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Massey Grad JL Pawley Takes Flight with First Novel

Massey grad takes flight with first novel

Her e-books for teens have already attracted over one million readers. She has huge international and local fan-bases. Now Massey University BA and MA graduate Jessica Pawley has just signed off international screen adaptation rights for her just-published science fiction novel Air Born.

Pawley (published as J L Pawley) recently launched her first book – about teens who suddenly grow wings and learn to fly – in Auckland after it was picked up by respected and award-winning New Zealand publisher Steam Press (an imprint of the Eunoia Publishing Group). The Russian and Chinese translation rights have already also been sold – huge markets for the young writer who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Media Studies in 2010, and a Master of Arts in 2017.

Air Born is the first novel of her young adult sci-fi series Generation Icarus, an earlier version of which was self-published through the e-book streaming app Wattpad. Through this site, she cultivated a strong relationship with her fan base – including input and feedback from readers that contributed to the evolution of the series – which saw the creation of fan art, fan fiction, and social media accounts.

The story centres on 17-year-old Tyler Owen, who starts having back pain but doesn’t think it’s a big deal. Then, on his first solo skydive, his wings emerge. Wings that will simultaneously save and destroy his life. Caught on camera, Tyler is an instant viral hit, attracting unwanted attention of the worst kind.

Forced to go on the run, he’s pursued by the sinister Evolutionary Corporation and a dubious religious cult known as the Angelists. But the widespread media coverage also brings forward others like him from around the world. Together they form the Flight – finding out the hard way what it means to be the first of a new species.

An avid reader since childhood – soaking up everything from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series to Terry Pratchett’s bestselling fantasy novels – Pawley’s long-held dream has been to write full-time.

Tuning into teens’ reading tastes

Crediting her first taste of success with being driven, determined, disciplined, and loving what she does, Pawley first completed a Diploma of Creative Writing by distance while still a Year 13 at Westlake Girls High School, and proceeded to a BA at Massey, enrolling in every creative writing paper available.

Her motivation to study literature whilst working on her own writing stemmed from her knowledge and awareness of how competitive the publishing industry is, especially a few years ago when many bookstores and publishers were closing as the popularity of e-books, e-readers and online sales soared.

“I was aware of how difficult it is to get published, and I knew I had to work hard to improve my craft and therefore my chances,” she says.

In 2016, she added to her industry knowledge by researching online interactive e-book platforms (how these online social reading communities are evolving new processes of fiction production and consumption) for her master’s (for which she achieved First Class Honours).

Engaging with teen readers – face-to-face through teaching as well as online – has given her precious insights and guidance in her writing. During a year of teacher aiding at a Hibiscus Coast high school with a class of reluctant readers, she developed a good rapport by finding stories they liked (Harry Potter, theTwilight series), and discussing themes that most appeal to them. Paranormal abilities intertwined with still-relatable stories came out tops, and she proceeded to write the first draft of First Flight (now fully redeveloped and published as Air Born), which went on to be chosen as a featured book on Wattpad in 2014, and won a Bronze Award from Readers Favorite [sic] in 2015.

She even researched the physics and biology of animal flight to create a believable sense of being a winged creature. There is gore and gristle in the sprouting of wings, as well as the thrill of flight. “It’s gritty, painful, and bloody – there’s no magic,” she warns.

And while the plot, setting and characters are deliberately international, she’s woven in New Zealand elements, including a Māori main character, Tui.

Currently immersed in meetings with film producers and busy working to tight deadlines on the television project development as well as honing her next book in the series, she says; “It’s still very surreal.” And real: “I’ve got so much work to do!”

There are book fairs and author interviews in Taiwan and Russia looming. All up, this new writer is flying.

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