Q&A with Eleni Hale

Eleni Hale is one of the six authors shortlisted for 2019 Readings Young Adult Book Prize for her powerful story of survival and hope, Stone Girl.

In this interview, she talks about the inspiration behind the book, find the voice of her amazing main character Sophie, and balancing light and dark in a novel for young adults.

Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Readings YA Book Prize! Your book is such a moving and emotional story of survival and hope. Can you tell us what initially sparked this story and what made you want to tell it?

Stone Girl’s inception was as a 3000-word essay at university for a creative non-fiction class. After I submitted it, my lecturer called me into a meeting and said he thought it had the makings of a novel and that I should keep writing. Those words crystallised instantly. I knew I had to do it. I went home and simply started writing (SO badly, at first). I didn’t have a clue how to create an 80,000-word manuscript – but I knew I had to write this story.

Stone Girl is inspired by true life events. I wanted people to walk in the footsteps of a kid in care. I wanted to show the transformation that occurs when a teenager is responsible for their own survival, the friendships and choices that are made.

From my experience, most creative portraits of kids in care (and those who live without parents) are clichéd. For example, they are the unredeemable character others quickly learn to distrust. Or, parentlessness is used as a vehicle to enhance the reader’s appreciation of some amazing opportunity that befalls that protagonist. Think Harry Potter and Chess Raven. It’s a powerful tool to launch these characters from such a ‘tragic’ start.

I met many kids who were broken yet resilient and strong and creative. I wanted to tell a true-to-life story of life in care. There are currently about 40,000 children and teenagers who live separately from their parents in Australia and we don’t often hear about them. That’s unfortunate, especially for them.


Sophie is such a gutsy, honest character and you immediately want the best for her, even as the world lets her down. Can you talk about writing this character? How did you find her voice?

There were four attempts before Stone Girl. Each one was quite different. I tried third person and dual narratives but it didn’t feel right. I knew this couldn’t be autobiography and so after many years of mistakes I began to meaningfully question who was telling the story.

When I opened a blank document and started on the fifth version, Sophie’s voice simply sprung onto the page. It was an amazing feeling! Sophie is a combination of people and once I found her, she carried the story along as if she were whispering it in my ear.

There are some hard realities in this novel – the institutionalising effect of foster care on Australian youth, the abusive cycle of relationships – as well as glimmers of hope. How did you approach balancing the light and the dark in this novel?

There’s light and dark in most stories, and I think it’s important for the reader that a writer finds both. Living in care is tough but there are good times. Take the relationships forged between the kids themselves. These might be highway families, abruptly lost at the next exit, but they are often very caring. They understand each other in a way no one else can.

It was also vital that Sophie not be depicted as a victim. She was strong. Bad things happened and she dealt with it the best way she knew how. I hoped that light would beat dark in the end. However, I actively allowed the dark to spill onto the page in a realistic way. I didn’t want to wash over it. I spared no one, especially myself. Truth is the most confrontational aspect of writing but I don’t see the point of not being honest. I lay it bare and hope for connection.

Were there any other writers or public figures that inspired you as an author?

There are too many for me to name. The LoveOzYa community has a plethora of authors who write so well about teenagers in both contemporary and other genres.

The writing community is largely filled with supportive and inspirational individuals. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.

Can you share what the response has been like from teenage readers of this book? What would you say to people who are concerned that some teens can’t handle tough topics like this?

The response from teens has been amazing – especially from the Teen Advisory Board. I’ve had people message me saying they met kids like that at school or describing how they felt about Sophie.

I knew Stone Girl would be tough for some, especially for conservative adults, but I was surprised and disappointed by some responses. One librarian said it was ‘like science fiction’ for her students, which I suppose means it’s not familiar for them because they live a protected life.

So what?

Teen readers want to be respected to choose their reading material. Many consume adult books anyway. Literature should connect and include, not divide and segregate into categories of acceptable and unacceptable teen experiences. Adults should not be actively blocking or discriminating against teen realities, especially in a world of mass information access. This one is okay to read about. This one we will pretend doesn’t exist. It feels wrong to me. Teenagers are transitioning and will soon have the choices and responsibilities of an adult. Literature is a brilliant way to communicate and shed light.

Impoverished homeless teens are living these kinds of lives all over the world. Maybe if we include their stories and allow their difficulties to be understood by other kids then we’ll have more empathetic adults.

What’s next for you? What are you working on currently?

I’m so excited and nervous about the next manuscript and can’t wait to share it. It’s a crime genre novel and the women are resilient and resourceful. That’s all I can say for now.

What was the last book you read and loved? And what book’s on your bedside table at the moment?

I liked Machines like Me by Ian McEwan and The Break by Katherena Vermette, but I loved Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel and The Cruel Prince by Holly Black were also superb.

I’m currently reading The Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory by Corey White. It’s a memoir about his time in care – though my kids keep stealing it because it has a unicorn on the cover.

I’m keen to get back to more YA next and read I am Out with Lanterns by Emily Gale, the Valentine series by Jodi McAlister and In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black.

And so many more. There’s never enough reading time but now my kids are no longer babies I’m starting to catch up…a little.

Eleni Hale was a reporter at the Herald Sun, a communications strategist for the union movement and has written for many print and online news publications. Her short story fig was published as part of the ABC’s In their branches project and she has received three Varuna awards. She lives in Melbourne, and is currently working on her second book. Stone Girl is her first novel.

Read more about Stone Girl and Readings Young Adult Book Prize 2019 shortlist here.

Stone Girl

Stone Girl

Eleni Hale

$19.99Buy now

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