Author Archives: melina marchetta

Spotlight on Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective

Girl Defective has been one of my favourites of the year. Unique voice and characters and a strong sense of place. Not to mention two amazing covers. I’m a bit obsessed with novels at the moment where the setting is one of the main characters. This year was the first time I couldn’t travel for research. I don’t regret setting my manuscript on the other side of the world because I feel that it couldn’t have been set anywhere else, but reading Girl Defective reminded me that I need to get it right.

Below, Simmone answers a few questions about her work and research. Directly below is the Australian cover, published last year. The other is the US cover, published this month.

Girl Defective

When did you first get the idea for Girl Defective, and was the music always central to it?

Sometime around 2008, in the middle of another novel which I subsequently didn’t finish, I had a scene in my mind of two girls on a rooftop in St Kilda watching and commenting on all the people passing by. Then I decided it was going to be a swift romantic thing – a record shop romance. I wanted a girls’ version of High Fidelity. Having worked in record shops you get used it as a male-dominated landscape, I wanted to turn that around. When I was a teenager music was so important to me – it still is – but back then it was like my lifeblood. I was very specific about the kind of music I wanted as Sky’s soundtrack and I also wanted it to be a bit of a musical treasure hunt. The song Wishing Well by the Millionaires, which is the book’s ‘golden object’ was introduced to me by my husband. It’s a deeply strange song. I must have listened to it a thousand times while I was writing. It supplied me with an ‘outsider’ theme that eventually took over the novel

Did much change from your original vision? Any examples?

 The character of Nancy was fun to write but in the original version she didn’t have a very happy end. She was inspired by beautiful girls that hang around rock music scenes – who I always found more fascinating than the actual bands – the Anita Pallenbergs and Bebe Buells. In the novel Sky likens Nancy to Ruby Tuesday and that line: ‘She would never say where she came from…’ was a definite starting point. But she proved to interesting for me to do away with. In a way it was like she was Scherezading me, dropping crumbs from her past so I’d keep her around. I don’t think she’s a bad friend, particularly. But not someone who Sky can rely on -unless you count the fact that she can reliably get Sky into trouble.


How did you keep track of the different story threads in Girl Defective? Did you outline?

I went through so many different versions. I tried writing with a plan but then the characters would hijack it. In the end I think I was just writing to a theme and the theme was innocence to experience. The working title for Girl Defective for the longest time was Girl in the Water. I had written a (grim) short story about a modern Ophelia, a groupie girl recounting her sad demise from the bottom of a well. In the novel, the name of Sky’s parents’ band is Little Omie. This came from an old folk ballad called Omie Wise. This was another song that hung around while I was writing. This song inspired Sky’s dreams about Mia Casey, ‘The Crying Girl’. When I write it’s like all the things I’ve ever been interested start knocking against it other and it can be hard to know which things to keep. I love that about writing though, that every story has its ghosts and layers. I think about Virginia Woolf: Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms …*

To me, the challenge of writing a novel, any novel, is to be able to shape the impressions so that they serve the story, and the story itself must come from the character. I don’t always feel that I’m successful at this, but it’s the thing I work towards.

*This is from The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf

22nd September 2014: Misc

I do love a High Tea, so am looking forwarding to being the guest of honour at this event at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown.

When: 15th November 2014 at 3pm.  Bookings essential. Below is the link.!product/prd15/2526200751/young-adult-high-tea-with-melina-marchetta

Also, The Lumatere Chronicles have been re-jacketed in Australia. Very exciting because Froi and Quintana will be coming out in paperback. I’m loving a short haired Quintana. They will be out in late January 2015, although I think Finnikin will be making his appearance this year.

Don’t hold me to it, but I’ve recently had a bit of a re-read of the novels because apparently Lady Celie of the Flatllands thinks she knows where Jehr of Yutlind Sud is.  So perhaps another story. What I’m hoping is that one day I will have four separate but linked stories featuring Lady Celie and Banyon, all in one volume. The first one, Ferragost, appeared here:

Finnikin FCA_SAMSFroi FCA_SAMS Quintana FCA_SAMS

18th of June: A work in progress

I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t blogged since the end of March, so I’ll start by saying that I’ve been trying to write a novel this past year.

It’s not YA and it’s not fantasy and it’s not set in Australia and it’s not set in America and it’s not set in a fictitious country. I’m saying all that because it means I’m writing something that doesn’t belong to my regular publishers. Scary and exciting at the same time. It’s almost like starting from scratch (not the writing, but the publishing experience).

And the one thing that I will state from this moment on is that writing an adult novel is not harder than writing a YA novel, and one day if it gets published, reading my adult novel will not be harder than reading my YA novels. I remember when The Piper’s Son came out, a journalist asked if I found it harder to write because it was about an older age group and honestly, comparing it with the rest of my work, how could I have found it harder than Jellicoe or the four hundred thousand words of the Lumatere Chronicles?

What I am finding difficult about this novel is that it’s set overseas. Although I did my research last July at the beginning of my process, I’m finding it hard not being able to go for a drive in my neighbourhood to describe the neighbourhood of my characters. What I can say at this early stage is that most times I write novels about young people, where the older generation plays such an important role in their journey. This time it’s about adults where the younger generation plays such an important role in their journey. And that I started off thinking it was a thriller of some sort, but of course, who cares about what happens. It’s the relationships and characters and their journey and their blended histories that I’ve become obsessed with. I think I’m good at that, so whether I’m writing YA or Adult or whatever someone labels my work, I stick to what I’m good at, and what I enjoy reading myself, and after a year of stops and starts, I think I finally almost have a first draft of a novel on my hands.

And I’m a bit in love with every single character.


30th March 2014: UK Finnikin and a classic Alibrandi


Walker Books in the UK will be releasing The Lumatere Chronicles starting in July this year with Finnikin of the Rock.  Being published in the UK has been a long time coming so I’m pretty excited about this trilogy being released there.  I spent time at Conwy castle in Wales and Rochester Castle in Kent, as well as Guernsey which is kind of part of the UK, researching Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn with my dear friend Barbara who lives in Ireland.  Our three day road trips would squeeze in about a year’s long gossip and TV talk and life talk, so you could imagine that there wasn’t a moment of silence. The trilogy means that much more to me because of our time together.

As you can see, the UK cover borrows from the Australian and the US paperback.  I think this image  comes out stunning in any form or colour.

(UK cover)


(Australian cover)finnikin-of-the-rock(US cover)

076365292x This week Penguin Australia released this classic edition of Looking For Alibrandi.

looking for alibrandi

Dear Melina Marchetta, when is Jellicoe going to be a film?

One day I will write an account about the adaption of Jellicoe. It’s been one of the longest times I’ve spent on one project.  My first novel (Alibrandi) took about six years to write. Most of my other novels took 18 months.  The film script of Jellicoe has taken technically five years.  In working that out, it has surprised me that I was able to write Finnikin, The Piper’s Son, Froi and Quintana during that time (I miss those Lumaterans and Charynites).

It’s strange to speak about the script and say it’s so different from the novel. Because it’s still about Taylor Markham who is left behind on the Jellicoe Road when she’s 11 years old. It’s still about her being chosen to lead the Boarders in the territory wars against the Cadets and Townies.  It’s still about the history Taylor has with Jonah Griggs, the leader of the Cadets. It’s still about a journal that reveals a story about five kids in the past.  It’s still about the absence of Hannah, the arrival of the Brigadier, the threat of Taylor being usurped by her own.

But it’s the telling of the story that is absolutely completely different. Most scenes are new. Most of the dialogue is new.  It’s not quite like fan fiction, but adaptation is strange in that it lets you write the same story again but with a different emphasis.

I know there is a quiet, excited buzz about  the project out there, and there are things I would love to reveal to you, but can’t. Still early days, believe it or not, after all this time.  But I thought I’d give you a list of ten things that I can reveal about the script.

  1.  My favourite line that doesn’t come from the novel is:  My dad says ghosts only reveal themselves when they’re waiting for someone to join them.
  2. My favourite line in the script from the novel is: You’re wearing flanalette. How scared should I be?
  3. The film doesn’t begin with the car accident, but a scene just as heartbreaking.
  4. Ben has the funniest lines. (Ben may be the person we cast first)
  5. My favourite scenes to write involved Taylor and Jonah. I also loved the Taylor and Jessa scenes.
  6. My favourite character of the script is Raffaela.
  7. The most heartbreaking scene (and there are many) is no different to the novel. It involves Fitz (who will be the hardest to cast).
  8. The most profound change is that the Hermit belongs to the present day.
  9. The flowers on the Jellicoe Road are still poppies.
  10. Tate still has a Pat Benetar hair cut when she’s 17. (I’m presuming that only people my age will understand how cool a Pat Benetar hair cut is.  My hairdresser refuses to give in to me because she says I don’t have the hair for it.)

It’s been forever, I know.

First things first. Quintana of Charyn has been chosen as one of Kirkus Books Best Teen Books of 2013.

Next, here is the cover of the Penguin Classic edition of Looking For Alibrandi which will come out next April. Alibrandi turned 21 this year. It marked the beginning of my published writing career and it’s amazing to know that readers still see it as refreshing and topical.

looking for alibrandi

Here is also an essay by the wonderfully talented Alice Pung, who wrote the multi award winning, Unpolished Gem, and Her Father’s Daughter.

When I read Alice’s essay I had a bit of cry. More than a bit. I have an antagonistic relationship with Alibrandi because I’ve spent so many years trying not to be defined by it, but Alice’s words made me remember the change it bought into the life of its shy, awkward writer.  It made me remember how much confidence this novel has given me, and how it’s shaped every decision I’ve made as a writer.  And more than anything, the essay reminded me of how the novel gave some of us a voice.  I love where I live, but I grew up feeling like I was part of the minority and I still believe we need to work harder to share this country with others who don’t belong to a dominant culture.

Which leads to the wonderful work done by the Edmund Rice Centre when it comes to asylum seekers.  The next link is the teaching guide for refugee issues across the curriculum.  I’m proud that Finnikin of the Rock is on the reading list.  The Lumatere Chronicles are certainly part of a response to the refugee crises and I’d encourage anyone in a classroom to work with the ERC’s intelligent teaching resource, whether you live in Australia or the rest of the world.  The piece of dialogue from Evanjalin in Finnikin of the Rock that I’m most proud of is “It’s against the rules of humanity to believe there is nothing we can do.‘ and I’m always grateful to social justice organisations for reminding me of that.

Here is the link:

Next, but short and sweet, but I promise Jellicoe the film, is still happening, so be patient and watch this space in the new year.

Last, but not least, I rarely speak about my personal life, but this month I became a mum to a 2 year old.  She’s a delight and has a sense of joy and hope in her eyes,  yet I do believe she’ll make my hair go all that much grey in her teenage years, because she’s already so headstrong. No female protagonist I’ve ever written has prepared me for this…well perhaps Princes Jasmina. We’re finding our rhythm with each other at the moment, but I can already hear, in her laughter, the beauty in that song.