I’ve been off the blog for far too long (and by the way off the blog isn’t anything like being off the grog) but I’m back on it again because Patrick O’Duffy invited me to contribute to an online writers’ roundabout called the Next Big Thing. Each writer answers ten questions about their current book and then tags five other writers.

Patrick is the author of a terrific ebook called The Obituarist and he is currently writing a novel called Raven’s Blood. Raven’s Blood is a young adult fantasy and I really liked the sound of it so I hope he hurries up and finishes it.

Thanks to Patrick, I’m enjoying envisaging my new book as the Next Big Thing. Imagining success is something all writers have got to be good at. It sustains us over the years it takes to write each book and keeps us busy writing.

1) What is the working title of your next book?
The working title of my new book is The Half-Life Girl. I usually change my working titles and character names several times during the drafting and redrafting process. It helps me to come to terms with the essence of the characters and the book’s overall narrative. This book has already had two working titles. The original working title was Long Sweet Song. I’m about ready to create another as The Half-Life Girl doesn’t really do it for me anymore.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I had been thinking about the way professional boundaries drift over time. I’d also been thinking about the diversity – across cultures and times – of the age at which a working life begins: anything from early childhood to post-university or even later. Those thoughts combined into an idea for a young adult novel set eight generations in the future, at a time when there is no school because everyone undertakes on-the-job training within family businesses.

I looked backwards to look forwards and was inspired by those times when disciplines that now seem incompatible, such as astrology and astronomy and barbering and surgery, were compatible. It seems likely to me that those sorts of professional shifts will continue and that the future will contain some odd professions. I knew I wanted to write a police procedural crime novel but imagined different kinds of law enforcement officers: midwife coroners and detecting psychologists.

In The Half-Life Girl, my protagonist is called Fortune Sweet Song. He lives and works in a medical law enforcement family. His mother is a midwife coroner and his father is a detecting psychologist. In the first chapter, sixteen-year-old Fortune begins his apprenticeship in the family business by examining the body of a teenage girl found lying, presumed dead, in Armstrong Street in Ballarat.

Ballarat’s Central Square has also disappeared and has been replaced by a shop called Shimmerama on Sturt
This is the location where Fortune finds the body of the teenage girl

3) What genre does your book fall under?
The Half-Life Girl is a cross genre, murder mystery, science-fiction novel for young adults.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The Sweet Songs have Chinese, Indian and Anglo-Saxon heritage. I’m not really sure which actor should play Fortune, but he’d have to have an ethnically mixed background. The supporting character Cara Wungalu is an Indigenous Australia. I can imagine her being played by Miranda Tapsell. I’ve been watching in Redfern Now on the ABC and I really enjoyed Miranda’s work in the episode called Joy Ride.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A boy who is planning to amputate his gifted hands ends up investigating a death, solving a murder, finding a profession, making a friend and accepting his genetic inheritance.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m not sure that I can answer that question at this stage. I’ve had fifteen books published in my writing career. All bar my latest book, an epic fantasy novel called The Light Heart of Stone, have been published traditionally. I’ve really enjoyed self-publishing but it takes lots of work and time: time that could otherwise be spent writing.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?I’m still writing the first draft. I began writing in January and have written about 60,000 words. I’ve thrown out about 40,000 of those words so I’m still some way from completing the draft. I expect I’ll have the first draft finished by March 2013, which is when I plan to begin writing volume II in my new epic fantasy series.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Ender’s Game without the military theme (is that even possible?). Harry Potter without the magic (well, that’s probably not possible). The common element is that The Half-Life Girl is a story about a boy who is shouldering an adult responsibility, much as Ender and Harry had to do in their stories.

Looking back on my answer, I feel I need to say a word about my protagonist being male. I wanted Fortune to be male because I wanted him to experience the emergence of his upgraded, gifted hands as something akin to menstruation. Fortune’s hands give him certain powers, but they weep, bleed, ache and have to be managed. Sound familiar?

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I attended a fiction master class with Steve Carroll at Writers Victoria in January this year. It was really inspiring and got me started on The Half-Life Girl.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Readers will probably enjoy reading about the technological differences in this future Australia, which is familiar but different. I hope they will also enjoy reading about the challenges faced by the characters.

What particularly interests me about technology and change – and I hope the readers will agree – is that new technologies often present real difficulties for people entrenched in old technology (think about publishing in the digital age). While that abstract thought might not grab young adult readers, the story of Fortune’s family’s business – the Long Sweet Song Gifted Hand Clinic – probably will. The Clinic has relied on the physical upgrades possessed by family members to make a living. A new forensic technology has emerged and the Sweet Songs look as though they’ll be out on the street, facing a hostile world, in the not-too-distant future.

For the next, Next Big Thing (posting Wednesday 12 December) please visit:

Amra Pajalic
Julie Mac
Pete Aldin
Sue Isle
Gillian Polack