Ep 383 Meet Remy Lai, author of ‘Fly on the Wall’.

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In Episode 383 of So You Want To Be A Writer: Meet Remy Lai, author of Fly on the Wall. Discover the writing competitions you need to enter for 2021. Authors share the most surprising thing about getting published. Plus, we have 3 copies of The Paris Affair by Pip Drysdale to give away.

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Show Notes

2021 Questions Writing Prize is now open for young writers

Enter a competition with just the first 5 pages of your manuscript

2021 West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award shortlist announced

The most surprising thing about getting published

Fiction Essentials: Scenes

 

Writer in Residence

Remi Lai

Remy Lai writes and draws stories for kids.


She lives in Brisbane, Australia, where she can often be found exploring the woods near her home with her two dogs, Poop-Roller and Bossy Boots (scroll below to see their profiles).

Pie in the Sky was her debut middle grade novel.

Her latest book is Fly on the Wall, out now.

Follow Remy Lai on Twitter

Follow Walker Books on Twitter

(If you click the link above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

Competition

WIN ‘The Paris Affair’ with your superpower

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Interview Transcript

Allison Tait

Remy Lai is the author of the internationally published, critically acclaimed graphic prose novel, Pie in the Sky. Her new novel, Fly on the Wall, is out now in Australia and internationally. Welcome to the program, Remy.

Remy Lai

Hi, thanks so much for having me here.

Allison Tait

All right, let's go back to the beginning. Can you tell us how Pie in the Sky came to be published? Was this the first time you'd ever tried, you know, putting together a graphic prose novel the way you have?

Remy Lai

Um, this would be my first graphic prose novel, but it's definitely not the first novel that I've tried putting together. Yes.

Allison Tait

So how did it come to be published? And what, you know, what was the kind of the backstory for it? Tell us about Remy and where she was at when she first started writing Pie in the Sky.

Remy Lai

I think I first got the idea about these two boys who were secretly baking cakes. And for a long time, so I had this image in my head, but for a long time, I couldn't figure out their story. But then one day, it kind of clicked. Like it kind of, it kind of occurred to me that they couldn't speak English. And from there, the story kind of clicked into place.

And I borrowed things from my own childhood, because I only learned English when I was nine years old. Yeah, and then so I borrowed heavily from my childhood for that book.

Allison Tait

And was it always like, for you, is the process of coming up with the idea for a novel like that, is it always words and pictures that you see? Like, is it always or, you know, do the pictures come first? Do the words come first? Like, how does the actual, how does that go together for you? Like, how did the idea come to you? Was it the image of those boys that you saw first?

Remy Lai

For Pie in the Sky, yes. That was the first, the beginning of the book, the image of the boys. And I think for me, for a lot of my stories, it begins with a character. I can see these characters in my head, but then I might not, and I might know a little bit about them, but not the full story. And I kind of develop my stories from there.

Allison Tait

And you develop the, when you, like, because I'm sort of looking at your new novel, which is Fly on the Wall, which we'll talk about a little bit later on. But you know, it's not like comicky. It's like quite you know, heavier on words, I guess, than I would have expected for a straightforward graphic novel. So do you do words, do the words and pictures come at the same time? Do you do the words first and then add the pictures? Like, how does it work?

Remy Lai

For me when I'm writing, so when I'm drawing the manuscript, I don't draw anything first, I just write. Just because I know that there's going to be a lot of revision, and I don't want to spend a lot of time drawing something that it's going to be, that's going to be changed. But when I'm writing I always kind of have a very, quite a clear idea of which parts I want to be images. So I guess to me, the words and the pictures come at about the same time.

Allison Tait

Right. So you know where the images are going to go? And what sort of their role in the story is going to be?

Remy Lai

Yes, I know. And then during the, but they might not always be right, I'm doing, I would do revision, and then I would kind of question what, whether this, this part of the story is better in images, or in words, and then I just revise accordingly.

Allison Tait

See, I just find it fascinating, because I don't think in pictures at all. Like, it's not my, it's not my way of going through the world. You know, how some people are visual thinkers? So I just can't imagine how you know where the best place is gonna be for an image to carry the story and where, you know, like, how do you work through that?

Remy Lai

So when I first write, when I write early drafts, I usually just do it really quickly. And I don't I try not to analyse too much and not to edit too much. Just because if I start tinkering, like editing while I'm writing early drafts, I would never finish it. So I just did it really quickly. And I just trust kind of trust my intuition on which parts would be in words and which parts would be in pictures. And then during the revision process then I would kind of think about which parts are better in pictures for that story. So for example, for Pie in the Sky, it's about these two boys who can't speak English. So most of the parts where they are trying to speak in English, or when they are listening to other people speak English, but they don't understand, then those parts would usually be in pictures, because then I can show how, using those alien symbols, that that's what it sounds like to them. That's what English sounds like to them, like an alien language. Things like that, yes.

Allison Tait

And your novels are described, you know, quite specifically as graphic prose. So it's not just that, you know, there's not just like Remy writes graphic novels, she writes graphic prose, can you explain why that's the case?

Remy Lai

Oh, you mean, why I write in that format? Or why is that described?

Allison Tait

Why that description is used for the style of books that you write?

Remy Lai

Because it's, I guess, because it's a mixture of a graphic novel and prose. And you can't read the words, you can't read one without the other. It wouldn't make sense.

Allison Tait

Yeah.

Remy Lai

They have to be together, I guess. And I guess for now, that's the best description that we've got.

Allison Tait

And do they prove very popular with reluctant readers? Are they, is that where… Like, where are they finding their sweet spot in the market do you think?

Remy Lai

Yeah, I think it is popular with kids who read graphic novels and also with reluctant readers. That's what, that's what I think.

Allison Tait

Yeah. Great. So you said when you start a new novel, you know, generally start with the character. So when you're coming up with your character, obviously, the visual of that character is going to be as important as the makeup of that character's personality, etc. So do you start… When you start writing your books, do you have a visual, like, have you drawn a version of that character before you begin?

Remy Lai

Yeah, definitely. So when I'm writing usually, so I told you that when I'm writing my manuscript, I just write and don't draw, but I actually do like doodle some stuff on the side, just in my sketchbooks, just to get, to give me a better sense of who the character is. So I would sketch my character doing different things. Just really loose sketches, just for me to get to know them. And, yeah.

Allison Tait

And have you been someone who's always done that? Like, you know, as a kid and growing up, are you someone who has always kind of done sketches and doodles and things like that to work things out? Has that kind of been part of your process, all the way through learning how to write these kinds of books?

Remy Lai

I guess I've been drawing since I was a kid. And I've been, I read a lot of comic books as a kid also. So I've always been really trying to tell stories with pictures. But the Pie in the Sky would be the first time that I've tried a graphic prose. Because it was, before that I would usually, I would have tried like a pure graphic novel or pure prose, but never a hybrid.

Allison Tait

Yeah. Okay. And what do you think is the secret of making it work? Like, what do you think is the secret of a successful, well, A) a successful graphic novel, but also, B) a successful graphic prose novel?

Remy Lai

Do I know that secret? I don't know if I know the secret. I guess I just tried to do my best. For me, like, I need to have a reason for the book to be in that format, instead of like a pure graphic novel or a pure prose. So for example, in Pie in the Sky, it makes sense because they can't speak English. And it doesn't make sense for me to make it into a graphic novel, because they wouldn't be speaking a lot. And so there would be a lot of thought balloons, and I didn't want that in a graphic novel.

Yeah, and then for Fly on the Wall, it also makes sense because it's in the format of a diary. And it's about a kid who is very artistic. So he draws things. And so this, the book is kind of like his diary. So that format really makes a lot of sense for that story, too. So for me, having a reason for that format is really important. For now, I mean. I don't know in the future.

Allison Tait

We'll see how we go. Do you write or draw every day? Is that, is it just part of your daily life?

Remy Lai

Ah, yeah. I think… I'm trying to think if are there any days where I don't write or draw? I think ion some days, I don't. I try to keep my work to weekdays and leave weekends for doing whatever I want. But usually I end up writing something, or doodling something.

Allison Tait

So graphic novels are very much having a moment in the sun at the moment. Like there's a huge proliferation of them. And they are incredibly popular. I'm seeing, I have a Facebook group called Your Kid's Next Read, and it's a thing that parents and teachers, educators are often looking for at the moment, they're looking for recommendations. Obviously, they're very popular. Why do you think they're so popular at the moment? Like, what do you think it is that's brought them to the fore the way that they have become?

Remy Lai

I don't know because I've been reading comics since I was a kid! They've always been really popular with me. But I think if you want to look at the general population, I want to say I think it started with Smile, that comic book. And then it started gaining popularity, and then people started looking at Comic books is in a different way. So I think a lot of people think that comic books is just about superheroes, but it's really not. There's so many kinds of graphic comic books. So, yeah, and I think as they start to discover all these different kinds of things, of books, of comic books, then they kind of realize, hey, these are really good stories. Yeah.

Allison Tait

Okay, so tell us a little bit about your new novel, Fly on the Wall. Where did the idea for that one come from?

Remy Lai

So Fly on the Wall is about this 12-year-old boy, his name is Henry, and his family treats him like he's a baby. So to prove to them that he is not a baby anymore, he snuck off on a flight. So from Perth to Singapore. So he did this on his own without his family knowing where he's gone. So that is the, that's the pitch. It actually started with this newspaper article that I saw.

Allison Tait

I knew exactly that you were gonna say that.

Remy Lai

Yeah, I saw this article online, I think, about this 12-year-old boy. I think he's from Sydney, I'm not sure. But he flew to Bali by himself. And when I read that news, I thought, “hey, that that would make a really great story.”

And, yeah, but obviously, the news article didn't say why he did what he did, and everything. So I had to imagine all the backstory and everything else, by myself. And that's really the fun part of writing to me.

Allison Tait

Definitely. And it was, it was quite a story, that one. I remember seeing it myself, because I have a son who's a little bit younger than that, and I just found it mind boggling that he could get on a flight without, you know, I don't think he even had a passport.

Remy Lai

He had a passport. He had a passport, I think.

Allison Tait

Oh, he did have his passport, did he?

Remy Lai

Yeah.

Allison Tait

And he just got on?

Remy Lai

Yeah. And so I went, I did some research, and you can actually fly on your own when you're 12 years old on some airlines, yeah.

Allison Tait

Pie in the Sky was actually really very successful, you know, here and internationally. Did you find the success of that added more pressure to the process of creating Fly on the Wall?

Remy Lai

So when I was creating Fly on the Wall, I think Pie in the Sky hasn't, hasn't really, wasn't really published. So I didn't really have that kind of pressure. Because I didn't know how it was going to do and I didn't really have any expectations. So basically, when I was writing Fly, I didn't have any kind of pressure.

Allison Tait

But now you're working on a new one, I believe.

Remy Lai

So I finished my new one. It's actually all done.

Allison Tait

When's it coming out?

Remy Lai

It's coming out in May next year. 2021.

Allison Tait

Okay, and was there, did you find any pressure in the new one? Because obviously, when you were working on that one, Pie in the Sky was definitely out, right?

Remy Lai

Yes. I didn't really feel any pressure because it's a different format, it's a graphic novel. And it's a totally different kind of story, I would say. So I knew that, I kind of think that Pie in the Sky would be, I don't know, maybe a little bit maybe more important, in a sense because of it talks about immigration and things like that. But my graphic novel is about a dog. So it's a really fun book. And just because I'm writing about my dog, and I just, it was just a really happy process, I want to say. I didn't really have any pressure about it. And also, I've kind of, I really try not to think about how the book would do, if it would be better than the last one, if it would do better than the last one, or anything, because, I don't know, I think that would just be too much pressure.

Allison Tait

So you actually work with several different publishers, internationally, is that difficult in the sense that you, you know, you're juggling different deadlines and promotion schedules? And that kind of stuff? Like do you find that process of working across different areas difficult?

Remy Lai

So in terms of deadlines, I'm actually really just working with one publisher, which is the US publisher, Macmillan, because they buy the world rights, and then they sell it to Walker Books here in Australia. So as for deadlines, and editing, it's always just the one editor and one company. So there's no confusion there. But for promotion wise, well, Pie in the Sky, the Australian version came out like a month later. So there was, so I didn't really have to juggle both at the same time. For Fly on the Wall, although they both came at the same time, but because of COVID, everything is done virtually. So it was a very weird situation. Yeah.

Allison Tait

So what sorts of things do you do to promote your work? Like, are you visiting schools? Are you doing, you know, do you do a lot of social media? Like how do you promote your work?

Remy Lai

I go, I do school visits. So in person when I can, and then also virtual ones. And then on social media, I'm on Instagram quite a bit, but not on Twitter. I find Twitter too fast for me. Because I don't check it all the time. And then by the time I come back, they're already talking about something else. I go there sometimes, but not a lot. Instagram is more my speed.

Allison Tait

And are you still working? Like do you, are you a full-time writer? Or are you still, you know, fitting your writing and drawing and everything around, you know, a day job?

Remy Lai

No, I'm doing this full time now.

Allison Tait

Full time. Great. Well, so that's why you can do it, you know, Monday to Friday, hopefully without having to do the weekends as well.

Remy Lai

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Allison Tait

All right. So next year, you've got your novel about the dog coming out? Do you have more in the pipeline, you know, going on from there?

Remy Lai

Yes. So I finished work on the dog book that's coming out next year. We've got the cover and everything. And now I'm working on a series of young reader graphic novels that's coming out in 2022. So that's three books. So I'm working on that right now.

Allison Tait

Okay, so that's a three-book series?

Remy Lai

Yes.

Allison Tait

So when you were putting together a three-book series, were you having to think about characters that would be able to carry that series? Like was there, did you have to make any changes?

Remy Lai

So there are, so it is a series but it's they're all standalones, in a way. They have a common theme. Because they're all, it's called surviving the wild. That's the title of the series. It's about animals who are trying to survive, like changes to the environment that is caused by men, by humans. So they're all different characters, different settings. So the first one is about an elephant. And then the second one is about a koala. And then later on something else.

Allison Tait

Some other thing. All right. Um, so where can people find out more about your work, Remy? Do you have a website that they can visit?

Remy Lai

Yes, I have a website. remylai.com. I try to update it. I try to. Um, but if you really want to contact me or see what I'm up to, like, currently, it's better to go on Instagram for me.

Allison Tait

Cool. All right. And we'll finish up today with your three top tips for anyone who would like to create, you know, graphic novels or graphic prose novels.

Remy Lai

Um, okay. I think I'll just, um… I don't know about specifically to graphic prose novels, but I would say about novels in general, I would say just finish the work. I think that's really important. Especially when you're writing like early drafts. I guess that's what works for me, finishing the work, even though I might think that that early draft is terrible. I can always revise it later.

And then the second one would be to have fun. Yeah, that's one thing that I have to keep reminding myself, to have fun.

And then the third one, the third one is probably to read a lot. Yeah, read. Either like if you want to write a graphic prose book, then it's probably a good idea to read many graphic prose books. Or if you want to write a graphic novel, then you should read a lot of graphic novels and just to see what's out there.

Allison Tait

Good plan. All right. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Remy. I really appreciate it. Best of luck with the new, well, best of luck with Fly on the Wall, best of luck with the new book coming out next year and best of luck with the series that you're currently creating.

Remy Lai

Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

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