Author Talks with ‘Katrina Nannestad’

Katrina Nannestad is an Australian Children’s Author who spent a number of years of her childhood in Wagga. She is a multi-award winning writer and is pictured here with her beautiful pup.
📸 by Rebecca Rock

Hello Katrina and a warm welcome to melreviewsherbooks! It is an absolute pleasure to have such a talented and articulate children’s writer such as yourself featuring on my ‘Author Talks’. Katrina is the author of over 10 published children’s novels and we will be talking about two of her recent historical releases in this interview, those being ‘We Are Wolves’ and ‘Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief’.

Katrina, congratulations to begin with on having your novel, We Are Wolves, awarded the winner of ARA’s Historical Children and Young Adult Novel of 2021, winner of the Book Links Award for Children’s Historical Fiction 2021, and winner of the ABDA’s Best Designed Children’s Fiction Book of 2021. Wow – when writing We Are Wolves, did you know you were onto something big?
I really enjoyed writing We Are Wolves. I found the research fascinating and fell in love with my characters as I wrote their story. But I wasn’t quite sure whether or not I’d created something worthwhile until my agent and publisher had read it. Their response and that of the early readers was encouraging. But still, I was most anxious to learn what young readers thought of the story. Once I got the thumbs up from my target audience, I was able to relax and get excited about writing further historical fiction.

Did you follow the same planning, research and writing process for Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief as you did with We Are Wolves? If not, how was it different?
Yes, it was a similar process. I began by doing some reading around the topic before deciding what form my story might take. I spent some time developing my main characters, then took them with me – holding their imaginary hands – as I continued my research. Their presence helped bring the facts, the details and the big historic events alive, and helped me to decide what was relevant to their journey. Finally, I refined my plan and got writing.
But of course, the process is not quite so linear as that. There’s a lot of scrambling back and forth between all the steps, and extra research takes place right through to the very end.

World War II is known as such a dark, emotive and traumatic time in our world history. What has inspired you to write two novels set in this time period?
I stumbled across the story of the Wolfskinder (We Are Wolves) by accident. I hadn’t planned to write a war story, but what I read about these children amazed me – that they survived on their own in a hostile environment, sometimes for years after the war. I was also surprised that I’d never heard of these children before. I thought perhaps others were unaware of the Wolfskinder, too, in which case it would be meaningful story to tell.
I really enjoyed the challenge of writing We Are Wolves, and the response of readers was positive, so I was keen to attempt a second war novel. Again, with Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief, I have tried to share a lesser-known aspect of the Second World War.
I think it’s really important that young people are aware of the events that have shaped our world, and many are keen to explore big issues. Historical fiction allows them to discover these stories in a format that is accessible – interesting and age-appropriate.

In Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief, Sasha is a 6-year-old boy thrown into a war-torn and violent journey that will shape him forever. How do you ‘get into character’ per-say and write from the perspective of a young male child?
I always try to live in the story with my main character, whether I’m writing comedy, mystery, adventure or history. It’s the way I work, and I don’t really know any other way to do it. I can’t dip in and out. I need to be emotionally involved, to feel like the characters and setting and events are real.
I had to do a lot of research for Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief, because I knew so little of the war from the Soviet point of view. My head became filled with details about Russian village life, the sufferings of the Soviet people, the Red Army, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the westward advance all the way to Berlin. But the thing that was most helpful in gaining an understanding of how a child might experience these events, was Svetlana Alexievich’s book, Last Witnesses: Unchildlike Stories. This book records Soviet people’s personal accounts of what they experienced as children during the Great Patriotic War (the Second World War). I have never been so affected by a book in my life.

My goodness Katrina, I have to admit, the last line of this novel broke me! Did you always know how Sasha’s story would end at the beginning of your writing process?
I had a fair idea of how it would end but played a lot with those last lines so they’d have maximum impact.
As I got towards the end of the story, I did consider a different conclusion. I actually wrote two endings, but my original idea won out!

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Katrina for joining me on ‘Author Talks’! It has been an absolute pleasure 💐 What’s next for you?

I am currently writing my third historical novel. It’s also set during the Second World War and tells the story of a little Polish girl. More will be revealed later!
At the same time, I am writing a lighter adventure series for younger readers (7-10-year-olds) called The Travelling Bookshop. Book 1 is out now and I’ve written the next two. You can take a peek at books 1 and 2 at www.harpercollins.com.au/cr-110017/katrina-nannestad/ 📚
This year has been very quiet, of course, but I have some lovely bookish adventures penned into my 2022 diary already – writers’ festivals and school visits. I can’t wait to be out and about once again, sharing the delights of reading and writing and daydreaming with fellow enthusiasts.

You can find a number of Katrina’s books at Collins Booksellers Wagga Wagga online or in person.

For more information on Katrina and her books, you can visit her website, Facebook and Instagram 📚

Author Talks with ‘Sandie Docker’

Sandie Docker is Australian Contemporary Women’s Author. She is the author of four novels with Penguin Books Australia and has two more on the way. Her latest novel ‘The Wattle Island Book Club’ was released on the 31st of August 2021.

Sandie Docker is Australian Contemporary Women’s Author signed and published with Penguin Books Australia. She grew up in Coffs Harbour and now resides in Sydney with her family. Her debut novel, ‘The Kookaburra Creek Cafe’ was published in 2018 with great success. Her second and third novels closely followed, those being ‘The Cottage at Rosella Cove’ in 2019 and ‘The Banksia Bay Beach Shack’ in 2020. We now celebrate ‘The Wattle Island Book Club’ as it was published and released on the 31st of August 2021.

Hi Sandie! Thank you so much for joining me and taking the time to answer my questions during your busy virtual book touring for ‘The Wattle Island Book Club’. Congratulations and welcome!

Sandie – look at you! A successful Australian Author published four times with Penguin Australia! Tell me, where did your initial love and development for reading, storytelling and writing come from?

Whodda thunk, right? Four books in and more coming. I feel so lucky. I was a bit slow to reading/writing game, unlike most authors who seem to either have written their first book when they were 7, or emerged from the womb reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. As a child, I hated reading. Yep. It’s true. I couldn’t think of anything more boring to do with my time. But my dad was an avid reader across many genres and when I was in my late teens, he put a fantasy novel in my hands, Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings, and said, ‘just give it a go.’ Wanting to please my dad, I did give it a go and I was hooked. Why hadn’t anyone told me before that, that book could transport you to another world and the characters within the pages could feel like friends? From then on I read every fantasy novel I could get my hands on, and then when I was doing the HSC I was introduced to Jane Austen and my love of women’s fiction was born. But it wasn’t until I was at uni that I even thought about becoming a writer. My Mandarin lecturer suggested I had a knack for writing, and I sat with that advice for a long time before I tried to write my first manuscript. That first manuscript, which was an abject disaster, was when I fell in love with writing. And it was twelve years later before my first novel was published

What inspired you to write about all things book clubs, reading lists, art and islands in your latest book, The Wattle Island Book Club?

I was on tour with my first novel, The Kookaburra Creek Café, when I was chatting after an event with the librarian at Port Macquarie library, Leanne, and she mentioned sending over book club sets to Lord Howe Island on the supply boat, and I was like, an island book club – there’s something in that. So that was the spark of the idea. And as I wrote the story – because I don’t plan anything – the story and characters told me where to take them and the bucket lists and art themes came out then.

Your novels always feel like a warm and familiar hug to me. What are your favourite character qualities, experiences or perspectives to write?

Awww, thank you. That means a lot to me. Hmmm, I’m not sure if there are specifics here, more just anything or anyone with heart. I hope my characters aren’t too perfect, because none of us are, so a flawed character is relatable, and you don’t have to look very far to find heart-wrenching experiences to draw on for your characters’ lives. Again, experiences that are relatable – something you or someone you know could have been through. And as for perspective, whether I write female or male POV (point of view), young or old, or even through letters (Ivy in The Cottage At Rosella Cove), it’s the story telling me how it wants to be written that dictates this. Though I’ll always have predominantly female POV, as I write women’s fiction.

I have loved all four of your novels (and dream of more and more to come!). I have happily followed online and instore as each has been released and absorbed by the world of Aussie readers. Have your writing, drafting, publishing and touring experiences been different for all four of your books?

Thank you. You’ll be pleased to know that I have another 2 book contracted! The short answer is yes, vastly different each time! The Kookaburra Creek Café and The Cottage At Rosella Cove were both finished manuscripts before I signed a publishing contract, so they took forever to write (5 and 3 years respectively). Then I was contracted and with that comes deadlines. So The Banksia Bay Beach Shack and The Wattle Island Book Club were written (first draft before the editing process) in about 5 months.

Publishing with Penguin has been a dream, but I have worked with different editors and that brings a different dynamic each time. And as for touring – my first tour was definitely nerve-wracking, my second was bigger, my third got scuttled by COVID and everything moved online, and I’m waiting to see what happens this year with my tour and COVID. Through it all though, the joy of readers finding your work and connecting with you is just the most wonderful experience.

I’ve got a tricky and fun question for you! We are set to see The Wattle Island Book Club hit shelves on the 31st of August this year. If you were a bookseller, how would you recommend, suggest and sell your book to readers?

Is it bad for me to admit that I actually did this once? I was in a store, saw someone pick up my book and read the blurb, and leaned over and said ‘Oh, I can highly recommend that one.’ I did end up telling her I was the author, so it was full disclosure in the end. And she did buy it!

If I was legitimately recommending it in a book store, I would say something like, if you want a read that’s going to rip your heart out and then put it back together, with a wonderful cast of fun , warm characters, all set on an island with a book club theme, then this is the book for you.

Thank you so much for your time Sandie! It’s been an absolute pleasure and such a fangirl moment conversing with you 😍 All four of Sandie’s novels are available and linked to purchase at your convenience from my local bookshop 📚

Author Talks with ‘Averil Kenny’

Averil Kenny is an Australian Author based in far north Queensland. Her debut novel ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’ was published in March 2021.

Averil Kenny is an Australian Author based in Northern Queensland. Her debut book ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’ was published in March 2021 by Bonnier Echo and Allen & Unwin Australia.

Hi Averil! Thank you so much for being my first ‘Author Talks’ feature on my new Book Blog! Welcome!

Hello, Mel! Thank you so much for this fabulous opportunity to chat about my first novel, Those Hamilton Sisters. I remember your lovely review in the early days of publication, and I’m forever thankful for your warm and enthusiastic response. It is very daunting launching your first book into the world, and readers & booksellers like you make the transition from writer to debut author such a joy! 

How does it feel to be a published Australian Author? Tell us about your book journey. 

I first decided I had to be an author at five years of age, and I pursued that goal devotedly right through school, university, work in the tourism industry, and the arrival of four children, until I finally accomplished it on my 41st birthday. My aim had been to be published by my 40th birthday, so I think I did all right!  

To be perfectly honest, it’s still hasn’t truly sunk in. (Please don’t pinch me, I don’t want to wake up.) I think some of the surrealness owes to my regional location in Far North Queensland (FNQ). I am very removed from the ‘publishing world’ here – and I haven’t yet been able to meet my publisher and agent in person, nor any of the amazing and talented people who worked on my novel. Add to this the varying COVID restrictions of 2020/21, and it can feel very isolating as a regional author. Thankfully, we have the wonders of modern technology so the whole publishing and publicity process has been incredible, with so many opportunities thrown open to me. Walking into a local bookstore and seeing my novel on the shelf was the dream come true and every bit as magical as I imagined it would be. I was on a shining high for several weeks as readers and booksellers were sending photos of my novel in stores all over the country! That meant the world to me all the way up here.

Those Hamilton Sisters’ was a standout Australian fiction from the get go for me. I found myself immersed in the environment of northern Queensland, the sugar canes, the humidity, small town drama and gossip. Why did you choose this setting and when did Sonnet, Fable and Plums’ story come to you?

Having lived in the lush tropics since I was 8 years old, there was no place I’d rather write about! I still remember being utterly enchanted by this place upon my arrival from the South Coast of New South Wales, and I haven’t lost that sense of wonder since. It really is a place of such immense natural beauty and danger, amazing colour and quirkiness – like another world! Given how long I’ve lived here, and how much I adore the area, I knew I’d be able to bring this region to vivid life for readers. I worked in tourism for many years, guiding international tourists around the region, so I have an appreciation for how North Queensland is marvelled at through the eyes of visitors. I also have a deeply personal understanding of the way our tropical weather and environment shapes us and informs our daily lives. I have often said that the landscape of FNQ is a major character in the novel itself – playing its own crucial role in the plot, and acting upon each of the main characters. 

Sonnet, Fable and Novella (called ‘Plum’) were suddenly ‘given’ to me by their mother, Esther Hamilton, when I was still a new mother myself. I felt very strongly that I was being asked to take care of these three, beautiful red-haired sisters, and the story seemed to take off from there. I just sat down, holding my newborn baby girl in my arms, and began to write out the first chapter in a hardcover journal. From then on, over many years, I let the girls lead me in their growing up. Although I knew the ultimate ending already, I was open to whatever direction Sonnet, Fable and Plum wanted to take. 

I really enjoyed reading from Sonnet’s perspective. She’s headstrong, protective, determined and forward around her family and in the community, but deep down she’s so soft-hearted and empathic. Which character perspective was your favourite to write?

Choosing a favourite character is like choosing a favourite child. (Isn’t it whichever child is best behaved that day? Haha!) In truth, I loved and empathised most with whomever I was writing at a given time. The chapters alternate between perspectives, so I would go constantly between the two older sisters – Sonnet and Fable. I sometimes felt the characters influenced my life, and not the other way around. When I was writing Sonnet, I would become more assertive and headstrong, more like a mama bear with her cubs. Writing Sonnet made me feel powerful, capable and strong. Writing Fable, on the other hand, put me most in touch with my creativity. I always say, Fable has my dreamer’s heart. When writing Fable, I was channelling that part of me which swoons at natural beauty; believes in the ephemeral; finds endless inspiration in the lush rainforest; and embodies girlish love and longing. Plum plays a much smaller part in the story, partly because we first meet her as a very young child, but this was also a decision made for brevity, the novel being already so large at over 450 pages. I was always maternal towards Plum, she felt more like my daughter, whereas Sonnet and Fable felt like my sisters, and became my dear friends.   

How long did it take you to write ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’? Did your initial draft and story bone structure change incredibly from then to now?

It took me approximately 15 years from when the beating heart of the story first revealed itself to me – when I was an expectant mother, living in a tiny villa overlooking sugarcane fields – to when it was published, in April 2021. The opening chapter remains largely the same as when I first sat down to pen it many years ago, newborn baby in arms. I was very much a ‘pantser’ in writing this novel, which allowed Sonnet, Fable and Plum to direct the story. I knew the ultimate ending of the novel from the very beginning, but not how we would get there. This worked in a ‘coming of age’ story, as it allowed the sisters’ lives to unfold organically. I loved that they had so much agency in the telling of their own stories. 

My manuscript, when first finished, was about 160,000 words – far too long for commercial fiction. I worked steadily to bring this closer to a publishable state, over several years. At the start of 2020, I had a wonderful freelance editor – Alexandra Nahlous – take my manuscript on. Alex helped me to see how I could further reduce my novel to a commercially viable size, which was crucial to my success. Part of this entailed cutting Plum’s portion in the novel right down. This filled me with sadness at the time, but was unquestionably the best choice for the story as it stands today. My Beta Readers had all expressed some measure of frustration at having to cut away from the perspectives of Sonnet and Fable to that of a very young Plum. A child’s perspective didn’t fit well in my narrative and plot. Plum’s growing up, cut out, will remain a novella – boom tish – for me to cherish and keep.     

I was aiming to self-publish my novel on my 40th birthday, in March 2020. My editor was key in encouraging me to approach a literary agent instead. I was incredibly lucky then to be taken on by stellar literary agent, Selwa Anthony, and when we first went out on submission, Echo Publishing and Bonnier Books UK offered me a two-book deal. Squeal!

Oh Averil… When is your next novel coming? I’m desperate and need to know just a peek of what it may be about, is this something you can share with us? 

I am currently in the throes of a structural edit on my second novel, which is coming in 2022. I can tell you it is historical fiction set in a magnificent part of Far North Queensland in 1958, and features gutsy, spirited women solving a dark mystery together. Whereas ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’ dealt with small town judgement, my second novel centres on community spirit and camaraderie. It is a novel about strong female friendship, love, juicy family dynamics, going after your own happiness, and most of all: courage found in deep waters. My second novel has more thriller elements than the first, which I really enjoyed tackling. It is a stand-alone novel; with a whole new cast of colourful characters that I hope you’ll love!

Thank you so much for your time Averil! Those Hamilton Sistersis available via the links provided within our discussion. All links are connected to my local bookshop 📚