What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
Mum always read A.A. Milne’s poetry to me as a child. I read E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web eleven times, Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three and The Black Clauldron countless times and Dodie Smith’s A Hundred and One Dalmatians eight times. Nancy Drew mysteries and abridged Greek legends were my other favourites. But I was usually immersed in How and Why Wonder Books. I was a non-fiction nerd. As a teen I read every Agatha Christie I could find and Dr Who books. I first discovered that books were like gold when I was given a wildlife book for my birthday in grade one. I took it to school and lost it. I was devastated.
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
I first started writing in High school. I wrote chunks of an awful Sci Fi for years every time we had a creative writing session. As for now, I hope my readers manage to be transported to another place when they read my books and that they enjoy the characters and stories. Nothing mind-blowing here.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
I’ve always had a critical eye so I can’t remember ever reading anything without picking it apart. For me, it’s rare to find a book which scores well in every aspect.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
When I write YA fiction I try to read more nonfiction or adult titles. I avoid reading too many YA books in a row anyhow. There’s something irritating about the generic teen voice that a lot of mediocre books have. However writers who do a cracking good teen voice must be avoided when I’m doing a first draft or I find a few of their words/phrases popping onto my screen uninvited.
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way?
I’m an eclectic reader and I find so much of what I read is influential, either positively or negatively. A lot of my favourites are international authors. Nigerian Ben Okri and Kiwis Alan Duff and Witi Ihimaera are definitely my top three. I guess Scot Gardener and Markus Zusak are my favourite Aussie authors. Why are they all men?
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
When I travel I don’t have much time to read because there’s so much to do, observe and record. A big book of short stories would be the best option here.
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
The best book is one that has a distinct voice, developed characters and pace.
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
Shallow characters who have boring voices and don’t do much will make me close the book for good. I do this quite a lot. Life is too short and there are millions of books out there that are still on my reading list.
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
This is hard to answer as there are so many authors I admire. I suppose Ben Okri is my favourite. I love his everyday characters who battle to find enough money for food and rent. I love the smells and sounds and colours of Africa which come alive in his writing.
If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?
Top Ten Reads (fiction):
The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Mr Pip - Lloyd Jones
The Famished Road - Ben Okri
The Handmaid’s Tale - Margret Attwood
Those Who Save Us - Jenna Blum
Dangerous Love - Ben Okri
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Once Were Warriors - Alan Duff
What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
I try to read a minimum of 50 books a year. 2010’s best book for me was The Crossing by Mandy Hager. It’s YA speculative fiction set in the Pacific, which ticks a lot of my boxes but her writing is so tactile that I could feel and taste and smell the atoll and the ship and the toddy... Just read it. It’s brilliant.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
There’s something great about the smell of books and the weight of a book in your hands that I fear an ebook will never replicate. That being said, I suppose it’s the way of the future. I’m in wait-and-see mode on this one.
Beth Montgomery lives in regional Victoria and writes Young Adult Fiction. She grew up in the Dandenong Ranges and worked as a teacher in the Pacific for seven years. Her first novel The Birthmark was short listed for the inaugural Gold Inky, the State Library of Victoria’s Teenage Choice Award, in 2007. Her second novel Murderer’s Thumb was a White Raven exhibit at The Bologna Book Fair in 2009. Beth is currently writing more novels, a few short stories and contributes regularly to her blog, Island Stories. http://aelanstori.blogspot.com/