PRENDERGAST, Gabrielle




Author Tags: Kidlit & Young Adult

Gabrielle Prendergast was named Vancouver Public Libraryís tenth writer in residence in August of 2014.

The UK-born Canadian/Australian lives in Vancouver with her husband and daughter. She went to school in Regina and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. Audacious, shortlisted for the CLA Award, and Capricious are original and insightful "verse novels" that deal with serious teenage situations in a series of connected journal-styled poems. They were discussed by Prendergast in a video produced by B.C. BookWorld and viewable on the BCBoolook.com news site. Transcript below.

The two much-discussed teen novels were followed by an Orca Limelights novel for ages 11-14, Frail Days (Orca 2015), about two girls who compete for status and power within a rock 'n' roll band in which the two other musicians are boys. It's written from the perspective of a Chinese Canadian girl drummer, Stella Wing, who asks talented Tamara Donnelly to be their singer after Tamara sings the national anthem at a baseball game. Stella, who likes rock 'n' roll, believes it's in the best interest of the band to mold Tamara into a rock goddess, but rap has become more cool and Tamara is not about to be pushed around as a sex symbol.

BOOKS:

Hildegarde (Harper Collins Australia 2002) 978-0-207-19827-4

Wicket Season (Lorimer 2012) 978-1-459-40020-7

Audacious (Orca 2013) $19.95 978-1-45980-530-9 (republished Orca 2015 $12.95 9781459802643)

Capricious (Orca 2014) $19.95 9781459802674

Frail Days (Orca 2015) $9.95 9871459804647

Pandas on the Eastside (Orca 2016) $9.95 9781459811430

Pinch Me (Orca 2017) $9.95 9781459813649

Zero Repeat Forever (Simon & Schuster 2017) $22.99 978-1-5011-4711-1

[BCBW 2017]

A different duck takes flight
Interview (2014)



Gabrielle Prendergast has created a maverick heroine who is a prototype of herself in high school. Her young adult novels, Audacious (Orca $19.95) and Capricious (Orca $19.95), both about an outsider named Ella, reveal boys can be more civilized than girls: ďA lot of the worst bullying is not cross-gender," she says. "Itís within the gender. I think girls and boys are mean to each other in different ways. But the bullying, the psychological bullying, is particularly nasty sometimes with the girls.Ē

Here is an in-depth interview with Gabrielle Prendergast, a UBC Creative Writing grad who takes the verse-novel into new territory.

-

BCBL: Steven Spielberg steps into an elevator with you in Los Angeles and you have sixty seconds to make a pitch for a movie about your two books. What would you say?

PRENDERGAST: I would say it amounts to a character study of a very unusual and socially rebellious girl who, in her grade eleven year, does a piece of artwork for a school art show that is basically a picture of her twat.

BCBL: So Ella can be an anti-social teenager, but thereís also a part of her that thrives on being rejected or an outsider. To what extent does Ella create her own alienation?

PRENDERGAST: Being a teenager is largely about finding your place in the world and figuring out how you fit in. I think that when you are a teenager, if you donít automatically slot into a particular role then it becomes your role to be outside of the acceptable crowd. I certainly did it when I was a teenager.

BCBL: At the same time, Ella in Audacious and Capricious yearns for some of the respectability of being part of the accepted girl group. Is that how you were when you were growing up?

PRENDERGAST: By the time I got to be Ellaís age, I had kind of gotten over that. I had accepted that role of the outsider, largely the way that Ella does. But the story is only autobiographical to a certain extent. Much of it is made up.

BCBL: I happened to run across someone who attended SheldonWilliams High School in Regina with you. He described you as ďa different duck.Ē

PRENDERGAST: Right. Well I was. The older and more mature you get, you start to realize that everybody has a position, and you become more accepting of what your position is. Through these books, Ella is coming to terms with the fact that she is this different duck. And sheís starting to understand what itís going to take to be an artist. Sheís never going to be the mom on the corner who everybody goes for recipes about apple pie. Sheís always going to be that weird woman with her weird family. I think thatís what young adult literature is about. Itís about coming of age and finding your place in society. Ellaís role in society is the rebel.
Kyi Launch with Gabrielle Prendergast

Gabrielle Prendergast recently shared a book launch at Vancouver Kidsbooks with Tanya Lloyd Kyi.

BCBL: Youíve not only given her a realistic sexual life, but she has two boys that sheís very involved with, not just one.

PRENDERGAST: I look back on my young years and realize that I wasted a lot of fidelity on boys and men who werenít worth it. Iím married now, and my husband is worth it, but you know, Iím older. Many times young people commit their lives to one person, or another, for a year, or two years, or six months, and are turning down lots of opportunity for friendship and fun with other people. And then it turns out the first person is not worth it cuz they turn out to be a jerk.

BCBL: The second book, Capricious, explores this in a much more explicit way. In what other ways are the two novels different?

PRENDERGAST: If Iíd had more time, I probably would have written Capricious more by the seat-of-my-pants, like the first one. But at a certain point, Orca said to me, weíve changed our mind, we want to publish it in the Spring. That hacked six months off my writing time. I was like, fine. But I felt rushed. And I had to plot it a lot more for that reason.

BCBL: When you are writing do you ever stop and ask yourself, is this too adult?

PRENDERGAST: As far as content goes, I have a fair understanding of what is acceptable in young adult literature, and what I would want my daughter to read when sheís a young adult. And what she would be interested in reading. As for swearing, well, itís too late for my daughter and most kids. Theyíve heard it all. And as far as the sexual content, well, by the time youíre 16-years-old youíre already reading 50 Shades of Grey. Mainly I donít want them to be embarrassed while theyíre reading the book. That kind of thing still grosses you out when youíre 13, 14 or 15-years-old.

BCBL: Both novels are written as so-called verse novels. Why?

PRENDERGAST: I heard about young adult verse novels for the first time in about 2005 and I thought it might be like Paradise Lost or something like that ó an epic poem. So I bought one of themóSonya Sonesí book, the one called One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Diesóand I loved it. It wasnít an epic poem at all, it was a collection of poems the way Audacious and Capricious are. I was captivated, so I read a lot of her books, and verse novels by Ellen Hopkins and Lisa Schroeder. Then I just set myself a challenge to write in verse.

BCBL: Arguably the term verse novel is inappropriate, especially with your writing. Itís not poetry and itís not verse.

PRENDERGAST: Yeah. Iím not a poet. Iíve never really been one of those people who likes to write poetry, but it just seemed to work for me. I felt really creative and comfortable when I was writing. I do think the term verse novel is inadequate. It just doesnít quite capture what weíre doing. These are not like Danteís Inferno, as I said. Itís a new way of approaching narrative, and weíre kind of making it up as we go along.

BCBL: How did you get these two titles, Audacious and Capricious?

PRENDERGAST: Audacious came from the scene where Ella makes a joke about the art of Jackson Pollock. Then she says, ďIím just kidding. I really like him. Heís so audacious.Ē Thatís when her friend Samir says, ďAudacious should be your middle name.Ē It set Ellaís heart on fire to have someone say that to her. It was an incredibly romantic thing to say. I did not know before I wrote that scene that the book was going to be called Audacious. Once that word was attached to Ella, the whole concept of what was going to happen in the book just came to life. And it was very easy to finish that book after that. It took me two years to write it to that point, and about three months to finish the book after that point.
Prendergast, Gabrielle

Having a daughter in school has prompted Gabrielle Prendergast to revisit her past as a misfit who was destined to be an artist.

BCBL: Were you audacious in high school?

PRENDERGAST: I donít remember really ever using that word. It probably was used on me. I did do some fairly crazy things in high school. I was a bit more easy-going than Ella is and not quite so judgemental, but I certainly did some bonkers things.

BCBL: Were you capricious as a teenager in terms of who you were involved with?

PRENDERGAST: I didnít really have boyfriends in high school. Between high school and university, I donít know what happened to me or to the boys that I knew, but when I went to university literally two months later, I didnít have enough time to go out on all the dates that I was asked out on. I literally had three dates in one day. I wasnít a great beauty, just like Ellaís not a great beauty, but I think men were attracted to me for the same reason, because I was kind of kooky. And I liked them and I respected them and I didnít put on any kind of performance for them. I was just myself. But yes, I definitely was capricious with men when I was a little bit older than Ella.

BCBL: Why did you choose Orca Books over another publisher?

PRENDERGAST: Iíve always liked them since I started reading their books. I like that they produce things that are appealing to so-called reluctant readers and to struggling readers. And I like how unpretentious they are. Their goal is to get those books into the hands of readers, and get them into libraries and get them onto bookshelves in school libraries. Thatís a more serious job than trying to have some stupid bestseller. I mean, as much as I would like to have a bestseller, and maybe I will one day with Orca, itís more important to me that my job is to engage young readers. Thatís what I want to do.

BCBL: How important has Sarah Harvey been as your editor?

PRENDERGAST: Itís fantastic working with her. I love it. Sarah and I were really on the same page as to what the books were about. The second book was harder than the first. The first book was a very polished draft that I submitted to Orca and hardly anything changed. Whereas the second book was more collaborative and more substantial changes were made from the first draft. But I loved that process of having my work torn apart. Some people hate it; I love it.

BCBL: Female bullying part is an integral part of Ellaís story. It motivates her to become a different duck.

PRENDERGAST: Yeah. When I write, Iím trying to subvert tropes. One of the tropes in young adult books about girls is the way theyíre mistreated by boys. That was not my experience in high school. I certainly had the typical experiences that young girls have, being groped. But, sadly, I found that girls and women can be quite hostile to each other. At Ellaís age, and into the twenties, thereís a lot of competition for mates which might sound cave-mannish, but that is actually whatís going on. And that becomes pretty hostile. I think that a lot of the bullying between girlsóeven at my daughterís age, and sheís tenócomes from that kind of jealousy.

BCBL: Certainly in your two novels, the girls are far more destructive.

PRENDERGAST: Yeah, well, that was my experience in high school. I had wonderful friendships with boys. Over the years Iíve had many best friends who were boys. My best friend in grade 11 was a boy. So I wanted to write about these friendships. Mind you, I didnít have a lot of boyfriends because I was awkward and chubby and I thought that that mattered. But once I got into university, I realized it didnít matter that you were awkward and chubby. Boys were still going to like you.

Again, one of the things that I try to do in my writing is to subvert the tropes. One of the big ones in young adult literature is this hostility between men and women, or boys and girls. Itís often expressed in what I call the rape recovery narrative. Thereís a lot of books about teenage girls who are raped or sexually assaulted, often by a classmate. The story is about her dealing with it. Itís not that I donít think that those books are relevant, itís just that I wanted to do something different. There are many terrible ways to treat people.

There have been cases in the news about people who have been bullied to suicide. I think that a lot of the worst bullying is not cross-gender, itís within the gender. I think girls and boys are mean to each other in different ways. But the bullying, the psychological bullying, is particularly nasty sometimes with the girls. Considering the state of the world, girls and women should be more supportive of each other than we are.

BCBL: Were there ever two boyfriends at once?

PRENDERGAST: Definitely not in high school. So a lot of my writing for young people is a kind of an idealization, or renovation, of my own childhood and my own youth. I would have loved to have had two boyfriends in high school. So I can do that in a story. Iíve created this character whoís kind of an autobiographical me, but she has a much better run at it. Ella has a little bit more intention; and sheís a little random. Also prettier. And skinnier.

-

Audacious (Orca 2013) $19.95 978-1-45980-530-9
Capricious (Orca 2014) $19.95 9781459802674

Interview has been edited from a video interview conducted by Alan Twigg at B.C. BookWorld, recorded in June, 2014.