Working with Words: Simmone Howell

Simmone Howell spent her teen years writing love odes to eighties pop stars and English essays for her friends. Her novel Notes from the Teenage Underground was awarded the 2007 Victorian Premier’s Prize for Young Adult Fiction. Her second novel Everything Beautiful was shortlisted for the Melbourne Prize for Best Writing. Her latest novel, Girl Defective, was released this month.

We spoke to Simmone about her alternative career of being a bookshop person or a hobo, why a person who wishes to write should ‘do some livin’ as well', and the fabulous lies she’d hear over dinner with Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

The first poem I had published was co-written with my friend. We were 13. It was a (rhyming) poem, an ode to the drummer of 1980s pop band The Hooters and it was published in their International newsletter!

What’s the worst part of your job?

The waiting and the general anxiety.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

A long ago phone call from my agent. She asked me if I was sitting down and then told me that Notes from the Teenage Underground was being fought over. There were exciting follow-up emails and then champagne. It was a nice, nice time.

What’s the worst advice you’ve received about writing?

People in bookshops love it when you go in and offer to sign your own books. Best advice? Plod on.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

When I was 34 and had been trying to write ‘professionally’ since I was in my teens, and I finally had a little success, an interviewer asked me if I was worried about ‘peaking too soon’.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I would probably be a librarian or a bookshop person. Or a hobo.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I think it can help. Sometimes people have raw talent and don’t know how to control it.

Sometimes people don’t know what they should be reading … and how what they read can guide what they write. What I write now is a thousand times better than what I wrote when I was 20.

But I am also of the opinion that if a person wishes to write they should do some livin’ as well… so that there’s something to write about.

My favourite writers were self-taught and would rather bomb a university than attend one.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Keep a notebook. Read everything. Don’t despair.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I love bookshops (especially second-hand) but sometimes I can’t wait and use Book Depository. I also love my local library.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Argh! These questions are hard. I am wary of meeting my heroes and these include fictional heroes … But maybe Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird because he would tell me all sorts of fabulous lies …

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

It might be Lace by Shirley Conran. I might never get over the idea of three teenage girls at a Swiss finishing school eating eclairs and painting each other’s toenails …

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