Interview with Taryn Bashford

With the new release of second book, Taryn Bashford is definitely an author you should take note of. With her beautiful writing style and deep characters, Taryn creates captivating stories that are both realistic and heart-wrechening. Thanks to Pan MacMillan I was lucky enough to interview this talented author.

How do you develop your plot and characters? Are the characters based on people you know?

It sounds a little bit odd, but as I’m a pantser, which means I don’t plot and plan ahead of writing the novel, the characters and plots actually develop as I go – particularly the characters. They become three-dimensional after around 10,000 words, and I’m just the slave writer who chases them around the set inside my head and records everything that’s said, done and thought. They often surprise me. The visit me in the shower with thoughts. They accompany me on bike rides with their worries. I simply write them down. Afterwards, I can look back and see that some of them contain essences of people I know, but they’re always a mixture, and never based on just one person. Even Jacob, who shares a lot of personality traits with my cousin, is very different to my cousin: the latter never picked up a musical instrument in his life and if he sang (sorry cuz) he’d sound like a train whistle.


Your books deal with some big issues for teens – high levels of anxiety, pressure of expectation, family secrets – why are you drawn to writing about these topics? Are they based around your personal experience?

I certainly think I am drawing from my brother and my experiences as teens—he became a professional tennis coach and I was juggling between going for the Olympics (400m track event) and becoming a concert pianist. These desires weren’t pressed upon us by our own parents, but I saw a lot of it around me with my fellow competitors. Mostly, I’m drawn to these issues because when I look at teens today (my own children included), they appear to have a high-level anxiety about failing. In my youth, everyone tried to excel, and if they failed, they coped. Today, teachers and parents alike report how teens are so afraid to fail that they stop trying. It worries me that teens give up on their dreams and I write to inspire, much as movies like Chariots of Fire, Rocky, and the Karate Kid inspired me. As far as secrets go…now that would be telling!


The Astrid Notes has a large focus on music, is that something important to you?

As a teenager, I had thoughts of becoming a concert pianist. I also played the violin and clarinet. That didn’t eventuate, but classical music has always been important to me, and I still listen to it while writing. I also love and appreciate other music genres and so I wanted to explore the two worlds juxtaposed with each other; for Jacob the dilemma becomes whether to perform what’s ‘cool’ or what his voice was born to sing. I watch TV shows like ‘The Voice’ and ‘The X-Factor’ and am heartened by the stories of Susan Boyle, Paul Potts, and Jackie Evancho—viewers of all ages still love opera. In fact, the audience seems mesmerised by it. I guess I wanted to explore this and delve into the worlds of both opera and indie pop.


How long does it take you to write a book?

The first draft is always a case of ‘clear the decks’ and have nothing else to do as I write it in about 20 days (though the days are very long). I then spend around six months (full-time days) editing and rewriting, layering, deepening characters, threading in the themes that emerge, and more.


What is the most difficult part of writing for you? (Finishing a book, reading bad reviews, finding time to write, etc)

It has to be making myself stop writing. I get very lost in my story worlds and love spending time with my characters. I dislike stopping at the end of each day, and I wake at the crack of dawn, excited to ‘escape’ into my story world again. I’m humbled by the fact that writing is never work to me. If I didn’t have a family to consider, I could easily become a hermit!


Which authors do you think influenced your writing the most?

In terms of the genre of YA, for sure I’d say Jandy Nelson for the lyrical writing style, Jenny Han and Katie McGarry for the romance, and Stephanie Perkins for the international flavour. In terms of authors I’ve read all my life, then Joanne Harris, the early novels of Margaret Atwood, and John Irving—all because of their incredible abilities to weave unique and mesmerising stories.


What tips do you have for young people hoping to become writers? Would you suggest going to university for creative writing like you did?

I can only advise from my own experience, and for most of us, university gives you that deep insight into literature and language. I also tutor in creative writing at university, and the depth of creative technique that we explore is far greater than found in high schools. Having said that, there are individuals out there who have an innate talent to just sit and write wonderful work without that formal study. But I’m afraid I wasn’t one of them. The most universal advice I can give to anyone though is to read a lot. I don’t mean one book a month. I mean aim for one 350-page book a week. It’s incredible how much we subconsciously absorb how a book is written, how a character develops and how language is used, just by reading. I am always shocked at how my first draft is always structurally perfect and I can only put it down to reading a lot – subconsciously my brain knows when to include inciting incidents, turning points, climaxes and resolutions.

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