An interview with Kate Constable

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Kate Constable is the Australian author of numerous fantasy novels for teenagers, as well as two novels in the Girlfriend Fiction series, and her latest novel, Cicada Summer, a fantasy for younger readers. She dropped in to Hey, Teenager of the Year for a glass of red cordial, a slice of fairy bread and a chat about her books and random snippets of trivia (well, not really, but I bet she likes red cordial).

You can find out more about Kate and her books on her website, or check out her blog.

1. List the books you've written. Which one are you most proud of? Which was the hardest to write?

The Chanters of Tremaris trilogy:
The Singer of All Songs
The Waterless Sea
The Tenth Power
The Taste of Lightning (a stand-alone Tremaris book)
Always Mackenzie (Girlfriend Fiction)
Winter of Grace (Girlfriend Fiction)
Cicada Summer (just released; a fantasy for younger readers)

Cicada Summer was probably the hardest, even though it's the shortest! It took me a year to write the first version and when I took it to Allen & Unwin, I said "It's a mess, isn't it," and they just looked at me sadly and said, "Yes. Yes, it is." So I chopped out a lot of the unnecessary bits and completely rewrote it and it's now a much better book.

The one I'm proudest of is one that isn't on the list because it isn't published (yet, though I hope it will be). It's tentativey titled Crow Country, and it's a fantasy set in Australia, which I found very hard to write also -- I had three stabs at it before I found the shape and story I wanted. And now I'm very pleased with it, I think it's some of the best writing I've done. I really wanted to infuse the Australian landscape with some of the magic that people seemed to respond to in the Tremaris books, but grounding it in my own country, and I hope I've managed to do that.

2. What three words would you use to describe yourself? (Don't use the words 'nice', 'pretty' or 'good' (because your Grade Six teacher will read this and be very disappointed)

Shy, wry, methodical

3. Complete this sentence: My teenage years were....

... a haze of self-doubt, bad hair, bad skin and secret longings.

4. Have you always wanted to write for young people? Or did you set out to become a brain surgeon and wind up stumbling down this path? Was the road to publication rocky for you?

The road was long, but not rocky. I knew when I was eight that I wanted to be a writer and I stuck to that until I left school, when for some deluded reason I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer, probably because half my friends were doing law too (some of them actually became lawyers, unlike me.) So that derailed me for a few years.
By the time I figured out law wasn't for me, I had a job in a record company (records are what came before cassettes, before CDs, before iTunes... oh never mind...) and I stuck to that for years because I could do the work while I was thinking about my writing. I did phone sales and reception and admin jobs, and wrote part time. I did that for about ten years.
I had some short stories published and toiled away at (adult) novels, none of which were published, until someone advised me to try writing something completely different. Then I thought, blow it (or words to that effect), just for fun, I'll try a fantasy. I didn't even know what YA was. But writing the book that became The Singer of All Songs was such pure pleasure, I never wanted to go back to writing for adults. Singer was picked up and published quite quickly, and that coincided with having my first baby, so I was able to give up the record company and write full time. It was a dream run, really, I've been very lucky.

5. Who were your biggest inspirations and idols growing up and today?
I always feel very unprepared for this question! I don't know really. When I was young, a handful of wonderful English and History teachers. Carl Sagan, who opened my eyes to the wonders of the universe. In my second year at uni, I saw a film about the psychiatrist and thinker Carl Jung, which blew my mind apart. Seeing that film was the single most valuable experience I took away from all my years at university. Needless to say, it had nothing to do with any of my courses!

Today, I am in awe of my husband, who can do maths; my elder daughter, who can invent fabulous objects; and my younger daughter, who can sing. Lucky sods.

6. Who are your favourite authors and what novels do you love best?

Changes all the time, and too many to list, but a random fave five might be Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love; LM Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables; Helen Garner, The Spare Room; Antonia Forest, Peter's Room; Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.

7. If you were in a novel (any one you've read), who would you be?

Hermione Granger. Or Rosamund in The Millstone, by Margaret Drabble. I was about 14 when I read it and it was the first time I'd felt immediate, total and utter identification with a character. (Apart from the part where she accidentally gets pregnant and has the baby by herself. Otherwise she is ME.)

8. Did you have an imaginary friend as a child? (Or today? Don't worry; we won't call the men in white coats on you)

Not an imaginary friend as such, but I did have an alter ego. I would tell myself stories about her every night before I fell asleep. I started doing this when I was around four and I still do it, sometimes. She started out as a princess (of course!) and became all kinds of other things, including a telepath, a time-traveller and a revolutionary. One of the hardest things I ever did was try to give up this habit when I was about eighteen, because I decided it was time I lived in the real world, not inside my head. But it was nearly impossible. It made me a writer, but I reckon it also made me slightly weird... It was worth it!

9. Complete this sentence: My life outside of writing is...

... chaotic, exhausting, crammed with children, food-wrangling, washing, reading, champagne, love and football.

10. If you were a superhero, what would be your name, power and costume?

I have a good memory for useless trivia so I would probably be Triviana, able to unearth obscure facts quicker than the speed of light. My costume would be a cape made of the leather bindings of old editions of Encyclopedia Britannica, with iridescent wings underneath, and big googly spectacles. (Google-y, that was an accident, ha ha.)

11. Xena Warrior Princess or Sabrina the Teenage Witch?

I always identified with Xena's femme friend Gabrielle, actually... not I ever watched it...much...

12. Have you read Twilight? Did you enjoy it? Do you secretly believe your own books are better? (I know you do, don't try to lie…)

I haven't read Twilight, but I've read such a lot about it, I feel as if I have. I suspect I would have loved them when I was growing up. But they're not written for the person I am now, so in a way it would be unfair for me to go there now and judge. (Did I wriggle out of that one?)

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