Claire's writing career flourishes, despite school

Claire Zorn's second book, The Protected, has just hit shelves. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Claire Zorn's second book, The Protected, has just hit shelves. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

You don't expect a writer with two books to their name to admit to being a bad speller.

But that's what Claire Zorn is. Or it's what she was.

The Keiraville resident says she wrote and illustrated stories when she was in primary school but her love of writing was dampened by high school teachers who went through her stories with red pen because of spelling and punctuation mistakes.

"By the time I got to high school, I stopped because I'm a terrible speller and my punctuation was terrible and I never could remember all the rules about punctuation," Zorn says.

‘‘I was just miserable in high school, basically I just hadn’t found my people.’’

"So I got discouraged and I stopped midway through high school."

She made a gradual return to writing while studying fine arts at university and finding text was becoming more prominent in her works.

As far as the spelling goes, the computer spellchecker and a really big dictionary helped a lot.

"I've worked really hard on it," she says.

"I worked as a proofreader for a little while, which is pretty funny for someone who can't spell. So I bought a massive dictionary and worked really, really hard on my spelling and I'm a lot better than what I used to be.

"But simple words can still trip me up so I rely heavily on spellcheck. I'm quite over-conscious of it so every time I write an email, I'm constantly making sure the spelling's right."

Zorn's second book - The Protected - has just hit the shelves. It's a young adult novel that centres around Hannah, whose parents are struggling with grief and guilt after the death of her sister, Katie.

It was a book that took her nine years to finish; she managed to complete and publish what was her debut novel, The Sky So Heavy, in that time.

Those nine years included a period where she would write what would become The Protected in between helping customers during her day job in retail.

"I used to work in a shoe shop and I used to keep a notebook under the counter to work away on because it was dead boring when it was quiet," she says.

"I did that at a few jobs - once my boss found the notebook I had to do some explaining. We used to get mystery shoppers from the company who would come around to spy on us to make sure we were doing a good job.

"I was fairly paranoid they would come in and see me writing."

These days she doesn't have to worry about that. Instead, she's had to fit her writing around looking after two children. The older child is now in kindergarten and the younger one is at childcare two days a week to give Zorn some time to write.

Having a predetermined time to write rather than just waiting for inspiration to hit has helped her take writing more seriously.

"I treat it like a job because otherwise it just wouldn't happen," she says. "There's no spare time.

"I think that was a skill I had to learn after I had my first baby. You have no spare time. Every afternoon when he was asleep I would say to myself, 'This is the only time you have, you can't waste it'.

"I found that really good and I wrote a lot more than I ever had before."

Her first book, The Sky So Heavy, features a 17-year-old boy as the lead character and Zorn says - because she's never been a teenage boy - she had to make a lot of it up.

But for The Protected, Zorn called on her own less-than-pleasant memories of being a 15-year-old girl in high school.

"My experience wasn't as brutal as Hannah's, she definitely cops it a lot worse than I did," Zorn says.

"I was just miserable in high school, basically I just hadn't found my people. When you're a teenager, people are always telling you it's the best years of your life, you should be having fun.

"I was having a horrible time, so I wanted to write something that said it was OK if it isn't the best years of your life."

Whether writing in the voice of a boy or a girl, Zorn says she imagines she's writing the book for her 16-year-old self. This approach, she says, helps to ensure the book doesn't talk down to the teenaged reader but rather meets them on their level.

It's an approach that must have been successful - The Sky So Heavy is a finalist for the Book of the Year for Older Readers category at the Children's Book Council.

Zorn says she's not too concerned about whether she wins because, to her, she already has.

"Just to be shortlisted I feel like I've won," she says. "Just to be shortlisted is amazing. When I saw The Sky So Heavy was on the notables list I was thrilled, then when it made it to the shortlist, I was ecstatic so anything from here on in is a bonus.

"When I write something I still have these thoughts - 'am I actually any good? Can I actually do this or it is rubbish?'

"So it's nice to have this recognition that tells you, 'No, you can do it'. It's validating and it just gives me that little bit more confidence."

Claire Zorn's second book - The Protected.

Claire Zorn's second book - The Protected.

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