Writer, creative and soon-to-be DOCTOR of words and children’s stories!
Caylee came to Youth ARC a couple of years ago to get involved with PLATFORM Magazine and in doing so, ended up designing and writing for Issue 11 and the upcoming edition 12 in the magazine series.
Mel and Joel talk to young writer, creative and extraordinary PhD student Caylee Tierney. Is Caylee the next J.K Rowling?!? Time will tell, but this gal is definitely one to watch out for in all good bookstores coming soon to a space near you…
Doing a PhD sounds quite daunting! Tell us a little bit about your journey, what does it involve and how did you get there?
I guess it never really seemed that daunting to me as I’ve always really liked studying, ‘so…YES, N.E.R.D. alert!’ haha, but it was just always what I anticipated doing. I took a bit of time off to live overseas in Japan, but then when I came back I got into my Undergrad thinking that I would follow through, in the anticipation that I would keep studying until I didn’t have anywhere further to go with that.
At the moment I’m pretty much two years through and the general standard in Australia at least is about three years for a PhD. My PhD is in English, which is quite broad. A lot of people are working on classical and canonical literature, so the books that everyone knows and expects to study, but I’m looking more at ‘Popular Fiction’, which is about the kind of books that are ‘best sellers’, in a very commercial way. It overlaps quite closely with the idea of ‘Genre Fiction’, which is your typical Sci-fi, Rom-Com, Fantasy.
Getting more specific, my PhD is about ‘Children’s Fantasy’, and the kind of narrative and professional conventions that influence the kinds of books that are produced. The conventions that effect narratives within children’s books are things like ‘repetition’, ‘cos if you consider the younger end of the age group they’re really learning to read, so having a lot of repetition makes that process easier. Moving further up the age group, children usually also appreciate things they’re familiar with, so coming back to themes and worlds that they’ve read about before. Repetition is definitely a big thing that comes out of the ‘Children’s Fiction’ side of things.
Where does this type of PhD lead you? And what does creative writing give to you in a time like this Covid-19 situation?
Ultimately, I do want to write fiction and that was a big motivation in this kind of PhD topic. In a lot of ways, writing acts as an extension for what reading is, which at the simplest level is escapism and I don’t have any problem with seeing reading or writing as opportunities for that. It’s definitely a good thing to have at hand in a time like this, where you can kind of shut the world out, and at least for a little while just chill out. It’s a good coping strategy for people.
I guess the covid-19 situation also obviously has had an impact for people who like to read physical books (with current closures of libraries and such), and for social writers groups and things like that, that might happen in person. I think a lot of writing circles already are quite active online though, like ‘critique partner relationships’ often have a strong presence in the online space as it is. There are also e-books! Although it’s not always everyone’s preference!
When I’m reading for the sake of it, I definitely prefer printed books, which feel more natural and relaxing, probably ‘cos I grew up reading physical books. But when it comes to research it’s very useful to have an e-book on hand ‘cos you can ‘Control + F’ and find something (haha)…so there’s definitely advantages to both!
In terms of accessibility, I’d say there’s still a lot you can do online. I think the reading and writing community is a community that’s pretty adaptable, so will be able to adapt in this kind of situation. I’m pretty positive about how our communities can go on in a time like this.
Who are your favourite authors and how did you get into writing?
Favourite authors…hmm that’s always a really difficult question for anyone who reads or writes a lot! I guess I will mention the ones I’m focusing on in my PhD for case studies in middle grade (12yr old-ish age group) fantasies, who are people like Rick Riordan for the Percy Jackson books, The Magisterium Series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and Jessica Townsend’s The Trials of Morrigan Crow, which is an interesting one even if you aren’t particularly into middle grade fantasy.
“I still remember writing a pretty weird Harry Potter type fan-fic for a school assignment and the teacher loved it so much she put stickers all over it haha!“
I was always a big reader as a kid and I have my mother to thank for that (haha). I still remember when she bought home the first Harry Potter book and I read that one and I guess I just did always enjoy reading. Writing came from doing bits and pieces at school. I still remember writing a pretty weird Harry Potter type fan-fic for a school assignment and the teacher loved it so much she put stickers all over it (haha) and I was a very big sticker fan!! So that really encouraged me and a few years later, even though I don’t really think I was that into writing at that stage, I wrote a story and submitted it to a competition where you could win lots of books if you won, and I remember being a winner of some kind cos’ I remember getting all the books, which I think also encouraged me to think, ‘okay…maybe writing is something I CAN do!?’. I guess I never really looked back from there.
Have you found much progression in your writing style over the years?
I have definitely developed at least in the skill of crafting stories together, and that definitely hasn’t just come from within me; I’ve had to seek out books on those topics and attend conferences and undertake courses and things like that. I would also really recommend that type of thing to anyone who is serious about writing because it does make you think about your own writing in a different way, and think about how your work fits in with the broader world and business side of things. Cos I was totally one of those people who wanted to live in a box and just write (haha)… and that could be me and everyone else could deal with everything else, but if you’re serious about writing that’s not always going to be a practical approach.
If you had a magic wand and could dream up anything, where will all this take you over the next few years?
Well I’m going to assume the magic wand is bounded by reality! Haha. But yeah, ultimately I would very much like to write full-time and be published as an author in the area of children’s or young adult fantasy, and I’m definitely working towards that now. So yeah, that would be ideal!
Stay tuned for the upcoming online and print edition of PLATFORM Magazine Issue 12, themed ‘Liberty’, designed by and featuring the amazing Caylee Tierney and her brilliant work!