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Miranda Luby’s debut novel has a strong message for teens

A Surf Coast writer preparing for the release of her debut novel has revealed the message she wants to send to teens about the dangers of living out a filtered life on social media.

Telling stories has been a part of Miranda Luby’s life for as long as she can remember.

The Jan Juc author recalls being completely absorbed in The Babysitters Club books as a kid — she would rewrite paragraphs and pass the borrowed words off as her own.

“I’d show Mum and she would be like, ‘Great darling, wonderful writing’, obviously knowing it was copied out of the book,” Miranda laughs. “But for me it was that feeling of knowing that I wanted to tell stories through words, but not having that skill necessarily yet. Of course I did write my own stories then, which were the typical ‘teddy bears come to life and haunt you’ type stories.”

Miranda, who was born in Melbourne but spent most of her childhood in Sydney, continued indulging in her love of writing throughout her teenage years and dreamt of one day making it a career.

Her first taste of life as a published writer began, funnily enough, at the Geelong Advertiser. Miranda made the move south for a role with gt magazine and quickly realised her passion to write was stronger than ever — and working as a lifestyle writer and columnist helped her find her writer’s voice.

“I knew I wanted a career in writing but I always wanted to write fiction,” Miranda says.

“It took a long time to find the confidence to tackle it in a dedicated enough way that gets a book written. Writing a book is a long process so it’s easy to give up half way through.

“I also recognised when I was working as a journalist that my writing that connected most strongly with readers was my columns, my first-person opinion pieces, things I’d noticed in my daily life or in our culture that were interesting or problematic that I thought were worth exploring. I always got a lot of great feedback from people, so that first-person finding-out-about-the-world voice, I realised, was a strong fiction voice.

“I think as journalists, too, you need to be a thinker, thinking about people’s actions and why they do certain things and asking questions of the world and that idea of digging a little bit deeper, so that definitely helped with my writing too.”

Miranda soon created a whole new life for herself after her move, falling in love and losing her heart to the Surf Coast.

“Down here feels more like home than Sydney ever did,” she says.

“I love the ocean. I bodyboard quite a bit, I tried surfing and it’s actually quite difficult but I love being out in the water.

“People ask me if that’s where I come up with all my ideas for writing, but it’s actually the complete opposite. That’s when I don’t have to think about anything and I love that.”

Despite getting her writing fix as a journalist, her desire to pen a novel continued to simmer in the background. She moved on to a job in publicity at Zoos Victoria — and that’s when she decided to commit to it. She was actually going to write a book.

“I’d read books that I enjoy and then sort of try to emulate that,” Miranda says. “But I worked out pretty quickly that just because you read literary fiction, or crime, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to be your strength.

“I started reading a lot of young adult fiction and I think that what a lot of people don’t realise is that most readers of young adult fiction are over 30, that’s the main market. So adults really connect with those coming-of-age stories.

“In terms of figuring out what to write, it was a lot of trial and error and then eventually I decided to write about the things that interest me most and in the most truthful way that I could. I thought when you write that way, if it doesn’t get published it’s still worth writing anyway. You learn about yourself through that writing process.”

I decided to write about the things that interest me most and in the most truthful way that I could. I thought when you write that way, if it doesn’t get published it’s still worth writing anyway.

She had a few false starts, as so many writers do, before she began to zero in on what she wanted her first novel to be. Slowly she developed a storyline and her characters — with Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over taking shape thanks to a dedicated two hours of writing from 5am-7am each morning before she headed off to work.

“For me, it got to the point where not writing would have been a bigger regret than not trying, although I was quite intimidated by the idea of failing,” Miranda says.

“Write something you love so much and care about so much that it almost feels like it doesn’t matter if it’s not published. There’s no way for that to be wrong or a failure.”

Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over explores the dangers of black and white thinking, perfectionism, disordered eating, cancel culture, toxic feminism, and learning to accept yourself and stand up for what you believe in.

In an age of perfectionism — fuelled by social media — Miranda wanted to write a book that could help teenagers find a healthier way to view themselves.

Miranda knows first-hand the freeing feeling of being given an opportunity to start afresh — as a teen her family moved to London for her father’s job and she remembers being told by a friend that it was a chance to “be whoever you want to be now”.

But as Miranda discovered – and so too does her character Sadie – we can never outrun who we truly are.

“We don’t let ourselves be the messy humans we’re always going to be and teens in particular, who are always bombarded with these messages of perfection on social media,” she says.

“So as soon as they’re not the ideal version of themselves they wish they were, there’s a lot of self-criticism.

“That was such a big part of writing it for me and being as honest as possible about the challenges Sadie faces in terms of her thinking. It’s a book that, had I read earlier, would have helped me. In terms of disordered eating, I had a reviewer say that she thinks this is the type of book that can save people’s lives and certainly, if I’m contributing to a conversation around perfectionism that can allow people to see the dangers of it before it goes too far and seek help, that’s job done for me.”

If I’m contributing to a conversation around perfectionism that can allow people to see the dangers of it before it goes too far and seek help, that’s job done for me.

After being short-listed for the Text Prize, Miranda was offered a book deal by Text Publishing, with her debut novel set for release on August 2.

Miranda is already working on her next novel — which was in fact her first attempt, but which she pushed aside in favour of Sadie — and hopes her journey as a published writer is only beginning.

“I’d love to publish a few more books but it takes a lot out of you,” she says. “I don’t want to base my self worth on how many books I’ve had published and if this is the only one, it’s a book that the story was important to tell. I think it might help people, it’s timely and entertaining and funny, so if I don’t publish another book, that will be enough.”

Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over is out with Text Publishing on August 2. You can pre-order online or from your local bookshop now. Miranda will be signing personalised copies at Torquay Books on Saturday, August 6 from 11am-1pm. Follow Miranda on Instagram at @mirandaluby