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Interview: March 2011

March 2011

A native Aussie and a world-famous writer, Catherine Jinks is the author of THE REFORMED VAMPIRE SUPPORT GROUP and its stunningly clever companion piece,THE ABUSED WEREWOLF RESCUE GROUP, which follows a young man who is kidnapped by a bunch of sickly --- and possibly paranormal --- insomniacs after waking up in a hospital from a night he can no longer remember.

In this interview with Teenreads.com's Norah Piehl, Jinks talks about why she was inspired to write this follow-up, elaborating on the geography of her native land and why werewolves are particularly suited to Australia. She also explains why she's an "enthusiastic debunker" of paranormal stereotypes, muses on the topic of teen transformations, and reveals her all-time favorite werewolf book.

Teenreads.com: THE ABUSED WEREWOLF RESCUE GROUP is a sequel, or companion piece, to your earlier novel, THE REFORMED VAMPIRE SUPPORT GROUP. Why did you decide to write this follow-up? Would you advise your audience to read the books in order?

Catherine Jinks: I decided to write the second book because of Reuben. I felt that he deserved a little more coverage than he got in THE REFORMED VAMPIRE SUPPORT GROUP, especially since readers seemed to prefer him to most of the vampires. (He's certainly better looking, sexier and more active!) I also felt that I needed to explore werewolves in an Australian setting a little more, because werewolves are more suited to Australia than vampires are. For one thing, we have a big wild dog problem --- which I touched on in THE ABUSED WEREWOLF RESCUE GROUP. For another, vampires are very much an urban kind of paranormal creature, whereas werewolves seem more suited to the blazing sunshine and empty spaces of the Australian outback.  

I think reading them in order would make the second one more enjoyable, but it's not vital.

TRC: This book takes place in Australia --- in both urban and very isolated rural settings. What would you like to tell young American readers about the geographic setting of your novels --- the landscape, the culture, etc.? How would you describe the area of Australia that you live in?

CJ: I've set the two books in Sydney, which is Australia's biggest city, in the north-western corner of the state of New South Wales --- a large part of which is semi-arid desert country (a bit like Texas or Nevada, I guess). As I said in my previous answer, I feel that this kind of desert landscape is well suited to werewolves, but not vampires. My vampires are more comfortable in Sydney, where I used to live. I now live about a 90-minute drive outside of Sydney in a place called the Blue Mountains, which is a string of villages in the middle of an enormous chain of national parks. It's heavily forested up here, and unlike Sydney, it can get quite cold. Once every few years, we might get a light dusting of snow in winter.

TRC: Toby has never known his father, but he seems reluctant to trust several older men, especially Reuben, who appear eager to help him. Why does Toby reject these potential mentors?

CJ: Because they're sidling up to him with creepy suggestions about werewolves, I guess! When they first tell him that he's a werewolf, he thinks they're mad. Then he thinks they might be responsible for having him kidnapped. Then he realizes that Danny's unstable...after which he finds out that Sanford's a vampire. Given the circumstances, I think I'd certainly be a little bit cautious!

TRC: Like in some other werewolf books, the transformation into a werewolf in your novel seems, on some level, symbolic of the many transformations of puberty. What do you think teens might take away from Toby's story, even if their own bodily transformations aren't as dramatic as his?

CJ: The whole puberty theme was another reason I wrote the book. There's the usual symbolism of hair growth, night-time activity, and so forth, but what really interested me was the idea of a "pack mentality" among teenage boys, which sometimes makes them behave like animals. How could I not start playing with that? Also, you have to grow up fast when you find you have a serious medical condition (my daughter has one, so I know what I'm talking about), and I wanted Toby's "werewolf condition" to be, paradoxically, the reason he decides that he has to start getting his act together and stop behaving like a half-grown puppy.

I'm hoping that some teens who read this book might come away with the understanding that, while it's great to have a blast and sow crazy wild oats when you're young, that option isn't necessarily open to some people because, for them, the consequences are just too serious.

TRC: In another interview, you called yourself an "enthusiastic debunker." What notions about werewolves are you debunking in this novel?

CJ: Well, I've always thought that werewolves have tended to play second fiddle to vampires, who are often portrayed as sexier, more complicated and more intelligent than your average wild-man werewolf. So I wanted to flip that a bit. I also wanted to get away from the idea that it's an infectious condition, like vampirism; I really like the idea of it being genetic.

TRC: Do you anticipate expanding this series beyond two books? Are there other supernatural creatures that might benefit from the Catherine Jinks treatment, as they come to terms with their conditions (like zombies, perhaps)?

CJ: I'd certainly LIKE to write one more and make this a trilogy, but I'm not ready to do that yet. I have to think about the whole zombie angle a bit more. It's touched on at the end of ABUSED, but I think there's more humor to be had out of it. Trouble is, I have to figure out what kind of teenage life lessons can be had from zombies.

TRC: You've written historical, fantasy and science fiction novels for both adults and young people. What genre do you most enjoy writing?

CJ: I prefer writing for young people (it's more fun), but I don't really prefer writing one genre over another. I suppose historical fiction is more work than the other genres, because of all the research involved, so that tends to be a consideration.

TRC: How about reading? What kinds of books did you enjoy reading when you were a child or teenager?

CJ: The Chronicles of Narnia, Georgette Heyer, Isaac Asimov, Mary Stewart's THE CRYSTAL CAVES and THE HOLLOW HILLS (which were early fantasy novels about Merlin), as well as a whole bunch of Australian authors you've probably never heard of, chiefly Patricia Wrightson and Ivan Southall. I also got into George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford and Jane Austen in my mid-teens.

TRC: Your werewolves and vampires are refreshing contrasts to much of the other popular fiction and movies about them. What other werewolf lore would you recommend to your readers?

CJ: The original werewolf book was written by a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1930s --- I think it was called THE WEREWOLF OF PARIS, but I can't remember the guy's name off the top of my head. That's a FREAKY book.

TRC: You're very well known as an author for adults and young people in your native Australia, but less well known in the U.S. Which of your works that haven't been published in the U.S. would you like to have made available for American readers?

CJ: There's a science fiction novel for young adults that I wrote called EYE TO EYE, which isn't bad. As for adults, I wrote two medieval murder mysteries called THE NOTARY and THE SECRET FAMILIAR, which have done pretty well in places like Spain and Poland and Germany, but have either bombed or not been published anywhere else --- perhaps because their subject matter is the medieval inquisition in France. The first book in the series, THE INQUISITOR, was published in the U.S., but no one paid much attention to it. They're sort of like THE NAME OF THE ROSE, but not so dense. 

TRC: Are there other Australian authors whose works for kids and teens you would recommend to American readers?

CJ: Absolutely. The older ones I've already mentioned, plus Ursula Dubosarsky, Phillip Gwynne, Judith Clarke --- and I don't really have to recommend people like Emily Rodda, Garth Nix, Melina Marchetta, Justine Larbalestier, Wendy Orr, Mem Fox, or any of the other authors who've been widely published over there, because they're already so well known!

TRC: Can you give us a hint about what writing projects you're working on now?

CJ: It's set in New York, 100 years in the future. But that's all I'm telling you!