Thanks to Allen and Unwin for giving me an opportunity to participate in the blog tour for The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson! I have an interview to show you all today. Lili has been so gracious and informative in all of her answers, so I hope you’ll have fun reading it.
The Boundless Sublime first appeared to be a typical cult story. However, the main characters manage to retain all of her thoughts and agency throughout the story, even when she was making poor decisions. It’s definitely a title to check out if you’ve enjoyed other recent releases like The Girls or Foxlowe.
1. Congratulations on the release of The Boundless Sublime! Could you tell us a little about the inspiration behind this book?
A few things, I guess. One is that my grandparents were Scientologists, and I’ve always been interested in belief, and the weird things people believed in. I read and loved Robin Klein’s People Might Hear You when I was a kid. And then I guess because of my grandparents I read Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear in 2014, and it sent me on a bit of a spiral of learning about new religious movements, which sort of naturally became the idea for The Boundless Sublime.
2. You must have done a lot of research into cults while writing this book, what was the most fascinating fact you found? (Psst, teen readers, Lili Wilkinson is doing a ‘How To Research’ panel at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival this year).
SO MUCH RESEARCH. I try to be a bit careful in talking about it, because people believe all sorts of things and I don’t want to disrespect anyone’s religion. Except sometimes it’s a bit hard not to. Like with Wiley Brooks, the founder of Breatharianism, who claims that the only way to survive the apocalypse is to transform into a five dimensional being by going to McDonalds (they’re all built on 5D portals), order a Diet Coke (made of liquid light), some fries (made in 5D dehydrogenated oil), and a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese (because cows are 5D beings put on Earth to help humans convert themselves into the next dimension). It’s pretty hard to take that stuff seriously, especially since he said this apocalypse would happen in 2012.
(if you want to know more about the research, check out my web series Let’s Talk About Sects)
3. There’s a lot of references to chemistry in the book, what drew you to this particular topic?
I didn’t want the Institute of the Boundless Sublime to be a religious cult. Nearly every new religious movement has a leader who declares him or less-often herself the second coming of Christ, but I really wanted to steer clear of that. So I thought it could be based in a kind of esoteric mysticism masquerading as science. So I created this alchemy/chemistry pseudoscience which could either sound convincing or not, depending on how good your bullshit detector is!
4. You’ve written books in a wide range of genres, with Boundless Sublime being your first mystery/thriller. How does your writing process and experience alter with each book?
The process remains pretty stable – I research and plan a lot before starting, and then I don’t write chronologically, instead I write whichever bit of the story I’m the most excited about that day. This was the first really dark book I’ve written, and I thought that would be hard, coming off the back of a string of romantic comedies. Unexpectedly I loved going dark – I found it really invigorating. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed writing a book as much as I did this one.
5. I read that you were working on a PhD on ways YA make teen readers more politically engage, could you share a little of that with us? And which books you would recommend that fits the bill?
Interestingly I found that books that are explicitly political tend to read as a bit didactic, and because of that end up in this quite conservative good guys vs bad guys paradigm that I don’t think teen readers respond to that well. But Harry Potter is a really interesting case, because ideologically it’s kind of a mess – you have things like the house elf liberation campaign that is totally undermined when of the two freed elves, one chooses to remain a slave and dies, and the other becomes an alcoholic, implying that servitude is the natural, inescapable condition of a house-elf. Or the way that powerful women are always unmarried, and the only married woman with a job dies, orphaning her infant child. Or the way we are told that the emphasis on pureblooded wizards is wrong, yet in the Epilogue nobody has paired off with a Muggle, so new pureblood lines are beginning. But I think it is successful because it is such a mess, because it allows the world to be pushed and pulled in all sorts of interesting ways by fans. So you end up with things like the Harry Potter Alliance, which is literally changing the world through activism and creating alternate pathways to political engagement.
But for a recommendation – you can’t go past Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series. It may look like a fun beach read, but it’s actually about feminism, democracy-making and power.
I’ve completed the PhD, so if anyone’s really brave, they can read it here: The politics of empowerment: young adult literature, heterotopia and …
6. I know that you’re a huge advocate for female voices in literature. Could you share your writing/reading process and how you ensure female voices are heard?
For me it’s about being aware of sexist tropes and trying to find new ways to tell stories about interesting women. Two examples: in Green Valentine I wanted to look at the Mean Girl trope. It’s one that’s always made me uncomfortable, because labelling popular girls as heinous bitches seems like an easy way of undermining powerful women. So I wanted to write about a girl who gets written off sometimes for being a Mean Girl, when in fact she’s just smart, capable and well-liked. The second example is Ruby in The Boundless Sublime. In my research I read quite a few novels about girls in cults and restrictive religious environments, and nearly all of them were either born into them, or kidnapped. I wanted Ruby to have total agency. I wanted her to choose to join the Institute, and I wanted her to choose to stay. She does some morally questionable things in the book, and I really wanted her to own them, to be wholly responsible for her actions. And when things get bad, there’s no one to rescue her.
7. I am really looking forward to reading the LoveOzYA Anthology which you’re contributing to later on this year! What do you love best about the Australian publishing industry? Any LoveOzYA recs for our readers?
I’m looking forward to reading it too! The LoveOzYA community is just the greatest. It’s like being in a big family, everyone is so friendly and generous. I could recommend books ALL DAY, but some faves from this year are:
Thanks for having me!
Intrigued? You can get more information or purchase The Boundless Sublime here:
Title: The Boundless Sublime
Author: Lili Wilkinson
RRP: $19.99 AUD
Lili Wilkinson can be found at the following places:
You can check out the rest of the blog tour here: