Unnecessary Drama by Nina Kenwood
Published by Text Publishing
“I briefly fantasise about walking into the room with a cute guy and letting them think I’ve just met him, or, no, that we know each other from uni maybe, and I’m taking him back to the house to hook up – there’s a cute guy standing in the doorway of the 7-Eleven up ahead and he looks like he’s up for an adventure, he might agree to come with me for ten minutes – but then I realise that would be trying to play a fake hook-up scenario over the top of a fake-boyfriend scenario. How many layers of fake can you really have? I need to draw the line.” (Unnecessary Drama)
Nina Kenwood blazed onto the Australian YA literary scene with her popular and critically acclaimed It Sounded Better in My Head. As well as being a quintessential Australian contemporary realist YA romance, it is very funny.
Nina’s new book, Unnecessary Drama (Text Publishing) is even better and even funnier. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much, so loudly and for so long when reading a book. It is a joy to read.
Protagonist Brooke is eighteen, living in a Melbourne share house and studying creative writing. She is overly responsible, wants to be liked and thinks she is self-aware but she is also quite clueless (told in an affectionate way) – about herself and others.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Nina.
How are you part of the Oz book world?
I’ve worked in both publishing and bookselling, so I’ve seen behind the curtain on how a book comes to life from a manuscript through to sitting on the shelf. Saying this, despite my industry knowledge, it still all felt very new and overwhelming with my first book! Nothing can really prepare you for the vulnerability of putting your own book out into the world.
How has your life changed since It Sounded Better in My Head became such a success?
It has really changed a lot for me. Before this, I worked a fulltime 9–5 job, and writing was my secret hobby. Now writing is still my favourite thing to do, but it’s also my career, and that comes with a lot of amazingly wonderful parts (hearing from people who read and loved my book, having a team of people at my publisher who care about my work, seeing my books on a shelf in a bookstore, earning money from my writing) and challenges (how to fit writing in around other work and family commitments and having to promote myself in a public way are two that come to mind). But most of all, being a published author was a lifelong dream, and every day since my book was published, I am incredibly grateful I get to live it.
Which award particularly made an impact on the book?
Winning the Text Prize changed everything, because it gave me my publishing deal and my publishing company and my wonderful editor, Jane. Being a finalist for the William C Morris award in the US was completely unexpected and shocking, because while my book was published in the US, it never occurred to me I was even being considered for US prizes, and it’s such a prestigious award. Finally, being shortlisted for the Russell Prize for Humour meant so much, because I think sometimes both rom-com authors and YA authors are overlooked when people think of ‘funny’ books. I work very hard on creating humour in my books and I’m really proud of that side of my writing.
It seemed impossible to exceed It Sounded Better in My Head but you have done it with your new novel Unnecessary Drama. What is the significance of this title?
Thank you!! The title comes from the rules of Brooke’s new share house: no pets, no romance between housemates and no unnecessary drama.
What genre is the novel?
It’s a rom-com, but also a coming-of-age story about moving out of home.
What is something appealing about your protagonist Brooke?
Brooke is very caring and conscientious. She’ll never forget your birthday, she’ll help you cook a special dinner, she’ll look after you if you’re sick, and she’s very clean and organised.
What is another side to her?
She’s very anxious and likes to be in control.
How is another character a foil to her?
When Brooke moves into her share house, she thinks she’s going to be living with two strangers, but then she discovers one of her housemates is actually Jesse, her friend-turned-enemy from high school. Brooke and Jesse had a falling out when they were fourteen, and Brooke has never gotten over it, so he is her foil throughout the book in many ways. He is also a lot more relaxed and at ease in social situations than Brooke, which contrasts to her slightly more intense personality.
It is such a gift to be able to write humour. You bring humour into the story through Brooke’s voice and actions, and some slapstick, hyperbole and pathos. Do you agree with these? What have I missed?
Thank you!! That’s so nice to hear. And yes, I agree with that assessment. Because I write in first person, my first approach to writing humour is making sure I have Brooke’s voice feeling distinct and authentic, and I create as much humour as I can from her thoughts and observations, and then I move to focusing on the situations I can throw her into that might be painfully funny.
Brooke’s creative-writing lecturer describes her short story as “good. There’s a lot to be fixed, some of the transitions are clumsy, and I’m not sure about the reveal at the end, but overall, it’s good…” [p266] Could you please explain what “transitions” in writing are?
In this particular scene, it’s meant to be about how Brooke is connecting words, ideas, paragraphs and scenes together – she’s not quite transitioning seamlessly from one scene to another, for example.
After a failed date (which made me laugh all over again when rereading the scene), Brooke calms herself in a bookshop “holding a Jane Austen to my heart, rereading a passage from my favourite YA novel until I am no longer on the edge of hysteria …” [p144] What is your favourite (calming) Jane Austen? What are some of your favourite YA novels?
I think, after a bad date experience like this, I would reach for Emma, because it’s funny and it’s about romantic misunderstandings, and it’s one of my favourite Austens.
I have so many beloved YA novels, it’s hard to narrow it down, but two of my recent favourites are The Museum of Broken Things by Lauren Draper and The Boy from the Mish by Gary Lonesborough. For true comfort, nothing can beat a classic Melina Marchetta novel though.
Thank you for answering these questions, Nina. Unnecessary Drama is an absolute treasure. It should be read by everyone who loves YA, as well as by those who don’t yet realise how good Australian YA is.