Published by Text Publishing on April 3rd 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
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Steph Bowe is back. Night Swimming is a love story with a twist, and a whole lot of heart.
Imagine being the only two seventeen-year-olds in a small town. That’s life for Kirby Arrow—named after the most dissenting judge in Australia’s history—and her best friend Clancy Lee, would-be musical star.
Clancy wants nothing more than to leave town and head for the big smoke, but Kirby is worried: her family has a history of leaving. She hasn’t heard from her father since he left when she was a baby. Shouldn’t she stay to help her mother with the goat’s-milk soap-making business, look after her grandfather who suffers from dementia, be an apprentice carpenter to old Mr Pool? And how could she leave her pet goat, Stanley, her dog Maude, and her cat Marianne?
But two things happen that change everything for Kirby. She finds an article in the newspaper about her father, and Iris arrives in town. Iris is beautiful, wears crazy clothes, plays the mandolin, and seems perfect, really, thinks Kirby. Clancy has his heart set on winning over Iris. Trouble is Kirby is also falling in love with Iris…
What a cute and adorable coming of age read! With a pet goat called Stanley, lots of Indian take out and a best friend with big dreams, there’s a lot of random elements in Night Swimming, but it comes together beautifully. Here’s 5 reasons why you should pick it up:
1. The cutest lesbian relationship
Although it might not be the reality for most, Kirby likes other girls. She’s only fantasised about being with other girls in her head, until Iris comes along. I liked how she had already come to terms with her sexuality and when she eventually comes out, her family and friends are totally accepting. While it might not be the reality for some people, I liked how her sexuality was matter of fact, and it just was.
2. Clancy is the best BFF ever
Yes, guys and girls can actually be friends! I absolutely loved Clancy Lee, Kirby’s best friend who has a flair for the dramatics. He’s hilarious, over the top and no money making scheme is too much for Clancy. I also loved how he was ever the optimistic, often a good contrast for Kirby’s over thinking. Clancy’s family owns the only Chinese take-out joint in the small town, and they talk about casual racism and not having anyone to relate to.
3. Stanley is also the best pet goat
I haven’t read a book with a pet goat before, and with the hilarious Stanley in Night Swimming, I wonder why. Like other goats, he likes to chew grass and look innocent, but he also has a larger than life personality and even features in the town musical.
4. Family plays a big part in Kirby’s life
You won’t find absent parents in Night Swimming, okay…maybe one, but Kirby’s mum plays a big part in her life, along with her granddad and cousin. While they’re not the typical nuclear family, I liked how they showed how they loved and supported each other in their own different ways. Kirby’s mum rarely shows her emotion, but instead chooses to show her love through her actions.
5. The family issues felt so real
Kirby is dealing with her granddad’s dementia, and seeing his declining short term memory is heart breaking. She’s also planning on reconnecting with her absent father who left when she was born. While there’s different complexities in Kirby’s life, they were dealt with in such an honest manner that it felt really relatable.
Night Swimming is a quirky, adorable coming of age story featuring a lesbian main character. With complex family issues, an Indian love interest and a platonic male best friend, Night Swimming is a very real and relatable read that tackles diversity beautifully.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Author Q&A with Steph Bowe
1. What is your inspiration behind Night Swimming and setting it in a small Australian town?
Firstly, the inspiration behind the setting: I love road trips through country Australia and I love the Australian literary tradition of rural settings and I wanted to put my own spin on it. I think often those settings can be either a) really homogenous and old-fashioned, or b) really grim and involve someone dying by the river. Or both. I wanted to create a hopeful story set in a town that was diverse and authentic.
Secondly, my other inspirations: there were so many! I named Kirby after my favourite (former) High Court justice, which inspired a lot about both Kirby and her mum. I’ve no idea where the idea to write about goats came from – I just woke up in the middle of the night and wrote down ‘GOAT TRAGEDY’ (such a professional writer, I know). I saw Little Shop of Horrors performed, and drew on my experience in youth theatre to create Clancy. I also wrote a lot from other aspects of my own experience, particularly having someone in my family diagnosed with dementia.
2. Can you describe what Kirby is going through with her grandfather’s dementia?
I wanted to capture what it’s like for families dealing with an ageing relative’s illness because dementia is something that affects the lives of so many people. It’s difficult to come to terms with someone losing their memory and behaving strangely and losing aspects of who they were. Kirby really struggles with the fact that her grandfather is not the grandfather he was when she was a child – he’s no longer the leader of their family, and not the strong and intelligent man she knew. It’s very confronting to deal with, but she still loves him unconditionally and can’t deal with the idea of him having to go into aged care.
3. Kirby likes girls, but this isn’t a big deal to her friends and family. How did this come about?
So many of the novels which feature queer young people have coming out as a central theme, and gay characters face homophobia more often than not. Which is important, because these are things that real gay young people deal with so it makes sense for that to be reflected in realistic fiction. But I don’t think this should be the only narrative – I wanted to write a story where Kirby’s sexual orientation wasn’t the central focus and where things could be hopeful. It’s a story about Kirby as an individual and all of the things she’s going through – her sexuality is just one aspect of that. It’s seen as normal by her friends and family because it is normal – that may be a little idealised, but I think that it’s increasingly true in Australia that a variety of sexual orientations are viewed as perfectly acceptable.
4. Family is an important part of every teen’s life, and her mum is often emotionally distant, but shows she loves her in other ways. Can you talk about how her parenting style has affected Kirby?
Something that’s really important to me in YA novels – as a reader and as a writer – is showing all different kinds of families. I think sometimes there’s this idea that there’s a default kind of family – a working dad and a stay-at-home mum and 2.5 kids – but families are way more varied in reality. Kirby’s mum is very pragmatic and not the most affectionate person. Kirby is quite independent, because of how she’s been brought up, but she still looks to her mum for approval, because family is very important to her.
5. Night Swimming features crop circles, goats, musicals, a lesbian relationship and lots of random fun. But somehow, you make it work. How did all these things come about?
The goats were inspired by my randomly waking up in the middle of the night with the idea of writing a story about a goat tragedy, and then a lot of research that primarily involved watching goat videos on YouTube.
The musical aspect came from being involved in amateur youth theatre as a teenager, having friends who love musical theatre to an obsessive degree, and seeing a performance of Little Shop of Horrors a few years back.
The crop circles come from my long-term fascination with aliens and hoaxes. I like fictional stories about aliens more than the idea of actual aliens, I think. The absurd and impossible stories are the most fun.
It just made sense, as I was writing the story, for Kirby to fall in love with Iris. I approached the romance in the same way I did for the first two novels, which featured boy-girl romances. I didn’t consciously decide to write a gay love story – it just happens to be about two girls.
And the random fun – I cannot avoid randomness and quirkiness, no matter how much I try. I just had heaps of fun writing the novel and incorporated as many adventures and hijinks as I could. Writing Clancy was particularly enjoyable. He’s just a melodramatic trouble-maker, really.
6. Which Harry Potter houses do the characters in the book belong in (Clancy, Kirby, Iris and Stanley)?
I love this question but it’s actually so tricky to decide. I have thought long and hard about this. I’ve conducted research. This has taken longer than writing the novel did.
Kirby definitely belongs in Hufflepuff. She is extremely loyal and hard-working and kind and fair. Hufflepuff is the most underrated house, in my opinion. It’s actually the best.
Clancy is a Gryffindor because his bravery is so extreme it borders on shamelessness. He is completely and unapologetically himself. His confidence is such that he could do something completely inadvisable and foolish without asking permission and still win points for Gryffindor.
I feel like Iris is a mix of Hufflepuff, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, but because of her wit (puns!) I think she’s closest to being in Ravenclaw.
Finally, Stanley. There are a variety of ways we could interpret Stanley. He’s a goat, so he can’t talk. We don’t ever hear things from his perspective, so his behaviour is the only indication we have of his personality. I could argue that he’s Hufflepuff because of his loyalty, or Gryffindor because he has a daring moment in the novel (which I won’t spoil), or Ravenclaw because Kirby thinks he’s very smart. But, ultimately, I am going to choose Slytherin for our Stanley. I think, beneath the just-a-goat veneer, he’s actually very cunning and resourceful. I mean, he is the number one goat. That says it all.
7. How long did Night Swimming take for you to write?
I first had the idea around April 2015, though I think parts of the story were percolating before then. I wrote virtually the entire first draft that July. I was really inspired, so the process of writing it was very brief and the story just flowed. I edited for a few months after that before sending it to my agent.
8. Do you dream of having your own pet goat? If you had one, what would you name it?
I would only get a pet goat if I knew I could be a good goat owner, and honestly, I would probably feed it too many treats and it would be an obnoxiously spoilt goat. I’d have it wearing little bedazzled jumpers and push it around in a pram. Yeah. I probably shouldn’t get a pet goat.
If I ever did get a goat, I would name him Stanley, in honour of the fictional Stanley. I would probably name a girl goat Stanley, too. I mean, who needs gender-appropriate names?
1. Cheese or chocolate?
Chocolate! Of course. Though now I’m thinking about it, cheese is pretty great. Please don’t take either away from me.
2. Soap or shower gel?
Because of Night Swimming, I have to say goat’s milk soap. Obviously.
3. Musicals or movies?
Movies! I love movies better than almost anything (other than books).
4. Chinese food or Indian food?
This is an impossible question that I refuse to answer. (But if I’m allowed to add a third option, I choose Thai food.)
5. Aliens or faeries?
Aliens! I am an X-Files fan from way back, so naturally I want to believe.
About the Author
I’m a 23-year-old YA author represented by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown. My latest novel, NIGHT SWIMMING, is to be published by Text Publishing in April 2017. My debut novel, GIRL SAVES BOY, was published in September 2010. I grew up just outside Melbourne, but I now live in South-East Queensland, Australia with my family. My novel has been translated into Spanish, Dutch and Catalan. My second novel, ALL THIS COULD END, was published in 2013.
Giveaway – Australians only
I’m giving away a paperback of Night Swimming to a lucky Australian reader of Happy Indulgence! To enter, fill in the details below. Verified entries only, we check that you have followed us!
Giveaway ends 21 May 2017. Winner must respond within 48 hours. We take no responsibility for any lost or stolen packages.
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Thanks to Steph Bowe & Text Publishing for the interview & review copy!
Night Swimming is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$19.99.
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