming to me, then I have to follow them to see where they want to take me. Kirra was a quiet girl in a shadow who wanted me to follow her, Ily grabbed me with both hands, sticking her tongue out at me and not letting go as she dragged me along with her.
With both books I sat with the characters for ages, coaxing them to them talk to me, until I knew their stories. Then I’d start plotting the key scenes on index cards, and jotting sentences and imagery down on pages and pages of notes. Only once all of this has been done do I then start to actually write, and generally I write pretty quickly after the long marinating process.
So Iliad popped up in my consciousness and I actually wanted to write a completely different story with a different character, but she wouldn’t go away, so I had to abandon that original story to listen to her. I knew she had this fierce, defiant, vulnerable energy, and I knew her mum was a hippy, and I knew her name was ‘Iliad’, but I didn’t know why she would be called that. Sure, her mum was a hippy so would give her an unconventional name, but Eve is more likely to call a kid ‘Saffron’ or ‘Amethyst’ or something. It really confused me, but I knew in my bones that THAT was the character’s name. So I decided to explore it. I bought the book, Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ and read it, and it’s a story of the Trojan war, so it really fit this girl, who had this palpable sort of anger and fighting within her, but it still didn’t explain why her hippy mum would call her baby that.
Then I read the introduction to The Iliad, which gives context on the book. I learnt that ‘Ilium’ was the ancient Greek city of Troy, and that ‘Iliad’ means ‘in relation to Troy’. That was my ‘Ah ha!’ moment. I wondered, why would a child be called ‘in relation to Troy’? Who is Troy? And what kind of man would insist his child be named after him? That’s what began the story.
3. After reading The Build-Up Season I definitely want to pick up Yellow soon. Do you have a favourite?
DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE BETWEEN MY BABIES this isn’t Sophie’s Choice.
4. When did you start writing novels? Is it something that you’ve always wanted to do? What drew you to write young adult fiction?
Yellow is actually the first novel I’ve ever tried to write, there are no discarded manuscripts in my top drawer, but I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I’d written short stories and poems ever since I learnt to spell, and then my first job after graduating was as a script assistant, then script storyliner, for a TV soap. That taught me so much about character, story and structure, and the importance of editing. My short stories were always about teenagers, but I strangely didn’t realise I was writing Young Adult. Those were just the ages of the characters who came to me. I was fascinated by that age, where people are finding themselves and discovering their own truths for the first time. Later I got work at the ABC teen drama ‘Dance Academy’ and it was better than any adult show I had ever written for. It was such a brilliant experience and it reminded me of how much I loved writing for that age group.
(okay, I just read this answer and OMG ‘Dance Academy’ is one of my favourite TV shows of all time! Okay, continue with the Q&A).
5. Do you read YA too? What are some of your favourite books?
Of course! My very favourite is ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath, which is both a literary classic and I’d say young adult, or at least new adult. Same with ‘Catcher in the Rye’. Cath Crowley’s ‘Graffitti Moon’ is pure poetry, as is anything written by Laini Taylor. Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’ always makes me howl, even though every time I read it I know what’s coming. A sucker-punch is still a sucker-punch. Melina Marchetta’s ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ was the first Oz YA I ever read, and it’s been a favourite since. It was wonderful to see my own world depicted in print, and I quickly sought out and devoured Nick Earls’ ’48 Shades of Brown’ soon after. Sophie Hardcastle is a brilliant new talent who’s going to be a favourite for years to come. Kirsty Eager’s ‘Summer Skin’ is a masterpiece. Gah, there are so many more I want to list! In short, yes. Yes I do read YA, especially Australian YA.
(Um, I think we’re the same person!)
6. Ily is both a complex and relatable character who experiences a lot prior to and throughout the course of the novel. Is it important for you to write characters with a lot of depth and who a wide range of people can relate to?
Absolutely, I want to explore the emotional truths of every character I write. Ily might be angry and defensive, but it was the only way she could possibly be, with her background. I wrote it from instinct, but afterwards, to ensure I’d been sensitive to the topic, and to ensure I’d portrayed her accurately, I researched the impact of violent homes on children. It was uncanny, how all the traits listed in my research were present in Ily – the poor grades, the acting out, the withdrawal from friends, the finding herself in an abusive relationship. By making it first person, I wanted to show why she was acting in this way, and for the audience to understand her actions. I wanted to show that even though her words could come across as uncaring, she did care, deeply, and she shows this with her actions. She’s always trying to protect those around her, even though she tries to act like she doesn’t give a damn. We realise that her thorny words are just the protective shell she’s built around herself. I also have Indigenous nieces, nephews and great nephews, and they rarely get to see themselves in our stories. I wanted to create a character in Max which accurately portrays the Indigenous families I know, their humour, their strong sense of family, their connection to the land and their pride in their culture.
7. The Build-Up Season is set in Darwin and Ily visits a lot of sites throughout the story. Is there any specific reason you set the story in Darwin? Did including these sites help bring the story to life?
I always need to have a connection to the landscapes of all my stories. I feel such a pull towards the outdoors, and so the landscapes become almost characters in themselves. I spent my childhood in Darwin, and my sister and my nieces, nephews and great nephews still live, and the harsh beauty of the top end tugs at my soul. I wanted the weather to be a metaphor for the book, the relationship starts in the Dry Season, when it’s all endless sunny, blue-sky days, then as The Build-Up Season begins, so does the build up of bad behaviour. The air starts to tighten with humidity and it becomes more and more oppressive, and then the heat grips you like nothing else. This story couldn’t have been set in any other place.
Thank you so much again for taking the time to answer my questions!
You’re welcome, thanks for having me!
And now for my review which ended up being a lot more detailed than anticipated because I had so many thoughts when I finished reading it a few weeks ago!
Illiad is a fierce and complex character who has experienced a lot in her seventeen years of life. I didn’t expect Illy’s path to go the way it went, after seeing the way her father treated her mother for so many years. But it was definitely a learning curve for Illy and me as a reader. It really showed how people can go through highs and lows despite appearing as strong and together. It was tough to read what she was going through and her thoughts, but I think it’s an integral story.
Domestic violence and violent relationships is a main topic in this book, and I was grateful to see this spoken about in a YA book. It is a massive issues that I’m sure a lot of people face, but it isn’t often that we get to read about it or educate ourselves on the issue and importance of respectful relationships. It was tough to read at times, and quite confronting, but I am so glad that Megan spoke about the topic in such a raw and authentic way. It was emotional, I had goosebumps and came close to tears, but it was real.
I had my doubts about Jared from the beginning. Eventually, I realised the importance that his character has to the story and the lesson in Illy’s life, it made me appreciate the story so much more. Max is the opposite to Jared and brings a lot of light to the story throughout, however, Illy doesn’t notice this. She’s blinded by Jared; and I think this is something that a lot of people can relate to.
Megan’s writing style is simple and casual, which made the book easy to read. I finished it in a couple hours not only because it’s short, but I couldn’t stop reading it. I also love reading books set in Australia (YAY for #LOVEOZYA) and even though I’ve never been to Darwin, it was so cool to learn more about it.
Overall, this is an incredible story about a troubled teen who doesn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps, but is finding it harder than imaginable. I went on a roller coaster of emotions, but those are always my favourite stories! I highly recommend picking up THE BUILD-UP SEASON. This is up there with my favourite books of 2017 so far.