I first met author Kirsten Krauth a few years ago via her blog Wild Colonial Girl. She had moved from Sydney to Castlemaine, Victoria, and was eager to connect with other ‘treechange’ bloggers.
We soon discovered that we had more than distance to the Big Smoke in common – as the editor of Newswrite, the newsletter for the NSW Writers’ Centre, Kirsten’s work lobbed into my mailbox every month! (If you are an aspiring writer and you haven’t joined your state writing centre, I heartily recommend that you do so.)
This week, she launched her first novel just_a_girl, and I invited her to the Fibro to share her thoughts on writing a teenage voice (in an adult novel), whether being so immersed in the publishing world is inspiring or intimidating for her, and why she chose to go with a traditional publisher.
Given that key voice in your novel is teenage girl, why is this book published as ‘adult fiction’ rather than YA?
Kirsten Krauth: “When I was writing just_a_girl, I never really thought about the final readership or the genre of the book. I guess, starting out, I was just enjoying exploring characters and seeing where they took me, and revelling in the chance to play with language. As I started to redraft and realised that perhaps I had a chance of publication, it was important to me that it was an adult novel. I wanted the freedom to be able to put a 14-year-old girl (Layla) in some challenging situations, to explore her sexuality, without censoring myself.
There are also two other characters in the book, Margot (Layla’s mother) and Tadashi (a Japanese-Australian man she encounters on the train). Their narratives are quite adult in theme: Margot is in an evangelical church, battling ongoing depression; Tadashi, too shy to initiate relationships, purchases a love doll to talk to. UWA Publishing were terrific in that they understood that it was a contemporary adult novel immediately – but this doesn’t mean YA readers and teens won’t be interested in reading it.”
What were the biggest challenges in using a teen voice as the key voice?
KK: “The teen voice was the one that came most naturally to me and it was always going to be the main narrative voice. I think teenagers are full of contradictions and this can be challenging to relay because the narration can jump from one opinion to another that doesn’t quite match. Also, Layla is quite precocious in many respects. I understand that as I was like that myself.
There is a lot of diversity when it comes to girls around 14 years. Some are keen to have quite adult relationships, others still want fluffy toys on their beds; many fall in between. I wanted to explore what it’s like to be a teenage girl today – with the impact of digital technologies, how many are exploring and experimenting with sexuality in a world where the public/private divide is being eroded. The challenge is doing that in a way that doesn’t patronise or talk down to girls, and yet looks at some of the issues.”
Do you find your work as editor of the NSW Writer’s Centre newsletter and reviewer of books for various publications to be inspiring or intimidating?
KK: “Inspiring! Editing Newswrite is the perfect job for me right now. Commissioning authors to write articles on all aspects of writing and publishing is enormously helpful when you are embarking on your own writing career at the same time. Often as I edit the articles I have noted down tips and advice (from how to do in-depth research to how to write a love poem!). We also have a regular column, Writer on Writer, where authors choose the writer who has had the most powerful impact on them. I love these kind of articles and my favourites have been Benjamin Law on Zadie Smith and Emily Maguire on Graham Greene (there have been many others!).
“I only recently did my first book reviews for Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian and, while I have been freelance writing for 15 years (and blogging on books too), I was a bit daunted. I spent a long time writing those reviews, and I got someone to double check the tone. But it’s such a rush to see your articles in the paper. I recently saw James Wood speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and I’d give anything to be a full-time literary critic (writing novels too, of course).”
Given your submersion in the publishing world, what made you choose to go with a ‘traditional’ publisher rather than self-publishing your book?
KK: “This is a great question. I actually had made a deal with myself. I would try for two years to get the manuscript published and if that didn’t pan out, I would go the self-publishing route. Really, I wanted to hold the book in my hand. I am passionate about books and, while I’m quite happy in the digital sphere and will read ebooks too, I wanted to see my work in book format, with a cover; something I could hold.
“I was lucky that Teri-ann White at UWA Publishing read a few versions of the novel, saw its potential, kept encouraging me while I fleshed it out, and then was keen to publish … UWAP have always been terrific in promoting the work of new writers, and are not afraid to experiment a bit and take risks (increasingly rare in traditional publishing these days).
“It was also really important to me, as an editor, to go through the editing process with someone else. I saw myself as a beginner (this was my first novel) and I wanted to learn more about structure and characterisation in particular, and going through an edit with a publisher gives you a crash course in that…It’s also good to have someone help you with the marketing and promoting process.”
Do you think it’s important for an author to utilise social media? Is it something you enjoy?
KK: “Increasingly the pressure is on authors to promote their own work and most will take this on, because they want to sell their books! Sometimes I find it fun, other times it is hard slog. I blog at Wild Colonial Girl and I’ve really enjoyed that because I tend to write about various subjects (film, TV, motherhood, other writers, books I’ve loved, digital space, writing mothers series). I think if the blog was just about promoting my book and writing, I would find it exhausting and dull after a while (that said, this month, as my novel has just been published, that WILL be the focus).
“I think Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, all have their place, but as a mum of two small kids, more and more I feel like I want to focus on one thing at a time, and not be continually distracted. So I’ve banned myself from social media when I’m looking after my children, and try to do it all on my working days (which, of course, means limited time).
“The best thing about social media and blogging is the connections you make with other people. The comments on my blog posts have always been positive and often profound, and it thrills me to find out what other people are thinking about certain issues, to connect with people who still love to read, and even meet those people in the flesh and form lasting friendships.”