Loathing Lola, William Kostakis, Pan Macmillan, 2008, Australia, 9780330424165
You rewrote the whole book to be in first person (no mean feat!), in Courtney's point of view. How did you come to this decision?
Okay, so originally, Loathing Lola
was in the third person, with three leads, Courtney, Tim and Katie. Well, four leads, if you included me, because every five seconds, I'd literally take over and make a smart-alecky comment about the length of somebody's skirt, and what that said about their personality. You know, really tasteful stuff.
When I eventually sat down with my publisher to discuss the completed draft, we spoke about what worked and what didn't. We both agreed that the authorial intrusion was weighing the book down and overpowering the other characters - and some of the comments about the skirts were just downright offensive. I suggested first person. My editor said that it could work. It was just a matter of choosing which character.
I knew if I decided to write the book from Tim's perspective, it'd be too tempting to amalgamate his and my voices, so, to stop myself from falling into that trap, I decided to step completely out of my comfort zone and try my hand at a sixteen-year-old female character's perspective. Luckily for me, the gamble paid off. It let me deal with all the novel's concerns in detail, and it also kept me at bay. Although, I do slip in occasionally for a cameo appearance when Courtney loses her cool and lets her tongue loose.
How long all up have you worked on Loathing Lola, and what compelled you to begin it?
I remember sitting in the back seat of my car, with my worn copy of Worry Warts
on my lap, the back cover facing up. I'd imagine my face there instead of Morris Gleitzman's. The caption would read ‘11-year-old author William Kostakis', that was my dream... and then I turned 12, so that daydream became ‘12-year-old author William Kostakis'... That's when I realised I should probably start writing
I finished a novel featuring Courtney and Co. by the end of Year 7, and my computer congratulated me with a terminal virus. It was the age of the floppy disk, and I hadn't learned the importance of backing up the file, so, from memory, I restarted it in Year 8. I must've remembered more than was there, because the word count doubled (think: just falling shy of Harry Potter 5's grand total). I left it for a few years, came back to it in Year 10, and after one more rewrite, I was content with it, so I started thinking about a sequel. What if they had a camera crew following them around? How would that change the way they acted, what they said, who they were nice to, who they weren't? What would they hide? What parts of their characters would they accentuate? It didn't take me long to realise that this would be a far more compelling read than the original novel I'd written, so, after my bajillionth rejection letter, I decided to restart from scratch. By the end of Year 12, I had Pan Macmillan on board. And now, in my second year of uni, I have a book out.
So, to answer your question in a non-round-about way, it took seven-eight years to write, and I started it because I wanted to be Morris Gleitzman. Only 11.
(LM aside - I also wanted to be Morris Gleitzman. I met him when I was nine and was over the moon. Thanks for inspiring us Morris!)
The only word I didn't get was ‘d'urg'. I'm only a few years older than you so I can't be the only one! Please explain?
It's a mean sound to slip into impersonations of slightly less intelligent people? It's like ‘d'uh' only more pronounced. Come on Angela, Miss Gen Y, get with the times. :-)
(How quickly one falls behind...)
One thing I noticed while reading is that the plot, dialogue and characters were very filmable. Do you think growing up in a visual culture makes it in some way inevitable that you'll be as influenced by film (and other visual mediums) as by literature? If yes, what are some of your favourite films/directors?
I'm a bigger consumer of television and movies than I am of books, so I guess my writing style reflects that. The novel does have a very visual subject matter - they're the stars of a reality TV, so it does instantly scream 'FILM ME!'. Some parts - quite literally - read like a script. As I write, the story plays out in my head like a film. I imagine the camera angles, the editing, and that must influence what's eventually put on paper.
It's dialogue-heavy and description-light, simply because as a reader, I used to look at a page of block formatted text made solely of description and want to lynch myself. Don't get me wrong, some authors can make describing a rock an enjoyable reading experience, but a lot can't. There's nothing like that feeling of absolute joy I'd get when I'd turn a page and see the next one is mostly dialogue. It's fun
to read dialogue, and I love writing it, and the result is something that's quite unique. It's a movie novel.
That said, there are little details that I don't think would work as effectively onscreen. Courtney's inner-monologues are really what define the book, and that's hard to convey without being voice-over heavy. I wanted to immerse the reader in all things Courtney, and living her thoughts, breathing her opinions was a part of that immersion. Film doesn't really lend itself to that personalisation. Courtney's experiences are your own in the novel, whereas if it were a film, you would empathise with her, but she would be a character you saw, not a character you inhabited.
Now, as for movies... I have a theory that I developed my sense of humour from The Addams Family Values
. I rewatched it the other day and am both proud and shocked that it was my favourite movie growing up. Other favourites are Superbad
, Serial Mom
, any Star Wars
, The Matrix Reloaded
(I'm one of 4 people on the planet who enjoyed it...), V For Vendetta
, and anything by Tarantino or Pixar.
What authors do you enjoy reading, or who inspires you as a writer?
Terry Pratchett is a god among lesser authors. I have all his books... I've only gotten around to reading eleven-or-so of them, but they're good. Amazing, even. I also enjoy reading the occasional Chuck Palahniuk. But I'm most inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion
. It is my aim as an author to never, EVER write anything as sinfully boring and unnecessary as that book. Granted, I was in Year Seven when I read it, so I might have a better appreciation of it now, but... it just hurt to read. It took me, on-and-off, a good ten months to finish.
I thought Loathing Lola was a great satirical book, not just satirising Australian media, television, and big business, but high school culture as well. Satire is a form of comedy that often subverts an issue or situation that is actually quite serious. Why did you choose to utilise some of the themes you did?
The way you wrote the question, statement, explanation, question... brought back horrible memories of the paragraph-long questions of the HSC English exam. If LiteraryMinded
doesn't work out for you, you should consider working for the NSW Board of Studies. They'd hire you in a heartbeat. Ahem, tangent aside...
I didn't choose the themes. I didn't sit there and make a list and go, 'Oh, that'd just be a delightful theme to touch on lightly in the third act.' I chose the story I wanted to write, and the themes, issues and concerns came attached to that story. They're its extended family you inherit when you marry it.
I knew from the get-go that I didn't want to take myself or the subject matter too seriously. I wanted to get out there, tell a great story, introduce some great characters, get a few laughs and throw a few punches... but let's not pretend I wrote the next Animal Farm
I wanted to talk about grieving in a comic way, I wanted to talk about being completely screwed over by the corporate machine with a smile on my face, I wanted to write a light novel about deeper issues.
I'm 19. I started this incarnation of Loathing Lola
in my mid-teens, I didn't want to be serious. In one sense, I'd just lived an intensely serious part of my life (a close friend had just passed away), I didn't want to write the typical angsty, woe-is-me drama, because there's more to life than typical angsty, woe-is-me drama. Even in the darkest days of dealing with grief, there was humour. But nowadays, we have the movies written as Oscar bait, the books written for consideration in every award category under the sun - and there's so much attention put on the darker side of life because the crying woman gets the Oscar. Literary merit and sob stories seem to go hand-in-hand.
The darker side is privileged in art. I remember I wrote a comedy story once, and came runner-up in a school competition. The judge, who shall remain nameless, said, 'Usually, when you have a comedy and a drama up against each other, the drama wins, even if the comedy is cleverer and better written.' I was shocked, a little bitter that I had lost, but shocked.
That was the day I made the conscious decision to specialise in comedy, and I didn't let the themes attached to my subject matter stand in my way. I wanted to satirise the television industry, music industry, high school life, teen life, yes, but, at its core, while it is a satire, it is still centred in reality. It is more real-life than exaggerated satire, it's just... a lot easier to swallow when we laugh and say, 'Ha ho, only in fiction, eh?'
There's a lot of comedy in real-life, it's just, you've got to look for it :-)
(Perhaps I'll create a HSC English Extension module based on the half-full glass, or an exam question centred around the principle of 'not crying over spilt milk'... and no, it's not Animal Farm.)
Do you think people believe what they see on current affairs programs and read in gossip mags?
If people didn't, would they still be in business?
Why are there so many cats on the internet?
There was a surplus of cheezburgers that needed attending to
Can a 19-year-old novelist still get through the average doorway, or is his head too large?
A 17-year-old with a book deal foresaw impending problems, so he invested in larger household doorways.
Seriously though, it's no mean feat, and I hope people realise that. What are you working on or doing with yourself now?
Right now, I'm focusing on uni (I'm a 19-year-old novelist balancing writing, uni and a casual job, how's that for head-inflating?). By "focusing with uni", I mean sometimes attending lectures, spending too much time on Facebook, and handing in rushed assignments three minutes before the deadline. I want to give myself time to recharge between books. Writing Loathing Lola
and keeping afloat at uni was hell, and it's something I don't want to do again unless I have to. I'm still writing, plotting, drafting small things, but I'm taking my time. The last thing I want to do is rush a lacklustre second book. I have an idea I really love, I'm just letting it mature, and I want to give it the attention it deserves. Hopefully, it won't be another seven-eight years before you see it on shelves.
Thanks William! I do indeed hope to read your next book before you are an ancient 27-year-old.
Read more of Will's self-deprecating humour in his Age article from last weekend.