Hi Glenda please introduce yourself and your book, A Small Free Kiss In The Dark.
Hello and thanks for the invitation to tell you and your followers something about me and my writing. I must admit that when I saw the title of your blog site, I was a little nervous of what you might ask or say about A Small Free Kiss in the Dark! So I was much relieved to get your questions and to learn that you cried when you read the book. It seems you’re a bit of a softy after all! You’ve given me the courage to type my answers in strawberry – I hope you like it.
I’m Glenda Millard. I live in Australia and have been married to the same man for 35 years. We have four adult children and I didn’t begin writing until they were teenagers. I write picture-books, chapter books for younger readers and novels for young adults
Can you tell us about the influences behind A Small Free Kiss In The Dark?
The two main influences for this story were newspaper articles. The first was about ‘freegans’ the name given to people who for economic or ethical reasons (or both) live on what other people discard – food, clothes, furnishings etc and even derelict buildings. The second was titled ‘ Urban Tribes’. I don’t remember much about the body of this piece. It was mainly the title that stuck in my mind and started me wondering what it would be like for a young homeless person who lived alone in a city. Once I started writing my story, there were other things that influenced what I wrote, including yet another newspaper article – this time about the State Library of Victoria.
A Small Free Kiss In The Dark is largely set at a fairground during war and terrible suffering. Was the contrast between the two deliberate?
Yes, absolutely. I wanted there to be contrasts right the way through, to create layer on layer of opposites; despair and hope, past and future, darkness and light, ugliness and beauty, age and youth, fear and courage. I used Skip’s artistic sensibilities to enable him to appreciate brief glimpses of physical beauty amongst the devastation of the war ravaged city. This, in part, is because he’s had such an awful past that he seeks to find beauty in the mundane. In many ways, the war has given him things he’s never had and desperately wants, family, acceptance even love. There are times when Skip feels old with the responsibility of keeping his ‘family’ together, and then there are moments of absolute freedom and childishness when he plays with his new little friend Max.
Your book shows not only the bad, but the good brought out in people during war. Was this important to you?
Yes it was important. It’s easy to jump to conclusions – make assumptions on the basis of race, religion, status or even things as minor as what people wear or what type of car they drive. Often a person’s circumstances are beyond their control. This doesn’t always alter the way they think or act or behave. Sometimes it does – but not always for the worst. A number of the characters in A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, acted in unpredictable ways because of their circumstances. For example, the young, unnamed soldier and Tia, the dancer. But I think it was probably Billy whose changed circumstances most affected his behaviour for the better. He showed a more tender, caring and responsible side to himself than was evident before the war, when he resented even Skip’s intrusion into his solitary life.
I loved the main characters of Billy, Skip and Max. Where these characters based on anyone in particular?
Not really. I think most fictional characters are a compilation of characteristics, personalities and traits of people we’ve met or heard about or know personally. Right from the beginning I knew I wanted an adolescent boy, an old man, a very young child and a teenage dancer in my story. I thought Max was going to be a nuisance because he would hold the others back. I suppose in some ways he was. But I loved Max very much and I think I might have influenced Skip to do the same!
Names are important to me when I write. Skip named himself for all the reasons I wrote in the book. I wanted to give the little boy a name that would express how important he was to the story. I thought Max was the perfect name because in a way he was of maximum importance. Much of what happened was because they were trying to find Max’s mum and because he was such a major influence on Skip. I chose Tia for the dancer’s name because she was always going to be the sad character. Tia/Tear – I think that’s called a homophone.
Can you tell us about the research involved in writing A Small Free Kiss In The Dark?
I rode a lot of carousels. That was excellent and it was also reassuring to have a valid reason for being a grown-up carousel-freak! The carousel of War and Peace is a real carousel at Luna Park in St Kilda, a coastal suburb of Melbourne, Victoria. I used to ride it when I was a little girl. This all came about because while I was working for Social Security Department I realised that the girl I sat near was the daughter of a man who once taught me at high school – except he was no longer a teacher but a restorer of carousels. So of course I had to visit him in the shed where he did this amazing work. I knew straight away that I’d have a carousel in one of my stories. In fact I actually wrote it into two stories. A Small Free Kiss in the Dark and a picture book that’s coming out next summer called Lightning Jack. A lot of serendipitous things happen to me. Here’s another one. The woman who is illustrating ‘Lightning Jack’ actually worked on the restoration of the carousel of War and Peace.
I chose to set the story in places I knew well, so I could imagine what was unfolding. The Pennyweight Flat Cemetery is a real place close to where I was born and grew up. I also made several visits to the beautiful domed building which houses the State Library of Victoria. I read about its history and also articles about homeless people and I observe pavement artists at work whenever I’m in the city.
The dystopian /post apocalyptic novel is huge in YA right now. Why do you think this is?
Are they? I truly wasn’t aware of this. I thought it was all vampires and fallen angels and the like. I’m feeling slightly disappointed because I don’t like trends and fads in writing! But I’m sure that visual media such as movies and television plays a huge role in implanting ideas in our minds. With so many natural disasters occurring recently and ongoing conflicts in many countries, I suppose it is inevitable that writers are influenced by the images and wondering what it would be like to be directly affected by these events.
Can you recommend our readers some of your favourite YA novels?
Forgive me if these novels aren’t strictly YA. My only excuse is that they are all books which could be read and understood and enjoyed by young adults, old adults and even by some people who are still on their way to becoming adults! You see, I’m not particularly keen on categorising books by a target age group.
David Almond is high on my list of favourite writers. I read all his books and love them all but I think my absolute favourite is Heaven Eyes.
American author, Gerry Spinelli is another amazing writer. I found a copy of his book, ‘Milkweed’ in a sample bag at a conference I was attending. Once I’d read it I couldn’t get enough of Gerry’s books. My two favourites so far are ‘Star Girl’ and ‘Milkweed’.
I also love Kate DiCamillo’s books, particularly ‘Because of Winn Dixie’ and ‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane’.
I must add Australian writer, Michael Gerard Bauer, to the list and in particular his moving YA novel, ‘The Running Man.’ I discovered this book on a shelf at a writer’s retreat where I was supposed to be writing a book of my own – mine had to wait until I’d finished Michael’s. It is a superb read although it is not dystopian or about vampires or fallen angels! However it does deal with the psychological impact of war on one of the characters.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us a little about your journey as an author?
I grew up in a small rural town at a time when there was no career guidance for students. I have always loved reading and being read to and writing seemed to be a natural progression. At secondary school I wrote essays, poetry and short stories for the school magazine. However, it didn’t occur to me that I might be able to make a living by writing. My parents weren’t well off so at 15, when I was offered an office job, I accepted it and left school. Later on I married, had four children and continued to work in office jobs. However when I was in my mid forties and my children were teenagers, the company I worked for was being sold and many jobs, including mine, looked certain to be lost. I needed a new skill so I enrolled in an evening course to learn marketing. I had absolutely no idea how to write the reports that were required as part of that course and wrote essays instead. The lecturer spoke to me one evening after class and suggested I might enjoy a creative writing class instead. I think I’m a slow learner because I still didn’t imagine that I could make any money from writing. My next job was for the Social Security Department. But while I was there I saw an advertisement in the paper for an evening class titled ‘Writing for Money’. So I enrolled. The classes went for 2 hours, once a week, for 6 weeks. The woman who ran them was a journalist and the classes focused on writing magazine and newspaper articles, not something I was particularly interested in. But towards the end of the course we students were given permission to write something of our own choosing. I wrote a story about an oak tree, a pig and a farmer and handed it in for comment the following week. Much to my surprise the lecturer suggested I sent it to a children’s publisher. The result of which was a contract for a picture book. I kept working for a number of years after that but I’m now a writer full time.
Finally do you have any advice for young aspiring authors out there?
Do write first and foremost because you love writing.
Don’t necessarily follow trends in writing.
Don’t put it off for any reason – write today, write now.
Thanks Glenda for taking the time to answer our questions
You’re most welcome. Thank you very much for inviting me to contribute to your blog.
Thanks to the kind people at Templar we have ONE copy of A Small Free Kiss In The Dark by Glenda Millard to giveaway.
Please enter by filling in the form below. Closes midnight May 9th 2011. Sorry UK entrants only. Winner will be chosen at random and emailed for a postal address to pass on to the publishers. If we haven’t heard back within 72 hours another winner will be chosen.