KATE MCCAFFREY, who grew up in Perth’s northern suburbs, has taught English to kids who hated reading. This experience prompted her to write books that those kids would want to read. Her latest book, Saving Jazz, focuses on the topic of cyberbullying – but from the viewpoint of the perpetrator rather than the victim. We asked Kate about the book and her writing life.
Why do you write for YA readers?
It’s an audience I am very familiar with and there is a need for books that teenagers can relate to and in which they can recognise themselves, their friends and their world. I am exposed to the problems of a younger generation and fiction always seems, to me, to be a good way of addressing them.
As you are a teacher, do you ever get your students involved in the process of writing your books?
Yes, I often run ideas past them. I give scenarios and ask, ‘Does this seem reasonable? Would someone act in this way?’ At the end of the writing process I get them to check that my language isn’t outdated and my use of technology is accurate. I love getting feedback from my students before my manuscript goes into editorial.
Where do you write?
I write anywhere, anytime an idea occurs. Once I’m in the zone it doesn’t matter what’s around me. I can write in cafés and in the car (not while driving). My desk overlooks a park – that’s where I most often write and my backyard is quite lovely. When it’s sunny and warm, that’s a favourite place too.
Saving Jazz features themes of bullying and violence against women among young people. You wrote about bullying 10 years ago. Have you seen a change in society in regard to bullying? Is there less or more of it?
There is a much greater awareness in the community of bullying now – particularly the use of technology to bully someone. It’s almost to the point where we have to be careful that insults and slights against a person aren’t labelled as bullying behaviours. Technology allows for more acts of bullying and more severe consequences for the victim – such as when things go viral. Before cyberbullying, most bullying was contained within school hours. Cyberbullying showed it was now a 24/7 occurrence; newer technology gives it a much wider audience.
Was there a real-life situation that inspired you to write a story about these subjects?
I was doing research into a different novel and uncovered several American stories that dealt with sexting and images going viral. They became the basis for the story Saving Jazz.
When readers finish Saving Jazz, what effect would you like it to have had on them?
A feeling of empowerment, that no matter how grave a mistake they may have made, they will recover and they will be happy. I’d like readers to know that nothing is insurmountable and with help and support we can endure any of the challenges thrown at us.
Saving Jazz by Kate McCaffrey is published by Fremantle Press, rrp $19.99.