Will’s first third

Award winning young author Will Kostakis has two novels behind him at the age of 24 - he credits his grandparents for his love of the written word.

When Sydney based author William Kostakis won The Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year award for a series of short stories – at the tender age of 16 – his yiayia was late to the ceremony. Why? She had to cook a leg of lamb.
“Just in case Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax ran out of food,” William starts with a laugh.
Before he even finished high school, Will had pitched a story, faced rejection more than once, won the best young writer award, and had his first novel published.
Now 24, he is an award winning author for young adults, with two novels behind him. The award he received in Year One for excellence in creative writing – that today seems absurd to him “who can be excellent in creative writing at that age”, he throws in – seems to have heralded his path.
Will’s Greek heritage sometimes filters into his work, in a rather surprising manner for a young second generation Greek Australian. It is the unique bond with his maternal grandparents that Will credits for taking up writing.
A Media and Communications degree holder, part-time journalist and currently full time writer, Will says there were no writers in the family he inherited his talent from.
But undoubtedly it was his yiayia and pappou who fed him with a love for letters.
“My yiayia and pappou always used to put a pen and paper in my hand,” he explains.
“They grew up in Greece, at a time when their lives were interrupted by WWII, so they never really went to school. When they came to Australia, the only thing they wanted for their children was to be literate,” he says.
A story that runs through the family circle, and is still vivid in Will’s mother memories, confirms this. Whenever a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman would knock on the door, pappou was their first customer.
“My mum has memories of pappou buying those old world book encyclopaedias, that she was bored to read, but he would just force her to read them.
“That’s something that carried over when my mum had kids. I have memories of my grandfather going up to the newsagency to buy me a pen and paper because he always knew I liked to write and draw. They just noticed something in me and kept pushing me.”
With support from family and school teachers, Will signed his first book deal while still in Year 12. His debut novel, Loathing Lola, was released during his second year of university, when he was just 19.
Loathing Lola follows the exploits of Australia’s teenaged reality TV star, dealing humorously with bias in the media, concerns of image and perception.
“Whenever I write, my Greek heritage sorts of leaks in. I am really interested in family and the only family I know is this loud, potent, foodcentric family. Even though Loathing Lola was about reality TV and the media, I still made one of my characters half-Greek, just so I have an excuse to put all of that stuff in it,” says Will.
In 2010, Will’s debut novel was shortlisted for the Sakura Medal (Older Readers) in Japan, and made the official selection for the Australian government’s 2010 Get Reading! program.
Apart from touring high schools nationally and talking to students, this year Will has been promoting his sophomore novel, The First Third, published in July by Penguin Books Australia.
The book, aimed at readers in Year 9 and above, is an intimate portrait of a broken Greek Australian family and the boy tasked with repairing it.
“Life is made up of three parts: in The First Third, you’re embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you’ve made,” Will writes.
Billy, a Greek Australian grandson and the book’s protagonist, is given yiayia’s bucket list.
“Going into my second book , I asked myself – if this was my last book, what story do I have to tell? And I kept coming back to family. I wanted to tell a large inter-generational story but also a small intimate one.
And for Will, coming up with ideas always means asking what his biggest fear is. For example, yiayia passing away.
“My parents split up when I was quite young, so my yiayia really stepped up to raise us. What would it be like losing her? The middle ground I took, to avoid a depressing story, was – what would your yiayia’s bucket list be? It wouldn’t be your typical Anglo-Saxon bucket list; it would be more like ‘make sure that your mother gets married’, and things like that.”
What if a 17-year-old has to complete his grandmother’s dying wishes? What if the wishes are really inappropriate dying wishes? From that idea, out grew the novel about mortality, identity, family; about what it means to be a grandson, a son and yourself.
The novel is not a biographical one, but there is a lot of Will in there, the young author admits. His connection with yiayia may be an unusual one for your average teenager. Will talks to his grandmother on a daily basis and as a Greek yiayia, she drives across Sydney to bring him food.
“It’s the only sort of grandparent that I know. This is the only experience as a grandchild that I can relate to.”
Writing young adult books, in a strong Australian young adult market with names like Melina Marchetta and Gabrielle Williams, is what fulfils Will Kostakis. But there is the other side, giving talks to Australian high school students, that inspires him. And with the stories featuring yiayia, you can never go wrong.
The First Third, by Will Kostakis, is available in paperback at your local bookstore and online, at www.penguin.com.au and other online booksellers.