A Busy Brain

YA novelist Claire Zorn on surviving high school, why she didn’t expect to be a writer, and mental illness.

“I suppose I always had these preconceived ideas of the sort of person a writer was, and I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in my ability to write … I think I thought that a writer was a very serious, intellectual, well-read sort of person. I do read a lot, but I thought it was someone who read the classics and loved James Joyce … I just thought it was someone very different from the sort of person I was.”

Claire Zorn is the multi-award-winning writer of YA novels The Sky So Heavy, The Protected, and One Would Think the Deep. She’s as surprised as anyone, though, to find herself in this position – she never really thought of herself as a writer, despite growing up with a mental world teeming with characters and stories.

Having what she describes as a “busy brain” has been a two-edged thing for her.

“I have a pretty high dose of anxiety, and my specialty is catastrophising. My mind will generally go down the ‘what if, what if, what if’ route, whether I want it to or not. So with my books I tend to use that … I think it’s interesting to place a character in a situation where they are really challenged by the space that they find themselves in. That makes for really rich writing.”

In this episode of Life & Faith, Claire takes us through what she wanted to be when she grew up, the books that inspired her to write fiction for young adults, and why she calls her time in high school the worst years of her life – along with some survival tips for other struggling teens.

“I suppose it was just being very self-conscious, being overly self-conscious – and this feeling of not fitting in. Now I quite like not fitting in! I like being different. But when you’re a kid, that’s the last thing you want to be. I just felt different to the other kids, and I lived in an imaginary world, and when you go from that to the intensity of high school and the ruthlessness of particularly teenage girls, and the kind of emotional manipulation that goes on, I think poor little me was just completely blindsided by the whole thing.”

From a very young age, Claire struggled with mental illness. Throughout her teen years, then later after the birth of her first child, she experienced severe anxiety and depression and has had to develop ways of managing her mental health. Somewhere in the middle of that, she also became a Christian.

“I believed in God very very much, and I understood that God loved me. But when things start to go wrong or you start to feel very isolated in your life … for me, I was like, I thought God loved me, isn’t he supposed to look after me? I don’t know if I was ever actually an atheist, but I was trying very very hard to be one. By the time I left high school, I thought there was maybe a God, but I didn’t like him very much.”

Finding “her people” at university made a big difference to Claire’s mental well-being. She was shocked to discover, though, that these new friends were, of all things, Christians. She kept brushing off their invitations to church, but eventually came along one night without telling them, and what she found there surprised her.

Knowing God doesn’t “fix” things, she explains – or not necessarily. There are various things that help in her ongoing battle with mental illness, including being careful about how much she commits to, and the hope that comes from hearing other people’s stories. But she also speaks of the comfort of knowing that Jesus is walking with her, as weird as she knows that might sound.

“He’s in the boat with me. I’m freaking out, and there’s water coming in, and I’m hoping that I’m going to survive. And he’s in the boat going, ‘it’s ok, I’ve got this’.”

Find out more about Claire: https://clairezorn.com

BUY her books:

The Sky So Heavy: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-sky-so-heavy-claire-zorn/prod9780702249761.html

The Protected: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-protected-claire-zorn/prod9780702250194.html

One Would Think the Deep: https://www.booktopia.com.au/one-would-think-the-deep-claire-zorn/prod9780702253942.html