Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome Australian author Will Kostakis, who shares the a little of the process of developing his latest YA novel, The Sidekicks, published by Penguin this month.
I signed my first book deal in 2007, but I still feel like I’m starting out. Publishing is strange like that. There are very few other careers where, nine years out of the gate, you can get away with thinking you’re a newbie.
I’ve had two second novels. The first, The First Third, came after a six-year break and a rebranding (I evolved from the younger-but-mature-sounding William Kostakis into the older-but-younger-sounding Will Kostakis) so it felt like a debut. I was free to re-establish myself, find a new niche, write a different kind of story.
But six-year breaks and constant rebrandings aren’t sustainable. The industry tells us buyers want to pick up a Matthew Reilly novel knowing what to expect, as they would a Bryce Courtenay or an Agatha Christie. With my next book, I couldn’t shorten my name again and reinvent the wheel. I had to define what makes a Will Kostakis novel a Will Kostakis novel.
The First Third was a no-brainer decision. I was the guy who toured schools running writing workshops and sharing Greek grandmother stories, so I wrote the Greek grandmother story. Its follow-up required more consideration. I considered re-joining the Zorba dancing line and writing another ethnic story. The First Third was a toe dipped in the Olympic-sized pool of awkward experiences Greek-Australian life has gifted me, but … then what? Another Greek book? And another? And one that’s about an Italian family, but really, all I’ve done is translated the words?
While I wanted to establish a brand, I didn’t want to become a one-trick donkey from the Greek village. So considered the inverse, writing a story that wasn’t as preoccupied with the interrelation between race and identity. That worried me … I’d be turning my back on representing my ethnic diversity at a time when readers are clamouring for diverse books. And what if that alienated the fans of the guy who toured schools running writing workshops and sharing Greek grandmother stories?
So I returned to The First Third and rediscovered the other elements that worked – the strong friendships, the inter-generational character dynamics, the quiet but ever-present sass – and I set out to extend those in another book, so there was a through-line for established fans.
Then, I set myself challenges. I didn’t want to write the same book, only ‘whiter’. I wanted to explore harder themes. I wanted to dabble in writing a book without chapters (like Terry Pratchett), and have a go at balancing different perspectives. Slowly, that accumulated into a story about three boys, trying to come to terms with the death of a close friend.
And that’s how I came to The Sidekicks, my second, second novel.
Will Kostakis is an award-winning Australian author for children and teens. He has previously published two YA novels, Loathing Lola and The First Third, and has also contributed to the 'Stuff Happens' junior fiction series. His latest novel, The Sidekicks, is published by Penguin. Visit Will's website and Facebook page for more information about his books and writing.