Today I am super excited to welcome Ambelina Kwaymullina back to my blog as part of the blog our to celebrate the release of The Disappearance of Ember Crow, the second book in The Tribe series. Last time she was here, Ambelin wrote an awesome guest post on diversity. This time, I got the opportunity to ask her a few questions!
Not difficult at all – but I went to the right publisher. I knew some of the people at Walker Books, and because of that I knew that they would understand and embrace the story.
Stereotypes of Aboriginal stories, and people, are an issue, both in writing and in everyday life. I know I’m far from the only Aboriginal person to have encountered an odd phenomenon whereby random non-Aboriginal people – often people I’ve just met – feel they have the right to aggressively interrogate my identity, as if they are the self-appointed administrators of some kind of Aboriginality test. It’s distressing – and it’s ridiculous. I know many people from many different cultures and countries, and I can’t say it’s ever occurred to me to criticise my Scottish friends for failing to wear kilts, or to expect anyone who comes from Sweden to be able to direct me to the nearest Ikea store. Yet a surprising number of people seem to have somehow gotten the idea that they are entitled to tell me who I am and who my people are, generally within five minutes of first meeting me.
A couple of my Aboriginal friends have asked me if I was worried about how the book would be received, precisely because it doesn’t fit the mould of what some people might expect an Aboriginal story to be. I never had any concerns about my teenage readers; I did wonder a bit about the grown ups. I needn’t have. The story has been wonderfully well received and for that I feel I must chiefly thank the bloggers. Aussie bloggers have universally assessed the story on its own terms and not by reference to any preconceived stereotypes; and to have the chance to discuss the cultural aspects of the story with some of them has been a privilege and a joy.
So to all the bloggers: a heartfelt thanks from me.
What came first for you - the characters of Ashala Wolf and her friends or the plot?
I heard Ashala’s voice, and I followed it, and her – through the cold hallways of the detention centre, and amongst the trees of the Firstwood. I walked at her side, feeling what she felt and seeing what she saw; she and I experienced the story together.
I love the way that the plot twists and turns in your books? There are definitely "I didn't see that coming" moments for me as a reader but those moments all still make complete sense in terms of the plot and the characters. Does that happen to you as you are writing and how do you keep track of all the twists?
There’s a couple of moments, especially in The Disappearance of Ember Crow, when even as I was writing them I was freaking out a bit in my head. Because I wrote the books in the order that you read them, I am often discovering something when the reader does – there where lots of occasions when I knew something had to be in the book but I didn’t know the reason why until much, much later. For example, I knew, from the very first chapter of The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, that Ash never calls Justin Connor ‘Justin’; he is always Connor, to her. And I knew that he never, ever shortened her name; she is always Ashala, to him. But I didn’t know why, and in many ways the reason for that – which doesn’t come out until much later in the book - defines their entire relationship.
You have written a lot of childrens books and picture books before this series. How hard was it to make the transition into dystopian YA?
I think the picture books really helped me, because picture books are a hard lesson in telling a story in not a lot of words; and that ability to convey meaning in fewer words is marvellously helpful when it comes to keeping up the pace in a longer story. I guess I didn’t find the transition that difficult because I’ve been working on various novels for a long time; I have an entire box full of half finished books in my wardrobe (they’re all rubbish. Trust me). So in my head I was always writing longer books – even when I didn’t have anything finished to show for it!
If I was living in the Firstwood … I would miss books, I think. It’s a hard place to have a library, although I would have Ember to tell me stories. As to a special skill – I’m Ashala, when I write, so I have to be a Sleepwalker, like she is. I guess that means I have the power the change the world in my dreams; to remake it into what I wish it could be. Perhaps my books are my dreams, and in them, I imagine an unjust world transformed by an alliance of good-hearted people. Ashala speaks of fight at the end of The Disappearance of Ember Crow that is more important than any that has gone before, only it is not a battle between the Citizens and Illegals of her world. It is a battle between those who want to stop hating, and those who do not.
We have that fight in this reality too. I know which side I’m on.
I am so excited to see that books 3 and 4 in the series have titles. Can you give us a bit of a clue of what comes next for Ashala, Ember and their friends.
Yeah, you don’t really want me to tell you that. Then where would the surprises be? But we are heading to the end now; the stakes are higher for all concerned, in the books that are to come. All of our existing friends are back, and there will be new ones as well. Things become more complex, more intense, and more dangerous. And Ash, in the third and fourth books, is going to face a test harder than any that has gone before. Her concept of leadership at this point is to stand between her Tribe and her forest whatever danger threatens. She is going to find it far more difficult to accept that others will choose to stand between her and danger – and pay the price for it.
And what comes next for Ambelin Kwaymullina?
After The Tribe? I have an idea for a trilogy set in the same world but with different characters, and once that’s done, a new, six book series set in an entirely new reality.
I’m not short on stories. Just time.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions Ambelin.
Be sure to check out the next stop in the tour which is at Lauren's Loquacious Literature or start from the beginning of the tour and follow it through.