Saradha Koirala, author of Lonesome When You Go, chats to Hooked on NZ Books on her Mākaro Press blog tour

Lonesome When You Go
Saradha Koirala
Mākaro Press


Hi Saradha. Congratulations on your Storyline Notable Book Award. Lonesome When You Go is one of only two YA novels to be given the award this year so that’s pretty special.

Thank you! It is incredibly exciting! Somehow it feels a bit separate from me though – as if the book went off into the world and achieved something on its own! I’m proud of it.

You have been a teenager (obviously!) and a bass player. How much of Lonesome When You Go is autobiographical? What happened when you yourself competed in Rock Quest?

I would love to be able to say that Paige is based on a young version of me, but it would be an extravagant claim! Paige is way cooler that I could ever hope to be.

I have played in bands, though, and definitely drew on a few those experiences, as well as those of other musicians and teenagers I know, to create the voices and particular world.

The band I was in in high school competed in Rockquest ’96 – it was so exciting and we were kind of amazed to make it to the finals. Make it through the competition, I mean, but also make it on stage! I vividly remember running late, trying to take a short cut across the Boys’ College field, falling in the mud and, yup, having to go on first! I was still muddy on stage and hoped it looked like part of our image. I possibly pulled it off, too, thanks to the grunginess of 90s fashion.

The school setting of LWYG, and Paige’s emotional highs and lows, seem very authentic. Do you have a good memory, or did you make a lot of notes about what was going on around you when you were a teacher?

I’m really glad those feel authentic. I’ve spent so much time in high schools, to be honest I don’t think I could have set the novel anywhere else. They can be quite crazy places and so much is happening all the time in the life of the school and private lives of students.

The things Paige’s friends go through are not things I’ve had personal experience with, so they were perhaps a bit harder to write, and involved some digging around and feedback from other people. Paige’s emotional highs and lows I can relate to, though. I’ve always kept journals, too, so have a rather thorough record of the rollercoaster ride of growing up!

Are you a planner? Did you work out the structure of the novel before you started? Did the characters come first in your mind, or the events?

I tend to begin with character – I knew I wanted a teen girl bass player – and start writing to see what kind of voice emerges. I wrote quite a lot of LWYG before I realised I needed a bit of a plan, so I guess I plan as I go, while also allowing some time for the story to take its own shape and the characters to have some conversations with each other to see what comes up. It sounds a bit strange, but I’m often surprised at what happens when I start writing dialogue and it can take the story in a different direction or add an important detail that I hadn’t consciously thought of putting in.

You are a poet – are you also a song-writer?

In my 20s I thought I could be a singer/songwriter and I practised guitar a lot and wrote some simple little songs in my bedroom. I did actually play some at an open mic once, but I find song writing quite mysterious – there are so many other elements involved. These days I much prefer writing poetry and fiction and just strumming out the odd Bob Dylan song in my room sometimes.

This is your first novel. How do you feel about reviews? Have you scoured the internet to see what people have said about the book? Does it matter to you what readers think?

It matters to me what people think, in that I really want them to like Paige, the story, and feel excited about the ideas in the book. I wrote it for people to read and hopefully enjoy, but of course I know I can never possibly write something that everyone will love. Particularly with this book, though there were several specific people whose opinions I valued highly! And yes, I confess, I google the book title sometimes to find out what people are saying!

What are you working on now? You’ve shifted to Australia – where will your next novel be set?

I’ve written a novel set in Melbourne and am working on a third that’s set in a similarly mysterious New Zealand town as LWYG. I find in my poetry, too, the tension between places is really interesting to me and moving, settling, feeling unsettled is the kind of restlessness that makes for good stories.

What is your favourite New Zealand book?  What is your favourite New Zealand YA book? And which New Zealand books (all genres) do you think well-read New Zealand teenagers should have on their must-read list?

My favourite New Zealand book is Maurice Gee’s Going West and I think all of his books for young people should be on a must-read list for New Zealand teenagers.

My favourite New Zealand YA book is Mandy Hager’s Dear Vincent. The character is so sad and passionate and it’s a beautifully written story with heart-in-mouth moments, a feeling of real struggle, some serious darkness and, ultimately, hope.  You can’t read that book without caring deeply for the main character Tara and just wanting her to see the light again. It’s a real achievement.

I would also say that well-read New Zealand teenagers should just be reading everything they can find – books on philosophy, the environment, biographies, poetry – anything that expands their understanding of the world, feeds their curiosity and nurtures their ability to empathise.

Saradha Koirala’s blog tour travels to these fabulous bookish sites:

You can also find teaching notes for Lonesome When You Go on the Mākaro Press website.

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