An elementary equation

Thursday, October 8, 2015
Ellie Marney interviewed by Michelle McLaren

Photo of Ellie Marnie against a slatted wooden fence
Ellie Marnie

Don’t mess with Ellie Marney. Not only does she know where the bodies are buried, she’s also the award-winning author of the ‘Every’ trilogy - a clever reimaging of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories for a modern teenage audience. With Ellie's Crime workshop for early and emerging crime writers coming up soon, she shared some of her insights on the young adult scene, banning books...and the contents of her Google search history, with Writers Victoria intern, Michelle McLaren.

#LoveOZYA is a recent movement that started on Twitter to draw attention to Australia’s strong young adult scene and encourage readers to read Australian YA authors rather than their blockbuster overseas counterparts. What do you think makes Australian young adult fiction so unique?

Well, I think a number of things make it that way: the writers, the people and culture, and the country itself, especially its history. Obviously, the Australian landscape, in terms of its diversity, harshness, richness, is unlike any other - local readers can feel the thrill of recognition, and overseas audiences can find something different and unusual. And how that’s impacted on us culturally, I think Rebecca Lim said it best: “It's not just our contested history. Our population has literally battled the elements and crossed cultures to get here and make a life”. There’s a wealth of material here, and the YA writers in this country have used it to great advantage. The community of YA authors in Australia is also quite incredible, I think - apart from the fact that they’re all writing amazing stuff, there’s a real collegiality here that I believe is very special.

According to your website, you moved to Melbourne to go to film school. What made you realise you’d rather write books than make films?

Oh, film school was a wonderful dream! But I spent some time working behind the scenes before applying, and I just found it very competitive. I’m not a competitive person by nature - I mean, when I find something I love, I follow my passion with a sort of obsessive stubbornness, but ask me to compete in something and I get all cold-sweaty! I’m prepared to make sacrifices, but I’m not prepared to be cut-throat about it. Film is hard, so very hard, and I applaud those who stick it out to become directors and so on, but I found much more to interest me in the writing side of things.

Your ‘Every’ trilogy is an updated version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, with neighbours, Rachel Watts and James Mycroft in the roles of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes. It’s such an intriguing idea - can you tell us a little more about your inspiration?

I’ve always been a little bit in love with Sherlock Holmes, from when I read the Conan Doyle canon in my early teens, and I’d always wondered what he would’ve been like as a teenager (probably fairly arrogant and obnoxious, I guessed). I’d written a short story in 2010 called ‘Tallow’ that won the Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto award - it’s about a woman who kills her husband during a struggle, and then has to dispose of the body with rendering equipment used to make soap and candles - and that success gave me license to write something bigger. I’ve always loved YA, it is my first love, so I knew I wanted to write something YA. And I’m a teacher, so I’ve spent a lot of time in high school libraries, and I realised there was a gap in the crime section for teenagers. So it seemed to be a fairly ‘elementary’ *cough* equation - YA crime with a Sherlock twist.

As a crime writer, I’d imagine you’d have to research some pretty odd topics. Do you ever worry what would happen if someone read your Google search history?

God, yes! I got a bit worried during the writing of the second and third books - ‘Every Word’ and ‘Every Move’ - particularly. All my searches seemed to involve Googling “how to make explosives from chemicals in your home”, and “the process of autopsy” and “carjacking” and so on. I was a bit concerned that I’d get a knock on my door from some people in dark suits and sunglasses, wondering if I’d mind answering a few questions!

Award-winning New Zealand YA author, Ted Dawe’s new novel ‘Into the River’ was recently banned for sale in New Zealand. It’s the first time a book has been banned in New Zealand in more than twenty years. What’s your perspective on banning YA books?

I thought the ruling on ‘Into the River’ was outrageous. How is it that a group like Family First can dictate to the entire population of New Zealand what they can and can’t read? What qualifies them to dictate in the first place? Are we all so stupid and incapable that we can’t make our own decisions? Book-banning (or burning, in some deeply disturbing cases) resonates as a paternalistic attempt to limit information, thought and discussion. It’s about censoring ideas, which I think is a horribly dangerous thing to do.  Some of the most amazing literature ever written has been banned at some time or another - it seems to be largely dependent on the political tone of the time. Have we learnt nothing from history?

Banning YA books, especially, makes no sense at all to me. I mean, if I ban my kids from something, that only makes it so much more appealing! Teenagers are like that - wanting to push the boundaries. I say, go out and find ‘Into the River’ and share it around with as many people as you can. Distribute it in underground networks. Make little paper aeroplanes of the pages and zoom them around everywhere. Fight that shit.

About Ellie Marney

Ellie Marney is a qualified teacher and an author. She won the 2010 Scarlet Stiletto Award for women’s short crime fiction, and has since written a YA crime trilogy that has been published in eight countries. Her debut in the series, ‘Every Breath’, was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award, the Centre for Youth Literature’s Gold Inky, and the Sisters in Crime Davitt Awards. She lives in north-central Victoria, with her partner (also a teacher) and four sons.

About Michelle McLaren

Michelle McLaren is a Program Intern at Writers Victoria. She works as a freelance copywriter and blogs about all things literary at Book to the Future.