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Exclusive: Sally Partridge discusses her highly-anticipated fifth novel, antiheroes, female empowerment and the secret to writing authentic teenage characters

By Mila de Villiers

Sally Partridge, author of Mine. © Warren Rasmussen

The highly-anticipated fifth novel by award-winning local young adult author, Sally Partridge, is scheduled to hit shelves just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Mine is the roller coaster love story of Finley September and Kayla Murphy, two teenagers trying to make sense of their lives in the mother city. In each other they find that all-for-nothing love they’ve been searching for – but also a sense of belonging. Until the ghosts from their past emerge to try and break them apart.

Cape Town novelist Sally Partridge is a three-time winner of the M. E. R. Prize for Best Youth Novel and has been honoured by IBBY International for her young adult fiction. In 2011, she was named one of Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans, awarded annually to notable South Africans under the age of 35.

Mine is Partridge’s fifth novel for young adults.

The whimsical illustrated cover is reminiscent of international contemporary YA titles by authors like Rainbow Rowell and Nina LaCour and was designed by Cape Town-based illustrator Astrid Blumer.

Not only does Blumer’s illustration succeed in bringing Fin and Kayla to life, but also cleverly highlights the comic book and music references featured throughout the contemporary novel.

will be available from all major retailers from 10 February 2018.

Here Partridge discusses female empowerment, why music and writing go hand in hand, the challenges she faced with writing a love story (it has to have some love in it!) and how she succeeds in creating authentic teenage characters:

In your acknowledgements you mention that the idea for the story first came to you when you had a scene in your head of a “girl with blue hair barreling down Buitenkant Street on her skateboard”, envisioning it as a teen superhero novel. Why did you abandon the superhero angle, turning it into a “crazy love story”?

The superhero angle relied heavily on a pair of siblings being central to the plot. I outlined the plot to a writer friend, who felt that siblings weren’t the right fit for the story, especially if it was going to be a series. It needed a love interest. This made total sense. And then the more I wrote, the more it became clear that this had to be a love story and not a superhero story at all. All the drama surrounding relationships completely took over. The book was always going to be about that original blue-haired girl feeling disempowered and finding her confidence. Only now it was more real. Her disempowerment came from being the outsider at a new school, where her desperate need for acceptance becomes a vulnerability the boys in her year are only too eager to take advantage of. Kayla finds her power, but it’s a power we all have to discover at some point, when the rose-tinted glasses we wear shatter after wave after wave of disappointment.

Although it isn’t a superhero novel, elements of the superhero genre are present: Kayla is a big fan of comic books and Fin is a Norse mythology aficionado. These interests aren’t exactly accepted/understood among their peers (people find it unusual that Kayla – as a teenage girl – is into comics and not many of Fin’s friends have heard of Thor the Norse God as opposed to Thor “the Avengers dude with a hammer”.) Could you expand on their predilection for these mythical/conceived gods/heroes, and – in doing so – how they defy stereotypes?

I love writing about antiheroes. Whether they’re geeks, goths or teens looking for trouble. Anyone who’s been to FanCon (run by Reader’s Den) will realise quite quickly that comics aren’t just for guys. Both DC and Marvel are writing incredible titles with all-female casts, and even local authors like Lauren Beukes, are writing comics. Saying comics aren’t for girls is like saying books aren’t for girls. It’s silly. Kayla is your average pop-culture fan – she loves Rick and Morty and comics and wears her geeky predilections like an armour – which reflects in her sense of humour. As for Fin, many people find strength in their spirituality, and he draws his courage from the strong gods in Norse mythology. He crafts a stage persona after Thor, the god of Thunder – and by slipping into this persona he’s able to do things he normally wouldn’t be comfortable doing – like going on stage in front of thousands of people.

Music features prominently in your novel (Kayla is a classical flautist and operaphile, whereas Fin is a member of a rap band.) What does music a) mean to you? and b) to Kayla and Fin? Do you listen to similar genres as the protagonists? And what’s it like writing rap lyrics? 

Music is central to my creativity. It sets the mood, keeps me going. So really, writing and music go hand in hand.

As for Kayla being an operaphile. You’re supposed to write what you know, right? My friend Karina invited me to go see a screening of Bluebeard’s Castle at Cinema Nouveau. It was a double bill with Iolanta that was being broadcast live from The Met. I was completely blown away. She’s always inviting me to these wildly cultural evenings, like the time we went to see a classical ensemble at The Alma Café, which was the night I knew I needed to include a cellist in the story. It wasn’t Kayla. I knew that much. Then she took me to a classical recital at Bishops, and when I saw the flautist perform, I knew that was the instrument Kayla needed to play. Another dear friend is a woodwind expert, so I had all this exposure to classical instruments around me that I drew inspiration from. Music is a key theme in this book. It’s Fin’s life, the only thing he knows. It’s what pulls him and Kayla closer. To get into their heads I listened to a wide range of music, from the moody hypnotic instrumentals of Jozef van Wissem and older bands like Led Zeppelin and Violent Femmes to contemporary glitch, dub and hip-hop artists, like PHFat, Dookoom and Skrillex for example.

Writing lyrics wasn’t too much of a stretch.

(This one is applicable to Astrid as well!) The cover is reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park; can you elaborate on the decision-making process whilst conceiving the cover? How did you decide on the style of the cover and final imagery? How many versions were created before you chose this specific one?

I had nothing to do with the cover. My publisher knew from the beginning that she wanted to use Astrid. At our first meeting she pulled out this gorgeous page of illustrations and I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” It was a wonderful surprise to see the final product. I think it ties in beautifully with the story and captures that precious love that Kayla and Fin feel for each other.

This is your first novel focused solely on a relationship. What was the most challenging aspect writing about two teens in love? What did you enjoy the most?

The challenge for me was introducing more light into the story. I have a strong penchant for darkness and sometimes I can get carried away. I had to remind myself that love stories need to have some love in them! This was especially true with Kayla’s character. She needed to be as likeable as Fin, but she’s just so tragically damaged. I felt it was important to not shy away from the reality of what teenage girls have to go through. We have to talk about these things and not just conveniently forget the minefield of peer pressure and double standards we all had to endure in high school.

As with your previous novels, you’ve created honest, relatable teenage protagonists. As someone who no longer is an adolescent (and in no way am I excluding myself here!), how do you manage to write such convincing characters? (You nailed it – from their vocabulary, dress sense, penchant for social media, jol-ing habits and hobbies/interests.)

I guess I’ve just never bothered to grow up. I don’t have kids or a white picket fence. What I do have is hundreds of comic books, Funko Pops, young adult novels, LEGO minifgures and tattoos. And I still go jol-ing regularly.

 To what extent can you relate to Kayla – the troubled, alternative, promiscuous (for lack of a better word…) skatergirl from the ‘burbs, and Fin – the equally troubled daggakop from Lansdowne, subjected to domestic violence, and repeating matric for the second time?

I think I can relate to both of them. I grew up in Lansdowne before my parents moved us into my grandmother’s house in the suburbs. I was that girl that changed schools late in the year and had to put up with relentless bullying while I tried (and failed) to fit in. I ended up amongst the alternative kids and there I stayed. I don’t like to think of Kayla as promiscuous. That’s the total wrong perception. The choices she makes are important because it’s a behaviour she believes will solve her problems – if she responds to boys’ advances she’ll be liked, she’ll get a boyfriend and earn the respect of the girls at school. If she doesn’t respond to their advances, they’ll ignore her and move on and she’ll be alone again. This is important because it’s the type of topic we’re only starting to explore now that #MeToo is gaining momentum. Girls often find themselves in situations where they say ‘yes’ when they should be saying ‘no’ because they confuse persuasion and pressure with affection, or they think the repercussions will be different. We’re letting girls down by not talking about it.

And finally – the title: why Mine?

The phrase, Mine all mine, sums up this book nicely. I thought an abridged version, Mine, could achieve the same thing in a much more direct, punchy way. The book is about crazy, obsessive love, people damaged by love and yet still wanting to fall desperately, headfirst into love all over again. There could be no other title for this book.



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