Check My Shelf with…Danielle Binks

Hello and welcome back to my interview series focusing on Aussie authors! Each fortnight, I’ll be getting up close and personal with an author…well ok, with their shelves. But isn’t that really what we’re all here to see?! The purpose of this series to to shine a light on all these wonderful authors, and help support them particularly in the strange times we’re finding ourselves in right now…

After the AMAZING outpouring of support on my last post a few weeks back, I couldn’t be more excited to bring you this interview with Danielle Binks! Her debut novel ‘The Year the Maps Changed’ launched earlier this month, so I thought it would be a fantastic time to get to know a little bit more about Danielle!

Reading Life

Hey Danielle! Thanks for dropping by. We want to know, what are you reading right now?

I got sent a sneaky early copy of Melina Marchetta’s What Zola Did on Monday which is out with Penguin in June! After that, probably The January Stars by Kate Constable

What’s your latest #bookstagram made me do it purchase?

Jaclyn Crupi’s Nonna Knows Best: The Italian Art of Living Well probably because I know Jaclyn, and her Instagram (@jaclyncrupi) is full of books + gardening + cooking, and this book from her is like a giant hug.

What’s your favourite underrated book?

Act of Faith and The Sultan’s Eyes both by Kelly Gardiner, and Eve Edwards’ The Lacey Chronicles trilogy. I love historic-fiction, and these are two of the best in young-adult that deal with an often-overlooked period for that readership. Gardiner’s is set in the 1640 time-period, Edwards’s is 1582 – so if you love the works of Philippa Gregory and the like, but wish there was more on offer in YA then these two books are for you. And they’re especially great because they have some of the best female characters who are railing against the times they’re consigned to. They’re all brilliant!

What’s your favourite childhood book? 

I had all my Mum’s old Enid Blyton books growing up, but I also loved The Chronicles of Narnia and then a little later it was Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow.

You get to host a dinner party with 3 other authors, dead or alive. Who do you invite and why? 

Melina Marchetta, Jane Austen and Elena Ferrante (the last one so I can find out who it is!)

How do you organise your bookshelves? 

Haphazardly. They tend to group by genre, and then author’s-surname within that subset.

Who is your ultimate literary crush? 

A: I am quite partial to Jonah Griggs from Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road (I first read him when I was young and this crush wouldn’t be a problem, but alas he’s a bit of a Peter Pan now and remains a fictional teenager forever while I become an adult and it’s maybe increasingly inappropriate?). Ella Canfield from Toni Jordan’s Fall Girl is pretty suave and fascinating, so maybe I’ll say her too.

What’s your favourite book to gift? 

Given that I know many writers, I think Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a must-read so I do frequently gift its wisdom.

A friend has 24 hours to kill in your home city. What are your recommendations?

Definitely take them on a graffiti-art tour of Melbourne (Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane, all around Fitzroy). And then everyone needs to check out the State Library of Victoria – and especially in Autumn, have a stroll through Treasury Gardens. I think everyone needs to experience Brunetti for the ultimate in cakes, pastires and coffee. Maybe a hop over to Yarraville on the train to visit The Sun and Younger Sun Bookshops. While we’re in town I’ll also take them to Melbourne-fave clothing store ‘Obus Clothing’ so they can get a bit of a Melbourne uniform going.

Writing Life

How long, on average, does it take you to write the first draft of a book? 

Honestly, I’m relatively quick– about 2-3 months (for a truly vomited-up first draft). But prior to that I can fall into a research-hole that includes practical stuff like library-visits, fun stuff like on-location inspiration (I recently visited Hobart for my second novel) and this-is-giving-me-anxiety stuff like reading/watching everything that I think is vaguely similar or inspiring for my work – and that is all up taking about one year. Or in the case of The Year the Maps Changed, five-years. So. I’m a pantser for the first-draft, but I treat research like a procrastinating plotter.

Do you have any writing rituals that help you get in the zone? 

I definitely get obsessed with one particular type of music/album as I write. As of right now, for my Book #2 young adult contemporary with a healthy dose of romance – I am listening to G Flip’s About Us on repeat because I realised the storytelling of those songs kind of hit my story-beats …

How did you get started on your journey as an author? 

Truthfully? I wrote FanFiction from the ages of 15 – 24. Really obsessively, too. I was very inspired by the Twilight fandom but then I wrote a ton for Buffy, Dawson’s Creek, The West Wing, Once & Again, the books of Patricia Briggs and Charlaine Harris … it’s truly how I got my start; and how I got confident enough to share my work with others (even anonymously), and figure out the types of stories I gravitated towards and things I wanted to say. I think there’s also something very telling in FanFiction writers who just want to *tinker* and improve another creator’s work – which is what I did with Twilight, and writing Breaking Dawn how I think it should have gone. Once you have the ego to start thinking “well I’d improve the story this way …” it’s a pretty sure thing you’ve caught the bug.

What’s your favourite part of the publishing process? 

Oh, look – seeing cover-art concepts is always fun and as fiction-writer, it’s nice to see some graphic representation of your work. But also seeing the typeset-pages for the first time and get an idea of how it’ll look in book-form … also because there’s a voice at the back of your head saying; “surely they won’t back out now, they’re definitely going to turn this into a book – right?!”

The Year the Maps Changed

What inspired you to write this book? 

My own childhood! The Year the Maps Changed deals largely with the events of 1999 surrounding ‘Operation Safe Haven’ when 4000 Kosovar-Albanian refugees were given temporary sanctuary in Australia at the height of the Kosovo war and NATO bombings. It remains Australia’s largest-ever humanitarian exercise, and one of the safe-haven locations was right near where I live on the Mornington Peninsula – at Point Nepean. And much like my protagonist in the book; I was in primary school when everything happened, and while I wasn’t overly-engaged with it at the time, I did tuck the memory away deep inside …

This book has a very strong and well-developed sense of time and place. How much of your own experiences are poured into the story? 

It definitely helped that like my protagonist Fred in the book, I was also 11-going-on-12 in 1999. So tapping back into that year was surprisingly easy for me (also because I can’t believe that was 21-years-ago and not five?) it also helped that it’s set on the Mornington Peninsula where I grew up and still live, to this day. So I’ve hung out at these towns and on those beaches my whole life, and while researching/writing it was really easy for my to journey down there and get a fictional feel for the place. I also gave Fred things like; a father in the police-force, and a grandparent who lives out the back of the main house. And a heart love of bike-riding and appreciation for Heath Ledger. All of that comes from me.

There’s great diversity in this novel, from the family unit right through to the different cultures represented by the community and refugees. Do you think middle grade Aussie fiction is starting to get a little more inclusive and reflective of our culture? (Wasn’t the case in my day!) 

Absolutely. And, look – some of those diverse aspects in the book aren’t necessarily reflective of the actual 1999 time-period and setting, but I inserted them and paid attention to them for readers *now* who I think are growing up in a such a way that they notice when life isn’t accurately reflected in their media. I didn’t want to short-change them on that level (also because; that wouldn’t be true!)

What attracts you to writing for middle grade/YA fiction? 

Something I’ve known since my Fan-Fic days is I’m very drawn to coming-of-age stories, and particularly the moment when a young person starts to feel the chasm opening up within them of ‘before’ and ‘after’ childhood, that ‘paradise lost’ moment too. I think I’ve loved that since first reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and it’s just something I still relate to very strongly. I’m a huge John Steinbeck fan, and this one quite from his book East of Eden has always summarised it best for me;

“When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”

I think that’s what I reach for, every time – an aching kind of growing.

Your novel deals with some tough issues in an age appropriate way. Why did you decide to tell it for the middle grade vs YA audience and did this change anything about the story you envisioned? 

Definitely being able to tap back into the age I actually was when Operation Safe Haven unfolded was a big part of it. But also – from my view in the future and looking at Australia’s track-record of human-rights abuses against refugees and asylum seekers … I knew this book and story could get very bleak. And could possibly have no redeeming features to it for that reason. But once I decided it’d be for middle-grade readers, it gave the story hope – a hope it desperately needed. Because I will never not give young people hope in my books – it’s part of being honest (because however bad it is when you’re 10, or 15, or 19 – it won’t stay that way forever. I promise.) but they deserve hope too – they deserve that respect for their future on the last page.

What songs would you include on a soundtrack for this book? 

Oh gosh; I was listening to a lot of the Dawson’s Creek season 1 soundtrack at that age so I’m sorry to say … probably a lot of that? (it also kind of fits for a seaside, small-town setting!

What do you want readers to take away from this book?

There’s a little wisdom that a character gives to Fred in the book, which is; ‘we have two hands, one to help ourselves and one to help others.’ I hope kids take that to heart and lead with kindness, take their role as informed, global citizens very seriously and realise that putting good into their community can have worldwide ramifications.

How can readers help their favourite authors on social media?

Oh gosh; any way they see fit! Goodreads reviews are always appreciated, using the book’s title and author’s name as hashtags on Instagram and Tumblr is super helpful. Also practical little things, like – sending a request to your local public and school library to order a copy of the book (which they’ll do in both digital and physical format) – all of that helps and is much appreciated!

Do you read your own book reviews? Is it tough or do you enjoy getting reader feedback?

A: I’m trying not to, but it’s hard! I’ve been a book-blogger since 2009 – over at; http://alphareader.blogspot.com/ – so part of me is still in blogger mode, but for that reason I also know that reviews are not about or for the author. They’re for readers. I have no business in them – the book is no longer mine, now that it’s out in the world.

Any new projects coming up you can tell us about? 

A: My publisher Hachette bought a second book from me, that I am working on now. No title as yet, but it’s older-end young adult and featuring a fictional Australian family of thespians. Set entirely in Hobart. There’s an LGBT+ romance I’ve loved falling into. Yeah. It’s coming – stay-tuned.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? 

Walk. I love walking my dog Murray while listening to podcasts – ‘Keep It’ and ‘Staying in with Emily and Kumail’ are my faves right now!

Thanks so much for joining us Danielle! Check out my original review of The Year the Maps Changed to hear more about the book! Aussie readers can purchase both books at their favourite stores, physical or online, and international readers can find it on Book Depository!

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