Welcome to the Author Spotlight, Kylie and congratulations on the release of your debut novel, ‘Losing Kate’. Can you tell us a little about it please?
Thanks Sarah! It’s been fun!
Losing Kate tells the story of a girl who mysteriously disappears from a deserted beach, and the impact it has on those left behind. It’s the love story of Kate’s two friends at heart, yet, when they meet by chance more than a decade later, it seems the couple can only move forward by finding out what really happened that fateful night. It deals with some heavy themes like friendships forged in youth and the control we have on our own lives, but it is light in tone, and has a distinct Australian voice.
What was your path to publication like?
A short path paved with luck! For me, writing started as a housework avoidance strategy whilst on maternity leave (I have three sons). When things turned serious, I attended a couple of day courses at the Queensland Writers Centre. RWA was recommended as a professional organisation for writers of all genres. I joined and struck gold when I was paired up with the wonderful Lily Malone as a critique partner. She was there from first draft to pitch letter. I sent sample chapters to Random House Australia through their normal submissions process last July. They asked for a full and a few days later I had my first contract. Goes to show that you can get a contract with a major publisher as a un-agented slush-pile dwelling species like myself! A dream run. I’m still pinching myself.
You are a trained Psychologist, how does this help you in your writing?
Well, it doesn’t help my parenting! That’s still hard!
I never was a practicing shrink despite the degrees, but perhaps on some subconscious level it may help when thinking about personality or motivations. I usually have a slightly batty character just to stir things up a bit (there’s a loopy element in everyone if you get to see them in their unguarded moments).
You’re also the only female in a house full of males – three sons, and grew up with two brothers, has being surrounded by males your entire life given you insight into how they think and act? Does this help you to write your male characters?
When I look at my sons wrestling-hello, spear tackling on the couch and producing a cacophony of noise wherever they go, I can’t say I’m any closer to understanding the male of the species!? Having said that, my current WIP has chapters from male pov, and I find them natural to write (and hopefully they come across as authentic), so maybe all that testosterone around me has infiltrated by osmosis.
How important is it for a writer to study the craft of writing?
I am strong believer that increasing industry knowledge is very important – whether it be through writer’s conferences, workshops or informal networks. Understanding basic concepts (even if you chose to ignore them) and what publishers expect can ensure you’re not shooting yourself in the foot. Entering competitions is an excellent way to learn the ropes.
But workshops on how to write are another matter.
When it came to my pitch letter, in an attempt to look less like an untrained amateur, I tried to inflate the one or two courses I completed at QWC (as you do). Yet, soon after, my publisher (the wonderful Bev Cousins) said, in general, she didn’t think much of courses that try to dictate how to be creative. I think I would agree.
I see it a bit like a talent. I can’t sing, dance, draw, or catch a ball to save myself, and all the classes in the world won’t change that. I admit my style doesn’t suit everyone, but I know, even in my darkest moments of self-doubt, that writing comes naturally to me. You can tweak it, improve marginally, hone your craft, but if a person doesn’t have the basics, I think it might be a long and lonely road.
The problem is, there is also an element of luck in this industry, so even a barrage of rejection doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have what it takes. Plenty of lack-lustre stories get told, and plenty of gems sit in drawers and never see the sun. So that uncertainty makes it hard to keep on going, wondering if anyone will have the chance to meet your imaginary friends. What’s important is that you enjoy it anyway.
With a busy family and a day job, how do you make sure that there is time for writing? What is a normal day like for you?
I write when my youngest naps (and the washing mounts). A lot of my writing process is thinking up scenes to prove a point, and I can do that on the train home from work, whilst burning risotto, or watching swimming lessons. When no-one’s watching, I skulk away to my laptop (sometimes in the bathroom so I can’t be found), and purge out the product of the day’s fermented thoughts. It’s not ideal; piecemeal snippets of stolen time. The process lacks any continuity and planning (I can cut a paragraph, defer-world-war-three, and return to find I forgot where I was pasting it). It’s like the sand that falls around the bigger rocks (family/real-work) in the glass-jar of life. But it’s the sand that fills my jar, and puts balance in my life.
You state that you are a recovering chocoholic – how’s that going?
I’m reluctant to report I’ve fallen off the wagon. So very, very far…
What’s your next WIP? Can you tell us about it?
In the tradition of Losing Kate it has a ‘what really happened?’ suspense, but still has a love story as central to the conflict. It’s currently called Unguarded Moments, but my editor has a habit of changing titles on me so that may be temporary (I do trust you Bev!). I don’t know exactly what it is yet (a tad disconcerting 90 thousand in, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise for myself!?). In essence it’s a catalogue of all the raw, unguarded moments the main characters share, and how each impacts on their lives. At least, I think…
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Write what you know, and be yourself. Nothing stinks more than someone trying to be something they’re not. Even if you pull it off for a while, you can’t withstand it for long. Whatever your thing, it has to come across as an authentic voice, not someone trying to wedge their style into the latest trend or emulate someone they admire. Perhaps I’m just not very imaginative, but I feel I can write about relationships and emotions, because I’ve experienced them. I can smell them, taste them, feel them. So there’s a lot of me weaved within the pages of Losing Kate (the downside being it doesn’t leave much of a buffer between me and the reviews…)
As a new writer, still finding my feet, I find it tempting to grasp onto established writers for secrets and tips – the show-don’t-tell, etc. Whilst there is some value in that, I find knee-jerk-over-reactions to advice can swing you off course. It’s a creative industry, and I rely mostly on gut instincts. I love Liane Moriarty, for example, and she breaks all the rules – her work is mostly narrative, not scene driven and adhoc in structure – but it’s pure genius.
So there are no rules (or perhaps there’s one – someone has to enjoy reading it). If it floats your boat, it will probably appeal to others (unless you write about say, The History of Ginger, then you might need a rethink).
Could you give us a sneaky peek at one of your favourite parts of ‘Losing Kate’, please?
This scene plays out in Frankie’s kitchen the day after a drunken nearly-kiss, when Jack (who has a partner…even if she’s not very nice) comes to tell Frankie (the narrator) it can’t happen again…
‘You told me you thought Kate still had a hold on me. Ran my life. What about you, Jack? Sticking with someone wrong for you for too long, out of obligation, fear of how they’ll cope – sound familiar?’
‘What the . . .’ His voice rises, then he checks himself and lowers it. ‘Last night you’re telling me to go home where I belong, now I’m a sucker to stay. Which is it? Pick a bloody side, Frankie.’
‘There’s no side Jack, cause there’s no other option.’
He looks like his chest has taken a bullet, and emotion rises in my throat. His eye starts twitching again. He rubs it away.
‘Isn’t that what you came to tell me, Jack? Well, I get it.’
I walk to the door and hold it open for him. My heart races.
‘Well, glad it’s all so crystal clear to you,’ he says, jumping from the chair.
As he steps closer, a shiver runs the length of me as my mind reaches back to last night. We stood in this very spot. In the dark, in a drunken tussle, and I want to be back there. For once in my life, to do what I want, not what I should.
He lingers, looking out into the darkness, both of us fuming. I want the world to shrink away, to grab him, pull him close, wrap my mouth around his.
To scream pick me.
I’m your other option!
He stops at the top step, closes his eyes as he exhales.
I can’t breathe. He turns, strokes my face, the tip of his finger grazing my cheekbone, my chin. My hand covers his palm, pressing on my face. He strokes it with his thumb. I want to push his hand lower, down my chest, waist, to ease the burning in my thighs.
But I don’t.
I breathe him in, savour him, as he drops his hand and walks away.
All the while knowing this is as close as I am ever gonna get.
Free sample chapters of Losing Kate
Kylie is kindly giving away one print copy of ‘Losing Kate’. All you need to do to be in the running to win is answer the following question in the comments section:
Think of your true friendships. How many were forged in youth?
This competition is open to Australian residents only and will be drawn on April 8th. The winner will be notified by email.