Writers often pull from personal experience to create fiction. Louisa May Alcott famously drew on her growing-up years in writing Little Women. Far more recently, Rainbow Rowell reflected on her difficult childhood and the saving graces of nerdy guy friends via the main characters in Eleanor & Park.
Australian YA novelist Fleur Ferris has a vaster store of life events than most. Previous and current personal and professional titles include police officer, paramedic, mother, daughter, sibling, friend, student, teacher, speaker, rice farmer, traveller, holiday maker, city-dweller and country-dweller. Her role as concerned parent pushed her to an exploration that led to her first novel, Risk, about two 15-year-old girls seeking romance online. She spoke to Spine about the journey.
"The plot for this story came to me after I became aware of some local cases involving online predators. As a concerned member of the community and a parent of young children I started researching the issue and found that it was a serious problem in my local area here in Australia, and all over the world."
Ferris followed up Risk with a second YA thriller, Black, and is currently working on a third, Wreck. The fast-paced mystery follows a young writer into the darker side of the journalism world. "Thankfully I haven't experienced what my characters go through," Ferris told Spine. "But I have experienced fear … . I've seen violence, the effects of violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and I have dealt with victims and offenders. I have been in foot and car chases, I've saved lives, and I've worked frantically on patients who died. I’ve delivered death messages and other shocking news to loved ones of the deceased or injured.
"When I write a book, I tap into my personal responses (and human behavior I've observed) to any relevant situation and I adapt and give these emotions or behaviors to fictitious characters facing fictitious situations."
Ferris's ability to create not only realistic facts for a thriller scenario, but also believable emotional realities, has won her accolades and legions of fans. Risk, her debut novel, also earned Ferris three awards, a fact made the more impressive because it was written during the tiring days of early motherhood. Ferris's three children were all babies at the time, and so she wrote during her only quiet hours: 4 a.m. to 7 a.m.
Now that her children are older, Ferris can write weekdays during school hours, a reasonable schedule that allowed to finish the first draft Wreck in six weeks. Unlike Risk and Black, polished when they arrived at Penguin Random House Australia, Wreck has been a collaborative process. Ferris has worked with her publisher and editor from the book's inception, and has also received input from two working journalists.
At present, Ferris and the team are tackling structural fine-tunings and copyedits. Ferris doesn't take part in the cover creation process, but said she's loved each cover, all of which feature appropriately ominous images of teenaged women.
Wreck hits the shelves in Australia this July.
Spine Authors Editor Susanna Baird grew up inhaling paperbacks in Central Massachusetts, and now lives and works in Salem. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Boston Magazine, BANG!, Failbetter, and Publishers Weekly. She's the founder of the Salem Longform Writers' Group, and serves on the Salem Literary Festival committee. When not wrangling words, she spends time with her family, mostly trying to pry the cat's head out of the dog's mouth, and helps lead The Clothing Connection, a small Salem-based nonprofit dedicated to getting clothes to kids who need them. Online, you can find her at susannabaird.com and on Twitter @SusannaBaird.