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  • Cameron M

Book Chat: Louise Bassett

Louise Bassett is the author of The Hidden Girl, published in August 2022 by Walker Books Australia. The Hidden Girl is Louise's debut Young Adult novel, and has already garnered enthusiastic reviews. I'm really excited to welcome Louise to Book Chat.

Hi Louise, and welcome to Book Chat! Huge congratulations on the publication of your debut YA novel, The Hidden Girl. It’s a beautifully written, elegantly plotted story which explores a range of moral ambiguities and engages deeply with a number of important themes and issues, without ever feeling like an ‘issues’ novel. I’m really excited to learn more about its genesis, and about your own journey towards publication.

To begin with, could you share with us a little about your journey to becoming a published author? Was writing something you enjoyed as a child?

Thanks Cam. That’s really kind feedback. And thanks so much for having me on Book Chat.

When I was eight my schoolteacher had a box of story prompts (cards with pictures, first lines etc.) and I loved writing stories in response. My first one was about kids travelling on a flying carpet. That’s when I first remember realising the power of the imagination. I don’t think that’s left me. When writing gets hard I like to remember that flying carpet. So thanks Mrs Smith, wherever you are!

The journey to publishing a novel has been a winding one. I had to live a little first. I studied Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT and tried screen writing, playwriting and short stories and have taken a number of courses since. These have been great for making writer friends, learning skills and gaining feedback. Winning prizes in competitions provided much needed encouragement too.

The Hidden Girl is the first novel I’ve written. It was shortlisted for the Ampersand Prize before it found a home with Walker Books. I still can’t quite believe it’s been published!

Tell us everything you’d like us to know about The Hidden Girl.

The Hidden Girl is a young adult mystery/crime novel set in inner-city Melbourne and Indonesia. It’s the story of Melati Nelson, who has hidden her delinquent past and is pretending to be a model student. When she uncovers a life-threatening secret she must decide whether to act and seek justice while putting her own life at risk.

It’s been described as an ‘enthralling, fast-paced mystery, which is also a genuinely moving story about overcoming past mistakes and the power of forgiveness’ (Lisa Walker, YA author) and ‘a thrilling and gratifying read’ (Books + Publishing).

Did any particular experience spark the idea for this story?

I was working in Indonesia with an anti-violence organisation and met women who had survived trafficking. Their stories had a big impact on me.

One weekend while I was living in Jakarta I became marooned at a friend’s house because of floods. All we had in his house were coffee, strawberries and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While we were binge-watching Buffy, and the flood waters were rising, I wondered what would happen if Buffy didn’t have superpowers and wasn’t fighting supernatural demons but instead was battling traffickers. The idea developed from there.

I also wanted to take readers on a journey to Indonesia. Travel has been a big part of my life and I haven’t seen a lot of Australian YA that features other countries, which is strange when you consider how much Australians travel.

What was the most challenging aspect about writing The Hidden Girl?

In the novel there’s a young woman’s diary, which is a critical element of the story. I wrote a lot more of the diary than you see in the novel, to allow me to get into her head and understand her story. Because of what she goes through, writing the diary was really challenging and upsetting at times.

What kind of drafting process did you go through to produce your final manuscript? Did you need to do much rewriting or replotting along the way?

Did I ever! There were many drafts and a lot of rewriting. I was lucky to receive some great feedback along the way from publishers and an author, which helped me shape the final (or semi-final) manuscript. There were stops and starts throughout the process as I worked on other projects, waited for feedback or gathered the energy to tackle a big redraft. My writing group was invaluable for encouragement, ongoing feedback and beta reading. My editor at Walker Books was hugely helpful and I did a lot of rewriting while working with her. While it can be gruelling and daunting, I enjoy the challenge of rewriting once I get into it. I get all determined and think ‘damn you plot hole, you’re not going to win!’

The Hidden Girl engages with a range of challenging and dark issues including bullying and sex trafficking, and the realisation that trusted adults can turn out to be fatally flawed. Can you offer any advice for other writers in the Young Adult space addressing these kinds of issues?

Things that I kept in mind were to trust in the intelligence of young people to handle these issues and remember what I wanted as a teenage reader. When I first heard about issues like sex trafficking as a teenager I was horrified, but I also wanted to try to make sense of them. I tried to deal with the issues sensitively without sanitising them. There can be a lot of gatekeepers in young adult fiction and some may want to protect young people from challenging content, so expect a few knock backs. Listen to feedback and take what’s useful, but if you believe in your story then persevere. No matter which issues you’re addressing, remember you’re writing a story and not an educational piece.

While I think it’s important to engage with real world issues I also believe leaving the reader with a sense of hope is critical.

It becomes apparent when reading The Hidden Girl that you have a lot of genuine experience and knowledge of Indonesia and its culture, both of which bring a lot of authenticity to your writing. Can you tell us a little about how this came to be?

Yes, but the novel isn’t all about Indonesia. I’d say it’s more about Australia and some of the human interactions between the people in the two countries. I do have a background in Indonesia, I worked in international aid and spent a lot of time in South East Asia, including living in Indonesia. Nearly all my colleagues were Indonesian and were extremely generous in sharing their culture and lives with me and putting up with my Indonesian. It’s an endlessly fascinating country so it was easy to become immersed in Indonesia. But I think really knowing Indonesia is a lifelong study.

What’s next for Louise Bassett?

I’m working on a young adult survival thriller set in a youth justice boot camp. So something light-hearted for a change!

Where are the best places for readers to find you and The Hidden Girl online?

Instagram: @louisebassettauthor

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