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margot mcgovern: lip writer and text prize shortlistee

Margot McGovern is a Lip book reviewer and emerging author. Her manuscript, Neverland, was selected in the 2015 Text Prize Shortlist.  Lip had a chat to Margot about her story, writing, and why writing YA novels is the best kind of writing. 

Tell us about your novel. 

Neverland is the story of Kit Learmonth, a seventeen-year-old orphan who’s afraid of growing up. She lives on an island with her uncle, Doc, a psychiatrist who looks after a group of teenagers who call themselves the Lost Ones.

Kit would be content to spend the rest of her life having grand adventures with the Lost Ones in the imaginary world of pirates, mermaids and sea monsters her dad told her stories about when she was little, but no one stays a child forever and, for Kit, moving on means fighting the very real monsters that lurk behind the imagined ones.

Where did the idea come from?

I basically set out to write the story I wanted to read at fifteen—something that was both whimsical and dark. Like Kit, I was in a place where I felt uncertain about and overwhelmed by the future, and so, for comfort, I started reading the books I’d loved as a child—Peter Pan, Treasure Island—and also thinking about the pirate stories my dad used to tell me and my sister. But when I actually revisited these stories, I remembered that what I’d liked about them was how frightening they were, and I started thinking about the way time distorts and simplifies memory. Neverland grew from there.

What are some of the themes you are concerned with? 

Working on Neverland I wanted to explore the idea that coming-of-age requires a kind of sacrifice—that to gain knowledge is to give up magic—and how that’s a hard but necessary and ultimately rewarding thing. Building from that, I was interested in how experience alters perspective.

The story also deals with fate, ancestry and the expectations we set for ourselves versus those imposed on us.

Who are your writing inspirations?

Where to start? I read a lot of YA: Elizabeth Wein, John Green, E. Lockhart, John Marsden. And I love anything Gothic. But more than that, I like a good, dark story, well told. My favourite writers are Donna Tartt and Daphne du Maurier.

Why did you choose YA? 

Because in YA you’re appealing to a reader who is still in the process of shaping their worldview and who’s looking towards adulthood—its privileges and responsibilities—with fresh eyes. You get to work with characters who are struggling with big ideas and emotions that they haven’t yet fully got a handle on. They’re becoming independent and being held accountable for the first time. As a writer, I find that a really exciting and challenging place to work from.

How long have you been working on the novel?

About a year and a half. But I’d been thinking about the story, making notes and doing background reading for a good six months or so before that. I finished the first draft fairly quickly, but it was rough—a skeleton with a few broken bones. For me, most of writing is rewriting.

How has the story changed since you began? 

Going into the first draft I had my inciting incident, major turning points and the ending locked in, and they didn’t really change. I also found Kit’s voice very quickly, which made things easier. But pretty much everything else was revised and rewritten and revised again, and the story acquired more complexity and depth as it evolved. I came up against a number of logic problems and I experimented a lot with how certain conflicts played out and how far to take the story’s more fantastic elements.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Still writing! My husband and I just relocated to Perth from Melbourne, and after three years as associate editor for Ride On magazine, I’m trying my hand at writing full time. I’m hoping to secure a publishing deal for Neverland and am about to start work on a new YA manuscript. In July I’m also launching Lectito.me, a book review website for young adult readers. Having Neverland shortlisted for the Text Prize was a well-timed and much needed vote of confidence—if nothing else it said, you’re not crazy; get back to work.

 You can find out more about Margot here

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