She’s an author, a reviewer, an agent, a book blogger, a Youth Literature Advocate…She’s Danielle Binks!
Danielle is the author of the soon-to-be middle-grade hit The Year the Maps Changed, which is scheduled for publication by Hachette’s Lothian Children’s Books imprint in May this year. She was lovely enough to allow me to interview her on all things Aussie publishing!
THE YEAR THE MAPS CHANGED SOUNDS AMAZING! WHAT SPARKED THE IDEA?
My childhood and memories therein! … this story of ‘Operation Safe Haven’ unfolding in 1999 at the height of the Kosovo War and NATO bombings, and of refugees being housed at a disused quarantine station on Point Nepean here in Victoria – I vaguely remembered all that, because I’ve lived on the Mornington Peninsula my whole life. Or, more likely – I had a fragment of that memory stored away somewhere, and something reignited it in me. Enough to go off and start researching and digging a little deeper into what that event meant for Australian history and political life, and I soon discovered – quite a lot. I really do see Operation Safe Haven and 1999 as a threshold year for Australia, when everything started changing. So – memory sparked the idea, and my own childhood.
IT’S VERY CLOSELY TIED TO FAMILY AND EMPATHY, AND IT SEEMS TO HAVE A STRONG SENSE OF PLACE AND TIME. WERE THESE DECISIONS IMPORTANT?
Yeah, I spent a lot fo time wondering how much of myself I wanted to give the story … at one point I was thinking I’d make it young-adult, and set it at another Safe Haven location – Singleton, in NSW. Just to give myself some distance. But then I decided to go big or go home, and keep it at home – so I decided to set it on the Mornington Peninsula where I grew up, and make it middle-grade – meaning my protagonist would be the same age in 1999 that I was; 11 going on 12. Then I went even further and even gave her a policeman father, which my own was when I was growing up too. Once I made all those decisions that ultimately bought it all closer to home for me, the setting obviously amped up because it was *right there* for my research – I could pop down and walk around those streets, visit the Quarantine Station, right down to smelling the pine-trees and sea salt. And once I overcame the fact that it was historic-fiction (even though 20-years ago feels like a snap!) I had a really fun time not over-drenching it in 90s pop-culture references but definitely evoking the time of my childhood … so there’s some Heartbreak High and Heath Ledger, LipSmackers and Dawson’s Creek. It’s all little pieces of myself that I didn’t even actively realise I was giving, until I read it as a whole and started editing. I hope that makes it feel more real for people, and that they can feel my love for the place and evocation of the time.
AND IT’S A MIDDLE-GRADE STORY. HAVE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO WRITE IN THE CHILDREN’S FICTION GENRE?
Once upon a time I would have said I was strictly-YA if I was going to write anything. And then around the time I was remembering the events of 1999 (some 5 years ago) I got really into reading all the winning and shortlisted books in the American Newbery Medal (which is a US-only middle-grade book award) and I just fell in love with those books and that readership. I read a lot of Sharon Creech, Rebecca Stead, Susan Patron, Gary D. Schmidt, Rita Williams-Garcia and Jacqueline Woodson … and it was such visceral reading, the way all of those authors sucked me back into my primary-school self. And I quickly discovered that that was a really easy age for me to tap back into. I don’t know what it was, but I could so easily remember how awkward and angry, selfish and confused I was at that age where I felt like I went through the biggest upheavals. And then of course Australia started being inundated with very specific and wonderful middle-grade content; Nova Weetman, Barry Jonsberg, and Leanne Hall were venturing into that readership and showing the way and it just became so easy for me to get excited about what was happening in that arena. I still love YA too, and that’s definitely where I’m going next … but for *this* story – I am a big believer in letting character and voice dictate the way, and because I was evoking 1999 when I myself had been in primary school – it just made sense for me to tap into that age and those memories.
THE YEAR THE MAPS CHANGED IS YOUR DEBUT NOVEL, BUT YOU’VE BEEN WORKING IN THE LITERARY INDUSTRY FOR A LONG TIME! HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A FULLY-FLEDGED BOOK AUTHOR DIFFERED FROM OR CHANGED YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE INDUSTRY AND THE OTHER BOOKISH WORK YOU DO?
Oh geez. So – I studied Communications at Monash, then I did Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT *then* I got a job working as a books publicist for independent Melbourne publishers, before in 2016 being tapped by Jacinta di Mase to join her literary agency. PHEW! And it just so happened that 2016 was also when I started to get the idea for this book … so even though I started thinking and plotting the story back in 2016, I didn’t jump all the way in because I did take it as a time for me to also be learning about the industry a bit more (and building up my list of fab authors, which can be found here: https://daniellebinks.com/literary-agent/) And I guess what I found was that the standards expected of manuscripts by publishers has definitely gone up. Gone are the days when you can hand in a pretty sloppy first-draft, but an editor will just *know* you’ve got talent and spend 3 years editing it with you (this was roughly someone like Harper Lee’s publishing journey, FYI) – that doesn’t happen anymore. So it made me realise I really had to be ready and my manuscript did too – I was learning that as both a writer, and an agent ultimately. And it’s also how I got more comfortable being an editor for my authors too, and for my own work. Yeah, overall I definitely have increased respect for the editing side of things, lol.
WHAT DOES THE WRITING PROCESS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
A lot of procrastinating. A lot of walking the dog, and claiming a need to READ ALL THE BOOKS! before I can launch into my own. I definitely get scared to commit too early, and I find that until I have a killer first-line that I love, and an opening that excites me … I can’t get started. My opening chapters, I am finding, don’t change – I wrote the prologue of The Year the Maps Changed word-for-word probably on Day 1 of the idea back in 2016. And from 2016 to now, it hasn’t changed one bit. It became my blueprint for the whole story and when nothing else seemed to quite gel, I comforted myself that “Well, at least I have a great prologue that I love!” With this second idea I’ve written – I had a kind of prologue to kick things off, that lived in a random ‘plot bunnies’ Word Doc for about 2 years, and when it came time to look around for my Book #2 idea I opened that document up, read that, and got chills. And that’s how I knew – this is what I want to do next. I have to give myself chills, basically. And let things marinate a little.
WHAT’S NEXT? WILL WE BE SEEING MORE DANIELLE BINKS BOOKS SOON?
Ohhhhh what is next for any of us? Oh, look – if 2020 is teaching us anything it’s that you cannot predict the future, only meet it head on. My publisher bought a second manuscript from me, only knowing it’d be a YA novel. I’ve submitted something to my editor and I’m currently in a very nerve-wracking stage of waiting to see if she likes it, or if I’ve committed atrocities against the written word. I can give vague hints and hope that manifests good vibes? Set entirely in Hobart (that’s v important), big focus on horror-movie love, LGBT+ romance, tentatively titled The Monster of Her Age.
WHAT ARE YOUR TIP TIPS FOR ASPIRING AUTHORS?
Read a lot. I was a book-blogger before I was anything (I started my blog – Alpha Reader – the same year I began at RMIT) and by reading widely and critically, I learnt so much. Not just about pacing and construction, characterisation and themes – I learnt what I liked in story. I found my voice. I became obsessed with Twilight, for instance (even wrote some FanFic for it!) that unlocked the romance genre for me, and paranormal romance in particular. That eventually led me to historical romance, LGBT+ romance, and so many bookish communities and people associated with that genre. Reading widely opened up my world just enough, to help figure out myself and my voice a little bit. That was big. So – read everything, it can all teach you something!
Keep an eye out for a review of The Year the Maps Changed, which will appear on the blog later this month! Also, check out the virtual launch on 28 April!
Sorrento, Victoria – 1999
Fred’s family is a mess. Fred’s mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop is at the Rye Rehabilitation Centre recovering from a fall; Luca’s girlfriend, Anika, has moved in; and Fred’s just found out that Anika and Luca are having a baby of their own. More and more it feels like a land-grab for family and Fred is the one being left off the map.
But even as the world feels like it’s spinning out of control, a crisis from the other side of it comes crashing in. When 400 Kosovar-Albanian refugees arrive in the middle of the night to be housed at one of Australia’s ‘safe havens’ on an isolated headland not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family, as she navigates one extraordinary year that will change them all.
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