Today we’re chatting to Australian author Lazaros Zigomanis. No, not about how much his name would score in Scrabble, but rather his new book Pride – his first foray into Young Adult fiction.
So Lazaros, can you give us a quick rundown of this book – what’s it all about?
“Pride is told from the point of view of 18-year-old Luke Miggs, a diffident kid who hopes his career playing football in the local country league might be a springboard for bigger and better things. The only problem is that his town’s team, the Ulah Ravens, have only ever been battlers. But things begin to change when Adam Pride – a twenty-something Indigenous man – emerges from the night and says he wants to join the Ravens. That’s the gist of what drives the story without giving too much away. But it becomes about chasing your dreams, finding peace in yourself, racism, community, and how the choices of the past can come back to shape our present.”
So how did the idea for this book form? Was there a lightbulb moment or did the idea evolve over time?
“The original idea came in the 1990s, when I had an idea for a story about a brilliant footballer. But that’s all it was. The story was also set in the Australian Football League (AFL), although as time went on I realised that might be limiting – people might not gravitate to the character if he wasn’t playing for the club they supported. So I transplanted the story to a country league, which could act as a microcosm for contemporary society.”
Good plan. And when did you first write it?
“The first draft just flowed out of me way back in 2002 to give me the shape of the story. Over the years, I constantly revised – I’m obsessive about revision. Pride also won a place in the 2009 Olvar Wood Fellowship Award, where I was mentored by Inga Simpson (Mr Wigg; Nest; and Where the Trees Were, which is currently longlisted for the Miles Franklin), in a redraft. But each time I sent the book out and I got a rejection, I attacked the next revision with new vigour. Last year, I radically revised it, and wrote whole new sections, and rewrote others. It’s now as complete story as I think I can make it, although being a writer you always think you could go back just one more time and take another shot at it.”
That’s quite a 15 year journey of revision! Now, this is your first time writing YA. What was it that inspired you to try your hand at it?
“I’ve always loved YA. Even as I’ve gotten older, I’ve always loved it and continue to read it – particularly the way it can feature characters who are young, idealistic, and have their whole lives ahead of them. How do they face the challenges they do? How does it shape who they would become (once the book finishes)? We all probably look back on our youth and think about the choices we could’ve made or should’ve made, and I love how YA reflects those boundless possibilities, but also presents you with the introspection and self-awareness that you probably never had at that age, only ever developed retrospectively.”
And to what extent does the narrative explore issues of race and Indigenous issues?
“Pride explores how casual racism can become embedded in everyday society to the extent that people accept it unthinkingly as just a way of life, and then when they become aware of it, how do they respond? So it becomes something of an awakening for those involved – particularly the narrator, Luke. I don’t know that I could presume to explore the rich and storied Indigenous culture, so the story is filtered through the eyes of Luke. He’s the one who experiences it, who begins to see it, who begins to reflect.”
How important do you think it is to explore these themes in YA lit?
“I think it’s important to explore these themes not just in YA lit, but all forms of literature, because even through fiction, we can educate readers to the real issues that surround us. People might not consider fiction educational because it is fiction, but in fiction we do embed everyday truths. Sometimes, we probably become self-absorbed or lost in our own first-world problems (and it doesn’t stand to say they pale in comparison – there just is no comparison) and it’s through reading that we can have these awakenings.”
What’s next for you?
“I’m currently working on the revisions for a YA novel, This, about a 16-year-old Greek boy, who begins to experience debilitating neurosis (beginning with anxiety), and the way he tries to navigate his family life (with his overbearing, stature-focused parents), as well as his school and social life, and all the seemingly Earth-shattering issues we face at that age, e.g. being popular, being cool, etc.”
“I went through something similar when I was a teen, at a time when stigma was attached to mental health issues. I hope through the story that people (particularly teens) learn to empathise with others who might be going through something similar, or those who are going through it do realise it doesn’t have to be the end of the world, and older readers can see how crippling neurosis can be for teens who are so conscious on fitting in.”
And finally, what piece of advice do you have for aspiring writers?
“Persevere. Every issue you’ll ever face as a writer – not being able to finish something, writer’s block, not being able to get your story to work, getting rejections, and all that – can be overcome with that simple answer: persevere. It is ultimately your one answer to every problem.”