Ep 379 Meet Will Kostakis, author of ‘Rebel Gods’.

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In Episode 379 of So You Want To Be A Writer: Meet Will Kostakis, author of Rebel Gods. Discover hot tips on how to write a romantic thriller. Plus, we have 3 copies of 30 Day Kick Start Plan by Joe Wicks to give away.

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Show Notes

8 must-dos to write a gripping romantic thriller

Writer in Residence

Will Kostakis

Will Kostakis is a writer of all things, from celebrity news stories that score cease and desist letters, to tweets for professional wrestlers. That said, he’s best known for his award-winning YA novels. His first novel, Loathing Lola, was released when he was just nineteen. His second, The First Third, won the 2014 Gold Inky Award. It was also shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year and Australian Prime Minister’s Literary awards, among others. The Sidekicks was his third novel for young adults, and his American debut. It went on to win the IBBY Australia Ena Noel Award. Most recently, Will has applied his trademark style to the fantasy genre, with Monuments and its sequel, Rebel Gods.

Will is an ambassador for the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge and Australia Reads.

As a high school student, Will won Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year for a collection of short stories. He has since contributed to numerous anthologies, including the ABIA Award-winning Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology.

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Interview Transcript

Valerie Khoo

Thank you so much for joining us today, Will.

 

Will Kostakis

Thank you so much for having me.

 

Valerie Khoo

Congratulations on your latest book, Rebel Gods.

 

Will Kostakis

Thanks so much.

 

Valerie Khoo

It's a cracker. For those readers who haven't got their hands on a book yet, can you tell us what it's about?

 

Will Kostakis

So it is the second half of the Monuments duology, which I always envisioned as two books. You know, get in, entice readers and then leave quickly before they hate me. And the first book was a reaction to the book that I wrote previously, because I find that each of my books are a reaction to the book that came before it. So The Sidekicks was this slow meditative story about grief that was rooted in the real. And so I wanted to write the exact opposite of that with my following book. So Monuments was this sort of laugh a minute page turning action-adventure fantasy story. I always say it's Legend of Zelda set in Sydney now, where you have three teenagers who skip school to find the ancient gods that are buried under different Sydney high schools.

 

And Rebel Gods is that often unseen aftermath of an adventure; what happens when the heroes that went on their three-day quest have to contend with everything that they've done and everything that has been laid at their feet for them to do? And so it is a slower novel, and it really does delve into who these characters are, what makes them heroic, and it's ultimately a story about growing up and the changing relationships with family, with lots of fantasy and gods thrown in for good measure.

 

Valerie Khoo

Now, what age group do you think this is for? Now bear in mind, listeners, you can read this at any age, you can read this as an adult, it's totally compelling. But what age group did you write it for, do you think?

 

Will Kostakis

So I always aim for that sweet spot around year eight, year nine, if I'm imagining a Will Kostakis reader, but there's always a joke in there for older people. And but the thing with Monuments and Rebel Gods, it was my first time thinking, “you know what, I don't want there to be a floor on this age group.” If somebody wants to read up in year five, and year six, it's safe enough for them to sort of enter the space and they're not going to be wildly corrupted or encounter a word that they probably shouldn't repeat at school.

 

So I was very careful to strip out sort of swearing and a lot of like, overt sexual references that seemed to come naturally to me for some reason. It's probably because I read way too much Terry Pratchett growing up.

 

But the really wonderful thing about this series is getting that feedback from year six readers who, like, when they love something, like teenagers are great, but when kids in year six love something, they love it with every fibre of their being. And seeing them, you know, be so passionate about this story and ask me the most ridiculous questions about the world just shows you how much they live inside books when they read them. And so one of the pleasures of writing this series has been opening me up to those younger readers.

 

But ultimately, I always say my books are for young adults primarily, but they're also there for people who enjoy reading books about young adults.

 

Valerie Khoo

Yes. Now that's an interesting point. Because when you are reading this as an adult, and certainly as an adult where it was a long time ago when I was that age, it's an insight into the world of young people today. What do you do to stay in that world and make sure it's authentic to these people?

 

Will Kostakis

Um, I read a lot. Obviously, I've read a lot of YA. But more than that, I make sure I connect with teenagers as much as I can. So you know, in years that are not completely derailed by a pandemic, I will spend at least, you know, 20 or 30 weeks of the year on the road touring different schools, regional and city areas, and talking to teenagers, looking at what they're reading, reading what they're reading, talking to them, not telling them what to read, but rather listening to them when they tell you what they like.

 

And sort of, you can always tell the difference between people who are trying to talk down to teenagers and people who are trying to talk with teenagers, if that makes sense. And I am always asked how long I'm going to be writing for teenagers. And I was sort of thrust into writing for teenagers because I started writing as a teenager, and I got my book deal at 17. And so it made sense. But now I'm in my early 30s, why am I still writing for teenagers? It's because I can still access that part of myself. And also, I'm still interested in telling stories about them. If I start writing young adult novels where the focus is on the adults, well then I've been there too long. But I'm really enjoying writing in the space. And I'm finding it's really fertile ground to tell stories.

 

Valerie Khoo

Now, you say that you always envisaged this as a duology. Firstly, why? And do you recommend that people read the first book first? Or do you feel that this also works as a standalone?

 

Will Kostakis

I tried to make it as much of a standalone as possible. And you know, all the information you need to understand the book is in the book. But I think sort of the fun of it is really launching in with Monuments and meeting these characters in really ridiculous ways. And so that they feel lived in. And you mightn't even notice what the setups are before you get to the payoffs of Rebel Gods, which really is a conversation with the first book, and is looking at all those things that I set up. A lot of the things I didn't mean to set up, but then upon rereading and rereading, I discovered, “hey, that's fertile ground.” And I think reading them together really makes for the best experience.

 

Why did I choose to write a duology? And, look, it could have been one big book. Like it was always one huge story. Like the two different kinds of gods I wanted to explore, because whenever I talk to people, religious people especially, they have, there are two competing ideas of who, you know, the Christian God is. There is the God who created the world, but is very hands off. But then you have other Christians who believe in a God that if you pray to Him, He will do everything you want sort of thing, if that makes sense. So there is there's a hands-on God and a hands-off God.

 

And I'm like, “What if we had a novel series that explored both different types of Gods but through a fictional sort of creation myth”? And so Monuments, the first book, I always envisaged as we're dealing with creator gods who are trying to step back and let people sort of live their lives.

 

And with the second book, I wanted to look at, what about these gods who are more mischievous, and who are more involved in the day-to-day aspects of, you know, living? And is there a place for Gods like that in our world now? And I wanted to look at fame, and how we build people up, and how we build media personalities. And these new religions that are rising in the world that aren't, you know, big R religion that we're sort of used to.

 

And so to me, the story was always in two halves. There was once, one time, I was sort of considering making it a trilogy, but I'm way too afraid to, you know, write a series, release the first book and then have to be afraid of crossing the road for the next five years while I write the next two. Like I am too afraid of getting hit by a bus; I have to make sure that any story that I put out there is finished. And Monuments, it doesn't really have an ending. Like it does, you know, you have your heroes standing on the edge of the rest of their adventure, sort of looking out going, what the hell have we done? I'm much more comfortable with ending things like Rebel Gods does, which, you know, while it's still open, it's just very much a this is the end of this story. And it all sort of ties together in a beautiful way.

 

The pressure of like George RR Martin and people harassing him to finish a book, that's definitely not for me. So I thought in and out duology was the way to go.

 

Valerie Khoo

In that case, did you write them back-to-back to keep the momentum going or was there a break?

 

Will Kostakis

Look, I… The way that I pitched it to my publisher, when I was talking about it, was I wanted to have a break. I wanted to do what Christopher Nolan did with the Batman trilogy, where you make a Batman film, but then go off and write something else and then come back and feel energized to tell stories in that space again. But my publisher was like, “No, just write them back-to-back.” And I'm like, “okay, sure, right. You're giving me money. I'll do what you say.”

 

And so Monuments came out in August. I toured it until October, and then I locked myself in the house and wrote from October through to June. And then that was it, it was off to the printers. So usually I take about two years to write a book, and I had mere months to write this. So that was absolute hell, do not recommend it.

 

But I guess everything was already set up. So I just had to, I had, I had this sandpit that I could play in, and I had my rules, and it was just a matter of telling the most compelling story I could, in the timeframe.

 

Valerie Khoo

So you had already the second book plotted out in your head? Or what level of like, how much did you know of the second book?

 

Will Kostakis

I had plotted out… Okay, I had plotted out the story itself. And I knew how they were going to come up against these antagonists. But the shape of the story was constantly changing. And I wanted to be a real smartarse with the second book, and be like, “Oh, I'm going to build up these bad guys. And then I'm going to open the second book and it's going to be like, “Oh, they actually don't matter. This is just a story about people.” I wrote that, or at least I wrote a bit of it and my publisher was like, “Oh, Will! What are you doing? This is a complete betrayal of what you set up in the first book.”

 

Because as we edited the first book, we ramped up that tension and we ramped up that looming threat of the villain, and then to enter book two and be like, “Oh, actually, all that stuff doesn't matter” – that was going to be a betrayal. And this was my first time writing a sequel; I had to realize I wasn't just writing a standalone book for myself that people would come to without, you know, preconceived notions of what it's going to be. I had a book that literally told them – and that they paid for – that said, “This is what the next book is going to be.” And it was making a promise to my audience. And so I had to tell the story that I wanted to, which was more character focused. But at the same time, I still had to fulfill that promise that I made in the first book.

 

Valerie Khoo

So just take me back to when you were at school, because you won the Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year, and you know, you got a book deal really early. What were you like at school? Were you immersed in books and writing? And did you know from back then that you wanted to write or was it just something that you know, you enjoyed and, and were good at?

 

Will Kostakis

I was exactly as annoying and persistent as that question makes me sound. I was sending books off from when I was in year seven. And I was convinced, “I'm going to get published on the quality of my work. So I'm not going to write my age on this.”

 

I'm kicking myself now. Because if I had sent it off going, “Hi, I'm 11. I've written a 60,000-word novel. There you go.” Like, I now realize that being an author, there are two halves to it; there is the work that you produce. But there's the “how can we market you to booksellers and book buyers?” That would have been a boon. But at the same time, you know, very few authors who are published in their teens go on to have long, steady careers. You either get that big first book and the burnout.

 

And so I was quite happy that I waited, I know, it's funny to say I waited until I was 17. But you know, I got numerous rejection letters, and I mean numerous. Book deal at 17, book came out at 19, I was still 19 when my publisher was like, “Will, probably never write again, or maybe wait until you find your voice.”

 

And so that was really sad. Nothing beats achieving your dream as a teenager and then failing miserably at it. So I worked as a journalist for a bit, and I had writer's block for the first time in my life. And it's why I'm quite vocal when I see publishers signing, you know, children up. Like this is an industry that can be quite cruel, and that there are very few safety nets for authors. We're all like sole traders who are hired on a book basis. And if the tide turns against you, you know, they cut you loose.

 

And that's tough as an adult to really come to terms with and not take personally. You talk to your editor every single day for a year. And then the day the book comes out, they don't talk to you again, until you sign another book deal. Like it's a very strange thing. And for a 19-year-old me, that was absolutely devastating. And so I had writer's block for the first time, and I really doubted myself and that was the best thing that could have happened to me. It was cruel, absolutely cruel. But because of that, I took stock, I stepped back. Not only did I learn how to public speak and engage with teenagers and, you know, I wasn't going to be made a bestseller by my publisher. If I was going to sell books, I was going to sell them myself. And so I learned to tour and do all that sort of stuff. And that's how I became a touring author.

 

But then I also learned, okay, my first book didn't connect with readers. What do I have to do? And I keep coming back to the conversation I had with a publisher when I was 17. I was sitting in the office, and they put out some books and they go, “How about you read some of these books, and then come back to us with what kind of author you want to be.” And I thought it was pretty clear that I knew what kind of author I wanted to be. And I keep revisiting this moment, where I'm like, oh, they just wanted to mould me into somebody else.

 

But anyway, I came back having read all these books, and I read, one of the books was Marcus Suzak's The Messenger. And I thought, “you know what, you know, I was a huge English student at school, I loved writing things that could be unpacked and pulled apart. I think I could maybe write like this.” And the editor looked at me, and she smiled. And she was like, “Oh, I think that's a bit beyond you.”

 

And, you know, I was completely devastated by that. But then you know what, I wrote the book, I had that process. And then, you know, within five years, I'd signed to a different publisher. And I'd written a book that was shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award. So maybe, you know, it wasn't, maybe it was beyond me as a 17-year-old, or maybe they just didn't see or believe in me as much as I did. Or maybe that whole experience was the reason why I turned into the author I am. I don't know.

 

Valerie Khoo

When you were going through that self-doubt, how deep was it? Like, did you really question is this going to be for me? And how did you get over it?

 

Will Kostakis

Look, it was… I was completely convinced that I wasn't going to be an author. Because look, I had the idealized version of what an author is in my head. I didn't realise that if your book doesn't sell within, you know, two months, you know, sale and return, it's just sent back to the publisher, and you're not in bookstores anymore.

 

And it's like, so this book didn't sell, how do I sell it if it's not in bookstores? And there was so much that I was learning and I was like, this is ridiculous. And I was working as a journalist, I was making quite good money as a journalist, and I was writing and I was interviewing, I was telling stories, which I really, really enjoyed. But there was still that pull. And, you know, I, as a 10-year-old, I would look at the back cover of a Morris Gleitzman book, you know, imagine my image over his and think, “that's gonna be me, that's gonna be me, that's gonna be me.”

 

And you know that persistence came back. But for two or three years, all I did was write in circles and doubt myself and just hate everything that I'd written.

 

Valerie Khoo

So what happens after that when you're hating everything that you're writing, was there a turning point? Or did it just ebb away?

 

Will Kostakis

I don't what came first, the chicken or the egg. But I was touring schools. And I started talking to kids about my grandmother. And they started to share stories about their grandparents. And I, you know, while I was touring, I was telling stories, and kids were telling stories to me. And I realized, wait, there is something here.

And so I started writing a book that I knew would be about a grandson and his grandmother. And that came easily to me, because I'm always talking about my grandmother. She's such a huge part of my life. And, you know, when I talk about her, her presence fills the room. And I'm like, “there is something special here. I'm not going to write a book where I'm going to try to sound smart, I'm not going to write a book where I'm going to try to make somebody, you know, wet themselves laughing. I'm just going to write a book that captures this love that I have for my grandmother. And try to instil it with everything that she has taught me. And instead of looking for big words and smart phrasing, I'm going to go for big heart.”

 

And once I did that, I showed it to a publisher. And she read 10,000 words, and she was like, “Great, it's not ready yet, keep writing.” And then I wrote 20,000 words. And she's like, “yep, keep going, I'm not gonna pay you for it yet. Keep going.” And then I wrote half of it, and she read it. She's like, “it's wonderful. Keep going.”

 

And then I put my foot down. I'm like, “No, you're gonna pay me.” And so they signed me. Which was… And they saw there was something special in that manuscript. And look, it's… I know we like to talk nowadays about, “oh, you know, positive reinforcement is doing damage to kids.” But no. If you treat someone with kindness and with love, and you encourage their interests, they will perform really, really, really well. And I had a publisher who believed in me, who didn't sit there and say, “No, I don't think, I think this is beyond you.” All she said was “keep going, keep going, keep going.” And that made all the difference to me.

 

Valerie Khoo

Now, just coming back to Monuments and Rebel Gods, you have a real skill in making things so relatable, so familiar, you kind of go, “I think that that's that building, or I think that's Newington” even though it's not. But you also then have gods and fantasy and, you know, these other worldly things. What did you have to do to make the other worldly things connect?

 

Will Kostakis

So I was always inspired by… I love when you see… I'm not particularly interested in going off to magical worlds. That's the kind of fantasy that doesn't set my world on fire. Which is funny, because I actually really enjoyed writing those aspects of Rebel Gods. But with Monuments, what I wanted to tap into was, I loved say, the first Matrix film where you got to see people with these supernatural abilities in Sydney. I loved, you know, the Harry Potter novels, when you saw real world London and the magic in that real world. I love seeing the magic in the real.

 

And so for me, it was all about one, firstly, capturing the mundane, capturing the real world. And then when it came to creating the gods, I was like, right, if I had to create gods, what would they be like? You know, I am a writer, I look at everything, and see the beauty of art. And so I thought, Okay, what if we had gods who created the world, like you would create a sculpture, but it was a whole team building it. And that was how I created my team of creator gods. And then it became, they created humans so that there would be someone to admire the artwork. And so that was really what informed the creation of all these gods.

 

And so, and then from that I made sure do I have, you know, distinct ages amongst these gods? Do I have distinct personalities? And so that first book was really, the way it was built was it was structured like a video game, where it's… One of my favourite sort of fantasy game tropes is you have a party of a set number of characters, but you have sort of a guest in your party for a couple of missions. And then they go away, and someone else comes in. And so I envisaged this rotating cast, where I had my three main characters, but then I had this cast of gods, you know, coming in, coming out, and before the cast got too bloated, I just killed a couple of them and kept the story going.

 

Valerie Khoo

So when you were in your writing period, you know, like, for example, your October to June thing or whatever, when you're actually writing, what is your routine to get the words onto the keyboard? Or you know, the screen? Do you aim for a word count? Do you aim for a number of hours? Do you have some other method? And do you actually have a routine during the day, if you can describe it?

 

Will Kostakis

I don't usually have a routine, but… And I'm gonna say this, writing Rebel Gods was absolutely joyless, not because I didn't have fun, but because of the time constraints and the pandemic, like there was a lot of the things that I would usually do to give myself sort of time away from a story I couldn't do anymore. And I didn't have time to say, “Oh, this part of the story isn't working. I can pause, take a month and come back to it.” It was very much if this isn't working, you know, cut it loose. Like my first publisher cutting me loose. No, I'm not bitter.

 

Valerie Khoo

Haha. I bet they regret it now!

 

Will Kostakis

No, but I say all that but I love them dearly. And we've sort of we've met now as adults. Because I can imagine I was also an insufferable 17-year-old. Like, can you imagine just like the smugness that I would have emanated. I needed the lesson.

 

And so I was just working with word counts, because the book had to be a similar length to Monuments. And I had to hit certain emotional beats at certain moments, or else the flow would be completely off because the first book is built around a huge moment every 10,000 words. This book doesn't have those big moments because I actually wanted to find the character emotions and things like that.

 

So it was a matter of sitting down and saying, “okay, I have to write 700 words today and plot out what I'm writing tomorrow.” It was very much laying down the tracks in front of a speeding train, and hoping that by the time I got to the next station, I had a complete book behind me and not just an entire mess.

 

Valerie Khoo

So you write, and then you actually think about this is what I'm gonna write the next day. Is that what happens?

 

Will Kostakis

Yeah, so I've got my main plot. And I plotted Rebel Gods quite strictly. But then, as you're writing it, you discover something else. So I was writing it, my original plan was for Monuments to be the book about the mum character, and then Rebel Gods was going to explore Connor's relationship with his dad. And then I realized, “wait, you know, I'm writing this book under deadline. I can't exactly, you know, research what it's like to have a dad.” Because I can't exactly tap into lived experience there.

 

And so I was like, right, that is way too difficult. I chopped that out of the story completely. And I thought, right, I have this mum character, what are my opportunities here? And so I ended up discovering all of these threads, you know, just by pulling at that point. Because I had Rebel Gods and I had my characters established. You have Connor, he's the hero, you have Sally, who is his sort of sister figure. And you have Lachie who is the love interest. And that's how we make that trio.

 

And so when you've got, when I'm exploring Connor and his mom's relationship, by focusing on that, I realized, wait, by bringing the sister figure in, she's dealing with the death of her parents and Connor's mom has just suffered the loss of her father. And I realized there were connections there.

 

But those were all connections that I found as I was writing, and I was letting the characters breathe. Because Monuments takes place over three days. I did not give the characters time to pause or breathe. And so Rebel Gods was about that breathing room. And it's often in that breathing room I find a story that I didn't realize was there.

 

Valerie Khoo

Tell me about you talk about being a touring author, and you do school visits. So pandemic aside, when it's a regular year, how many school visits would you be doing in a year? And a) do you enjoy them? And by) how important or necessary, necessary is probably the better word, is it for a career as an author?

 

Will Kostakis

I would say… I'm always very mindful of this, because there are some authors, usually male, who always take the number of schools they visited and multiply by three. And then if you say you visit lots of schools, then you get more school visits. And it's a really weird thing. I would say I visit about 150 schools every year. And that could be, you know, I could have a day where I visit three schools in one day, or I could have a week where I stay at one school. And it really just depends.

 

I think it's vital for my kind of writing where I am not one of the holy chosen ones who get to write and get paid to write. Like, for me, it is vital. If I'm going to keep the lights on, I need to get out there and I need to speak. And I need to, and that pays the bills.

 

But on top of that, and I learned that very early on in my career, it actually gave me a chance to talk to librarians and talk to teenagers. And if I could teach them creative writing or tell them stories about me that got them interested in reading my books, especially if those books were no longer on bookstore shelves, because it was longer than three months since release.

 

And so it gave me longevity. And I live by it. But I understand that it's not for everyone. Like there are some authors who absolutely hate children, and they shouldn't be around children. But they can write for children really, really, really well. So just please do that and stay away.

 

But yeah, I think it's, it's vital for me, and it's also helped me understand teenagers. So whenever I'm writing something, and I'm at risk of disappearing up my own arse, I remember like the teenagers that I've spoken to and what their interests are. Like when I was at school, we didn't have smartphones. And teenagers now have smartphones. And you can imagine what it's like to be a teenager and have smartphones. But when you actually watch teenagers and talk to them, and actually show an interest in their lives, and they share sort of anecdotes and their experiences, you realize you cannot imagine what they are living through because it is so different to what we grew up with.

 

And you know, I graduated in 2006. And you know, in those 14 years, it feels like there have been seven or eight generations. So yeah, I think it's to keep my writing authentic, I really think that visiting schools is the right thing for me. And I think that's why my writing still feels like it's for teenagers, and not more for the adults.

 

Valerie Khoo

So, what is next for you? What are you writing now?

 

Will Kostakis

Well, I've just finished one of my final read throughs of a novella that releases next month, because apparently, I haven't been productive enough in this pandemic. Look, it seemed like a good idea before the world sort of descended into a hellscape. It's called The Greatest Hit. And it is, it's me getting my COVID story out there. And I started writing it in April, when everything started sort of locking down. And it's about two teenagers who fall in love. But I didn't just want to write a bleak COVID isolation story. I also imagine their future. So I flash forward five years to our hopefully COVID free world. And it's a really sweet touching love story.

 

And it's contemporary again, and it was so, it was so refreshing. One of the big reasons why I wrote the Monuments duology was because I wanted to take a step back from contemporary and really miss it so that when I came back, it was with this renewed energy. And that energy is in full force in the Australia Reads book. And that's on sale at the end of October to promote reading, and it's only $3.

 

Valerie Khoo

How wonderful.

 

Will Kostakis

So it's a nice bite sized book to get reluctant readers reading and to treat, you know, established readers as well. I'm really excited for people to read it.

 

Valerie Khoo

So what was it like writing? And how many words is that, that you wrote, for the novella?

 

Will Kostakis

It's just under 10,000.

 

Valerie Khoo

Okay, and so… But you've written short stories and that sort of thing before?

 

Will Kostakis

Yes.

 

Valerie Khoo

So do you have to gear yourself into a different kind of mindset or anything? Because you don't have to do the marathon? You know what I mean? Is it more enjoyable? Or what's the experience? How is the experience different?

 

Will Kostakis

At no point while I was writing it was I thinking, “what am I going to do to flesh this out?” It is the story at its most potent. I think it probably could have been a novel, but I was like, “No, I'm just gonna write these vignettes and tie them all together.” And it's a nice, potent story that, you know, never overstays its welcome. Like, if I could, I would write $3 novellas from now until the end of time. Like that, for me, maybe 20,000 words, that for me is my happy place. It's why The Sidekicks is split into three 20,000-word novellas.

 

But I often find that if you look through my work, there are very clear divisions like, especially in Monuments, every 10,000 words, if you look at the 10,000-word mark, it's almost a different novel to what was the previous 10,000. And that's how I keep myself, it's still building on what came before, but it's how I keep myself engaged and interested.

 

Valerie Khoo

So you did do a lot more journalism. Do you still do journalism? And also, are you interested in pursuing other types of writing?

 

Will Kostakis

So the first part, journalism, I'm not working as a journalist anymore, but, you know, if I can interview an author for a long form piece, I do that. And a lot of teaching journals, I do a couple a year where I interview someone, or I write something for them. And I really, really enjoy that. And I think, in my downtime now that I have no more deadlines ahead of me for the rest of the year, I'm reading more, and I'd love to do some more interviews with authors and sort of, yeah, I find that so fascinating.

 

And, look, let's be honest, we're not talking about the arts as much as we used to, there aren't as many places for author interviews, and really unpacking stories. Like, if there's a feature of an author in the newspaper, it's usually “this author got a huge advance, we're going to ask them three questions about how wonderful they are, their book comes out next month.” And we're not really talking about the text anymore. And it's really just a select few who get that sort of treatment. And there are so many books that I'm reading that really get paid dust when we should be celebrating them. So if I can somehow, you know, amplify them and help build a conversation around books again, I would, I think I'd really enjoy that.

 

In terms of other writing, you know, I, you know, it's one of my dreams to write for the screen and to write, you know, I find that dialogue comes very easily to me. So that's probably what I should have been writing this whole time. But you know, I tried to make that pivot, you know, another part of The First Third story when I had sort of, you know, writer's block, I had a pitch meeting with a TV producer, and I pitched The First Third. And he's like, “I love the premise. But there are too many Greek people in this.” And, you know, like, just do what you always do on Australian TV. Cast a LaPaglia in a wig and that's the grandmother and then like you can find some other vaguely ethnic person to be the other characters. So the stories that I'd want to tell, I don't think the industry is equipped to tell them unfortunately. Or at least they don't want to tell them because they're too busy telling the same stories that star Rebecca Gibney as somebody's mum.

 

Valerie Khoo

Or Asher Keddie. Don't forget!

 

Will Kostakis

Asher Keddie is the somewhat distressed lady.

 

Valerie Khoo

Yeah, that's right!

 

Will Kostakis

But she can have a laugh occasionally, but usually distressed. So that's, yeah, I have no interest in telling those same stories. So while I would love to, that is, that is, look that's a dream.

 

But at the moment, I get to tell stories, I get to meet the kids who read my stories. I might not have my name in lights. But you know what, I'm pretty damn happy with where I'm at now, and I don't think I'd trade it for anything else.

 

Valerie Khoo

Oh, brilliant. And on that note, what would your top three writing tips be for people who want to be in the position where you are one day, a published author, being very happy with where they are?

 

Will Kostakis

Okay, the first big tip is to actually read. Like, there is nothing worse than a debut author who comes out and says, “I wrote this book because this book didn't exist.” And then anyone who's been reading can name four or five books that are almost exactly the same. So make sure you're reading and make sure that you are aware of the industry and what's being said, what's being written and engage in it, be part of the conversation. And you learn so much from reading, and the quality of your writing improves astronomically when you read. So please read and you're never too old to start reading.

 

Next thing would be to be open to criticism. Like, you are going to have to develop a very, very, very, very, very thick skin in this industry. And it is really, really important that you take the time to have somebody who reads your work, and who tells you ways that you can improve. Because look, I'm 31 years old. I'm not the best writer I will ever be. And I don't ever want to be the best writer I will ever be until I stop writing. So always be open to feedback, because there are two halves to a story. There's what you think you've written and what somebody reads. And the whole point of being a good writer, it's not about being verbose, it's not about being clever. It's about reducing the gap between what you think you've written and what people actually read.

 

So finally, the last piece of advice, I would say is write for joy. Write the truth and write for joy. Don't write for money, because you will likely be sorely disappointed. Write because it lights a fire inside of you. And that is where success comes from. If you've lit a fire inside of you, the odds are, you know, you're going to light a fire inside somebody else. But if you sit there and go, “I'm writing to make lots and lots of money. And I'm going to write this really cynical book that sort of ticks off all this checklist.” Look, sometimes that works. I won't name names, but sometimes it does work. But is it really fulfilling? Who can say?

 

Valerie Khoo

Brilliant. On that note, thank you so much for your time today, Will.

 

Will Kostakis

Thank you so much. It was an absolute pleasure, Valerie.

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