Penny Jaye writes books for children and older readers. She lives in western Sydney with her husband and three children and is currently studying for her Master of Arts (writing and literature at Deakin university).
She enjoys the challenges and opportunities of juggling a busy family life with writing commitments, including doing author visits. Some of her favourite things include family movie nights, lunch by the river and being tucked up in bed to read a new YA novel. Out of the Cages is her first young adult novel with Rhiza Edge.
She also writes as Penny Reeve.
I met Penny completely by accident at this year’s SCBWI conference. I accidentally left my iPad keyboard under a chair (because I am the sort of person who does stuff like that – more frequently than I’d like to admit). Penny kindly pointed this out to me. We got chatting and I found out that she was the author of one of the best books I read last year (or, to be honest, for many years). Out of the Cages is an absolute treasure, by the way. Anyway, I may have fangirled a little bit and made a fool of myself, but she was very kind about it. She’s a very kind person. She’s also an amazing author and she’s done a fantastic job of these questions! I’m very grateful to that little iPad keyboard.
Which I may have, subsequently, lost again.
Don’t tell Penny.
Tell us a bit about your latest book.
Out of the Cages is my latest book and my first YA (I’m usually found writing books for younger readers). It’s a novel about two young Nepali girls who are trafficked and sold into the brothels of Mumbai and the one who escapes. It’s a story about friendship, hope and the courage to heal.
What was the inspiration for the story?
I began researching and writing the story while my family and I lived in Nepal in the early 2000s. I kept hearing stories of trafficking, and reading articles about the occasional returned survivor and I started wondering what it would be like to return home after such experiences. What would it be like to face your family, your past and even the future? What would it be like to piece life back together when you had been forced to endure such trauma? It was questions like this that sparked the story.
Tell us about your main character. Why should we fall in love with them?
When the novel opens, fifteen-year-old Meena is trapped in a Mumbai brothel and has given up all hope of ever escaping. In order to survive, she has locked her memories away: memories of home, of her childhood friend Putali, and of the trafficking journey they experienced together. When a botched police raid offers Meena a chance at freedom, she must face the truth about her past. The memories she has buried deep inside begin to resurface, and Meena realises escaping the brothel is only the beginning of what it means to be free.
Can she face the truth in her memories? Can she return to Nepal if it means returning alone? And what about Putali, where is she now?
Meena is vulnerable, wonderful, untrusting and raw. She’s the little girl who left Nepal with her head full of dreams. She’s the young woman terrified of what might be true. She’s a friend who doesn’t know whether she’s worth being friends with anymore. She’s the survivor who chooses to hope despite it all. And I think it’s all of this that makes us love her.
Have you always written, or is writing something you’ve come to in adulthood?
I’ve always been a bit wordy – but being an author wasn’t something I ever seriously thought could be a possibility. I wrote my first picture book in year 3 for a class assignment. I wrote some rather deadly murder mysteries in year 7 and plentiful soppy poetry in upper high school! But I only seriously gave writing for publication a try after my daughter was born.
What was your favourite book as a child?
To be honest, I’m not sure. But I did love Grover’s Little Golden Book – There’s a Monster at the end of this Book. I think I resonated with the way he built up, in his imagination, this absolutely terrible possibility only to realise – rather sheepishly – that it was only ever himself: ‘lovably, furry, old Grover’.
Can you recommend another female author we should read?
Kate DiCamillo. She is amazing. Even her social media posts are amazing! And her children’s novels are so full of heart they make you feel as if you have grown bigger on the inside by reading them.
What was the last book you read and loved?
I loved Lisa Shanahan’s ‘The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler’. It’s a children’s novel, beautifully crafted and lingering deep in the heart for a long time after it’s been finished.
Tell us three fun facts about yourself, that other people might not know?
Okay. One: I’m not sporty at all, but my favourite birthday gift this year was a basketball! (We don’t have a hoop yet, but that’s beside the point.)
Two: I have a dog called Chooti. It’s a Nepali word that means ‘break’ or ‘holiday’ because when we first bought her we were in a rather stressful stage of life and really needed a decent break!
Three: I graduated from high school in Papua New Guinea.
Do you have a favourite illustrator of children’s books? Why?
Ooh – this question is too hard! Can I name a few favourites?
I love the work of Freya Blackwood – because she can capture mood and tone, as well as emotion, personality and story in her illustrations.
I love Graeme Base – just the detail. Amazing.
And I love Shaun Tan – because everything he does is so incredibly thoughtful.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The best piece of advice I received was probably an offhand comment my husband once made to me. When I was complaining about my lack of writing time when my children were young, he said ‘Don’t worry Penny, you’ll still be writing when you’re 50.’ 50 isn’t as far away now as it was then, but I think the point remains. I don’t have to panic about my writing. A slow but decent plod will produce results, it’s a long haul trip this writing journey. Not a quick sprint.
The worst advice? That I have to have a regular blog if I want to be a writer. I know it may be helpful for other writers, and I respect other people who blog (thanks for having me here, Kate. I’m in awe of all blogging authors!). But me? Nope. Blogging stresses me out. The pressure of ‘trying’ to blog wore me out. So instead of telling myself that I have to blog, I encourage myself by reminding me that some of my favourite children’s authors don’t blog. If they don’t blog, and I love their books, I don’t have to blog either. (Sorry.)
What is your favourite thing about being published by Wombat/Rhiza?
Their commitment and courage. A number of my projects have not fit the standard boxes for publishing. Out of the Cages, for example, pushes the boundary of YA. But when they take on a project they believe in, they back it. And they back the author to promote that book long term too, providing ongoing support.
Can you recommend another book by a Wombat/Rhiza author?
I really like Katrina Roe’s Lily’s Balloon at the moment. It’s so beautifully illustrated, and the text leads readers through a gentle story with several tender layers. It’s thoughtful, deep and yet charming at the same time. Just lovely.
Find out more about Penny at her website.
Find out more about Out of the Cages at the Rhiza Edge website.