REDISCOVERING REBELS: Emily Gale and Nova Weetman

In their new book, Outlaw Girls, Emily Gale and Nova Weetman passionately delve into untold stories of female empowerment in history, crafting accessible and joyful historical fiction for young readers.

Why do you write children's books? What do you love about them?

I still strongly identify with the reader I was from about 10 to 14 who felt with absolute conviction that novels were better than anything else, so there’s a strong desire to write to that age group, that fascinating stage of life full of potential and equally full of confusion. I love the imagination, optimism and truth of a good children’s book. - EG

Books were very important to me between 8-14 years and I think partly the reason I write for that age group now is because I am trying to relive that importance. I love reading middle grade novels because the characters, plots and concerns are often complex but it is how they are handled that make the magic. - NW

What inspired you to write Outlaw Girls?

After writing Elsewhere Girls, we knew we wanted to co-write another historical time-slip book, and thought that it would be interesting focussing on the sister of one of Australia’s most iconic figures. Ned Kelly has been the subject of countless books, film adaptations and endless musings, but the women who aided the Kelly Gang are less visible. We also knew that we both wanted to write a book that had characters who were exceptional horse-riders because we both loved horse-riding when we were young. The riding scenes are really important to the book. - NW

I was never a confident horse rider, growing up in London without regular access to horses, but like many young people I had a romantic idea of horses and there was nothing more exciting to me than the idea of being able to gallop freely across the countryside. We loved the idea of teenage girls feeling powerful and free on horseback. It was Nova’s idea to use Kate Kelly as a character as she’d known of her for a while whereas I came into her story fresh although I’d read The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey before I moved to Australia. But as soon as we started digging I was hooked on the idea of exploring Kate’s version of events. - EG

Did either of you have any personal experiences that contributed to this new book?

Early on when we were talking about the major themes we wanted the story to lean on, we shared memories of what it was like when we were young and our brothers got into trouble now and then – especially how loyal we felt to them and how that contrasted with the effect of being worried about them, as well as angry sometimes that they seemed drawn to trouble. We wanted to explore how complicated family and friendship loyalty can be. But also what it was like to be, as Judy Blume described, good girls with a bad girl lurking inside. - EG

I grew up on the edges of the outer suburbs of Melbourne, where everyone I knew went to pony clubs and rode horses and many people had farms. I had enormous freedom – to ride my bike in the street and visit my friends and I wanted to tap into that rural lifestyle for Ruby. However I never stole a tractor! - NW

What do you hope your readers will take away from Outlaw Girls?

Above all we want readers to have fun reading Outlaw Girls and Elsewhere Girls. We’d also like them to understand that children, teenage girls and women are always part of important historical moments even if they’re not present in the old history books, and that it’s both empowering and exhilarating to write from a different perspective and tell the untold stories. - EG

This is not the first book that you’ve written together—you also wrote Elsewhere Girls in 2021. How did you decide to write stories together?

We became friends in 2016 when Nova’s novel The Secrets We Keep and my novel The Other Side of Summer came out. Our friendship grew rapidly, we loved each other’s work and shared several common goals when it came to writing for this age group. Even though I’d never considered co-writing before, as soon as it was suggested (I think it was Nova’s idea first) I immediately wanted to try. - EG

We both love timeslip stories and the chance to tell history through a feminist lens felt exciting. It was an extension of our friendship and we approached co-writing like we were writing a series of letters to each other, back and forth from our two characters. - NW

What is it like to co-author a book? Can you give us any insight into your process?

It’s wonderful! Half the work, double the fun. Because we work quite differently and approach the process of writing from different angles, we have utilised each other’s strengths as well as our own so it makes writing faster and more efficient. We first decide on the real Australian woman we want to write about and then spend months researching her. With Elsewhere Girls we visited all of Fanny Durack’s haunts in Sydney - Wiley’s Baths in Coogee, the pub Fanny had lived in as a child and the streets she walked. We spent time in the archives department of the NSW Library, reading her letters and diaries and whatever archival material we could find. With Kate, the research was similar. We visited Glenrowan and saw the landscape the Kellys had lived on, and then read every book we could find. Trove is an enormous resource for research too. Then we plot the books. This is done together and often in the State Library. Once we have the plot and the contemporary character then we choose which character we will write and go back and forth with alternating chapters. The editing process is similar. - NW

How does this process compare to writing a story on your own? Are there any unexpected differences or similarities?

We very rarely disagree about how the story should go, in fact I can’t ever remember that happening, but it evolves through a lot of lively discussion so the main difference when it comes to the process is simply having someone to explore ideas with, someone who cares about the book as much as you do. - EG

Elsewhere Girls and Outlaw Girls both share some common threads with the inclusion of Australian history and themes of female empowerment. What is it like to write about these topics? Are there ways that it is exciting and/or challenging?

I love getting lost in the research, there’s nothing more thrilling to me than chasing leads, I feel like a detective. It does come with a sense of responsibility, too – to be as faithful as possible to the truth, which is often hard to get at, and to represent people fairly, and also to make the stories highly accessible and fun for a modern audience, to take them into that period of history and make it matter for them. Taking on a huge story like that of The Kelly Gang was exciting, a little intimidating perhaps, but taking risks is a wonderful part of writing a novel. - EG

Do you have any other projects in the works?

I have an adult memoir out in April, 2024 through UQP. It’s called Love, Death & Other Scenes. - NW

I’m working on a couple of books but I’m not ready to talk about them yet! - EG