Interview with Edwina Shaw – author of Thrill Seekers
I’m delighted today to be interviewing author Edwina Shaw about her novel, Thrill Seekers. I first came across Edwina’s writing when I read a short story of hers in Griffith REVIEW, called The Raft, which appears as one of the chapters in this novel.
I read Thrill Seekers in two sittings, and loved it. It tells the story of a group of adolescents growing up in Brisbane, one of whom, Douggie, develops schizophrenia after using drugs. It’s brilliantly written in quite simple and accessible prose, with a great sense of place and character. It leaves a lot unsaid, and that’s probably one of the reasons why I still think about the characters in this novel even though I’ve closed the book. I shed more than a few tears as I read it. One of the reasons why it resonated with me is that I’ve seen so many young people like Edwina’s characters in my work as a psychiatrist. Edwina has also had some personal experience of schizophrenia as her brother suffered from the illness, and this adds real authenticity and emotion to the novel.
First of all, congratulations on writing such a stunning book. Can you tell me a bit about Thrill Seekers?
Set on the banks of Oxley Creek in subtropical Brisbane, Thrill Seekers tells a story of adolescent mayhem, madness and mateship. Through the eyes of Brian, his little brother Douggie, who develops schizophrenia, and Beck, a young woman entangled in their gang of wayward boys, the reader is taken on a wild ride of parties, drug-fuelled despair and ultimately redemption and hope.
What was your path to publication?
I first wrote Thrill Seekers as part of my Masters degree in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland and finished a complete polished draft in 2005. Over the next few years, I submitted it to a few Australian publishers, coming close but never getting it over the line. In 2007 I saw an advertisement from Ransom Publishing UK in the Queensland Writers Centre magazine. They were looking for gritty, hard-hitting books for young adults and Thrill Seekers ticked all the boxes. Except they were looking for 35 000 word YA novellas and I had a 70 000 word collection of linked short stories for an adult audience. I sent off the first three stories, calling them chapters, and when they asked to see the full manuscript had a week of panic and frantic reworking, concentrating several characters into just three, cutting like a madwoman, and shaping Thrill Seekers to the form it has now.
Ransom loved it and I signed a contract with them in early 2008. Then the GFC hit and my small independent publisher struggled to stay afloat, postponing Thrill Seekers release until September 2011 in the UK, and March 2012 in Australia. Boy, did I celebrate when I finally got to launch it!
Thrill Seekers has a very interesting structure, in that many of the chapters can stand alone as short stories, and yet overall they form a novel. Did you always intend for the stories to be part of a longer project, or for them to be works in their own right?
As Thrill Seekers began life as a collection of interwoven short stories, the form it now has occurred organically. At university I started writing separate short pieces based on my adolescent experiences and found they were clustering naturally; characters were recurring and themes returning. Once I had enough of these stories it was only a matter of filling in the gaps to create a cohesive whole. When reshaping it into a novella for Ransom, I made the links more concrete and added bridging passages. As part of my Masters degree I wrote a thesis on this type of book. It’s been called many things, story cycles, linked short stories and, most recently, composite novels. I still think of the chapters in Thrill Seekers as stories. A number of the stories that I cut from the final version have been published in literary journals such as Griffith REVIEW.
In the introduction to Thrill Seekers, you mention that your brother had a serious mental illness, like one of the characters in the book. How did this personal experience influence your ability to write this story?
I wrote Thrill Seekers because they were the stories that had been sitting in my head for over twenty years demanding to be aired. My brother Matthew developed schizophrenia in his mid-teens and killed himself at the age of twenty. His courage in the face of this extremely debilitating illness was inspiring. I wanted to bear witness to his life and the lives of many of his friends who suffered a similar fate. The emotions in Thrill Seekers are real. I followed the old adage – write what you know − for me that’s what you know in your heart. I often tell my creative writing students that as a writer you get to be truly grateful for a difficult past, plenty of material!
What have you most enjoyed most about the publication process? Has anything surprised or challenged you?
I’ve most enjoyed holding a real life book with my name on it. I wrote my first full length work in 2002 so it has been a long ten year apprenticeship. Enduring the wait between signing the contract with Ransom and finally being able to launch it, made the experience deeply rewarding. I love getting feedback from readers who resonate with the story and I really love signing books. That’s when you feel like a real writer. It’s great to have a book out in the world now as validation, proof that I haven’t just been sitting at home watching Oprah for the past ten years.
Most challenging has been dealing with the business side of the publishing business. Ransom have yet to find a distributor in Australia so I have been responsible for distributing it myself, as well as doing all marketing and publicity here as well. A very steep learning curve.
What does the future hold for you as a writer?
Lots more I hope. I have completed a further three full length works since writing Thrill Seekers. One of these, Child of Fortune, based on my time living and working in Cambodia in the mid-nineties, made the finals of the Amazon/Penguin US manuscript competition in 2012, and won an Australian Society of Authors mentorship with esteemed editor Judith Lukin-Amundsen in 2010. It is currently under consideration at a major publishing house. I am looking forward to working with established publishers and intend to keep writing till I drop. I love it.
Find out more about Edwina on her website.
Read more about Edwina’s path to the publication of Thrill Seekers here.