Erin Gough is the author of the new young adult novel Amelia Westlake Was Never Here. She also has written the YA novel Get It Together, Delilah!, and her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Best Australian Stories and Griffith Review. She's based in Sydney, Australia.
Q: You note that the idea for Amelia Westlake came from your own high school experiences. How did that lead to your writing the novel?
A: That's right. The original idea came from a hoax I did with two of my school friends when we were in our final school year. That hoax was the best thing about high school as far as I’m concerned, and I thought it would be fun to revisit it in fiction.
As I began writing the story - about three years ago now – I realised it was developing into an exploration of power and privilege. As it happened, those concerns were becoming central to the cultural conversation as well, and we’ve since seen them culminate in the “me too” movement.
Q: How did you come up with your characters Will and Harriet, and did you always plan on writing from both points of view?
A: Will and Harriet were both part of my original plan for the novel. I liked the idea of having two people behind the hoax, and the opposites attract trope has always been a favourite of mine - I could see these ideas working well together. I was also excited about having two contrasting voices telling the same story - it created a natural space for humour.
To be honest, I came up with Harriet by thinking about the type of annoying person I used to be - naive, ridiculously optimistic and completely unaware of my own privilege. Will is more like the person I am now - cynical, negative, and probably far less woke than she thinks she is. Both characters still have a lot to learn, and the journey they undertake throughout the novel is towards a place where they come to appreciate that.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make changes along the way?
A: I drafted a detailed synopsis early on, and while many of the plot details changed throughout the writing process, the main story arc remained the same. I find developing a road map at the start of a project really helps me stay focused on what has to happen as I write every scene.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I want readers to enjoy the ride - I had a lot of fun writing this book! But I also want them to think about the power structures in their lives, and how they can disrupt those structures.
Young women like my characters Will, Harriet, and Nat face certain disadvantages in this world, but there are also ways - often creative ways - in which they can harness their talent and skills and find ways to speak to power, to challenge power, to find their voice.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on a third novel for young adults that is unrelated to my first two novels. Unlike the first two, it has a speculative fiction element to it, which has been an exciting challenge for me.
Without giving too much away, the novel looks at how we experience and tackle change as individuals and communities, and how our actions affect (or incite change) for others. Like Amelia Westlake, it also considers how young people can be agents of change.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: While researching Amelia Westlake I spent a lot of time on the internet reading about hoaxes that have been perpetuated throughout history and boy, have there been a few.
In 1951 at a famous dinner party the host pretended to serve his dinner guests prehistoric sloth meat. In 1998 David Bowie and his friends made up a fake artist called "Nat Tate" and published his supposed biography, fooling much of the New York art world.
I also found out that there are a lot of people on the planet who think AUSTRALIA ITSELF IS A HOAX. I want your readers to know this is not true! I can personally vouch for the existence of the continent, and can provide photographic evidence of me with a kangaroo if required.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb