Book People: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Today I am featuring someone I have admired for some time now…ever since I first clapped eyes on her picture book, ‘The Crow and the Waterhole’. Ambelin Kwaymullina comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is a lecturer in Law, a talented author and illustrator and also happens to be the daughter of Sally Morgan. I have followed Ambelin’s work in the children’s book industry with interest and continue to be incredibly impressed with each subsequent publication. Her most recent work is dystopian YA series ‘The Tribe’, published by Walker Books, which I am greatly enjoying for its strong writing and fast paced action (and a round of applause to the design team behind the books – just a bit gorgeous!) . You can read our full review of this series here where Trish Buckley describes it as ‘a wonderful a addition to the Australian YA family’.
Thank you so much for joining us here Ambelin!
The book trailer for the first book in ‘The Tribe’ series, ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’, is below.
Ten Things You Need to Know About Ambelin Kwaymullina
1. Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is The Disappearance of Ember Crow, the second book in ‘The Tribe’, a dystopian series for young adults. It’s set on a future earth where anyone born with an ability – like Firestarters, who can control fire, or Rumblers, who cause quakes – are labelled ‘Illegalsibe’ and locked away in detention centres by the government. Sixteen year old Ashala Wolf leads a band of rebel Illegals who shelter in the ancient Firstwood. The first book, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, tells the story of her capture by the government and eventual escape. The second picks up six months later, and when it begins Ashala’s best friend Ember has disappered
It’s actually really hard to describe the plot of Ember Crow without giving away of the twists or big reveals – and there’s heaps of them. So here’s a summary of the story from Ember’s perspective:
This is my story. The story of the girl I was, before I became the girl I am. The story of why I have to leave the Tribe.
There are things that I must do that they cannot be a part of, not if they are to be safe. And I cannot tell them what I am walking into. If Ash knew, she would never let me go, at least, not without her. She’d want to protect me, the way she protects all of the Tribe. We’re her family. She’s our salvation. But not all of us are worth saving. She believes we are, of course. Because she thinks she knows me.
Oh, Ash. I’m afraid you don’t.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
I began writing and illustrating picture books. Perhaps because I’m an artist, I am a visual writer; I see the story happening around me as I write – and I do my best to describe what I see. The words are never quite perfect, I’m not sure they ever will be, but I try to get as close as I possibly can!
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
During the week I work at my job during the day and write and night; on the weekends I write continually. Day passes into night, and into day again, and I am still writing. I like especially the time around 2 am and it is just me and my dogs and my computer and the sound of my fingers tapping on the computer keys.
4. Can you describe your workspace for us?
My laptop is my workspace, my most beloved macbook air. I work wherever I and my laptop am – in taxis, on airplanes, on the bus, in café’s, and sitting in my chair in my study. I am not a full time writer; I have a job and so I work around other commitments; I have my laptop with me always so that I am ready to snatch an opportunity to write whenever one presents itself.
5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
Read continually, as much as you possibly can, and write even more than you read. If you don’t like a story, of your own or anyone else’s, then try to understand why; learn what interests you and what doesn’t. And write, always, about something you care about. It doesn’t have to be serious, it can be something that makes you laugh rather than something that makes you cry. But words are a gift, and they shouldn’t be wasted on anything that doesn’t make you feel something.
6. Do you have a favourite book or character?
My favourite character of my own is Ashala; it’s her perspective that I write from and she’s the closest to my heart. That makes things difficult because I feel what she feels, and for much of both books in the Tribe series so far she’s in trouble. There’s this moment in Ashala Wolf when Ash is staring into the eyes of the bad guy of the book and realises how terrible he really is – when I wrote that moment I felt physically cold, chilled in the same way she was; I had to go away and make myself a cup of tea before I could carry on with the narrative!
7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
Nothing. This is all of what I am.
8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
I don’t listen to music – I can’t, because I find it distracting. But I hear what’s happening in the book as I write it; sometimes some of those sounds make it into the narrative, like the contrast between Connor’s crisp steps and Ashala’s slow ones down the hallway in the first chapter of Ashala Wolf. And I don’t eat much either, it takes too long and time when I’m eating is time when I’m not typing. I drink a lot of coffee though (because I can type with one hand and hold the coffee in the other).
9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
Probably far more than I’m aware of! Everyone who knows my family tells me that one of my characters (Jaz) is the image of my brother Blaze, and I wasn’t that conscious of the degree of the similarity when I wrote about Jaz. And there’s certainly some of me in Ash – in the way she wears her heart on her sleeve, has a slightly grim sense of humour, and is overly protective of the people she loves.
10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
Justice. Because I think this world is an unjust place and that those injustices manifest most terribly in the lives of the young. So many children and teenagers of this planet are living with poverty or violence or hatred; if the adults of the world were collectively judged by how well we are caring for all those who will come after us, then I think we would fare very poorly.
We owe them more.
Thank you so much for joining us here today Ambelin!
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