UQP Writer's Room: Kate Gordon
Why did you start writing?
I guess I always wrote stories, from the moment I worked out how to make words! I was a huge reader as a kid and it just seemed a natural extension to make stories of my own. And my dad writes stories, too, and wrote stories for me when I was little – it was modelled to me as a very normal thing for people to do!
How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?
I think I’ve only really decided in the past couple of years. My first few YA books were sort of 'accidental', responding to what people were asking / telling me to write. I feel like it’s only recently that I’ve worked out that I really like writing quiet, poetic and slightly dark books for middle grade. I feel like I’ve finally found my groove.
Where was your inspiration for your latest work?
The Midlands of Tasmania. I really love my little island and am particularly fascinated by the vast expanse of beautiful space in the middle of it all. I’m also deeply fascinated with crows. And there was a small girl called Wonder, who insisted to me that her story be told.
How do you get started with a new project?
Oh, it usually starts itself! I’m very character-focussed, and the protagonist always comes to me first. They tell me their name and something about themselves, and then I just … start to write what happens to them! Which all sounds very 'spirit fingers' but it’s not – it’s just my imagination and subconscious doing their job!
Do you have a routine? What tools do you use?
I kind of did have a routine, before 2020 …
I write full time, and only during the hours when my daughter is at school – I don’t write on weekends or after school. I’m 'hers' during that time. So, pre-2020, I would just sit down and work between maybe 9:30 and 1:30? And then I’d just 'down tools' (laptop), until the next day!
This year has been all over the shop and, honestly, it’s done weird things to my creativity. I have enormous bursts of energy and periods of doing not a lot. But now that my kid is back at school, I’m trying to do work hours again. I find, though, that the stories that are coming to me are a lot weirder. I think my imagination has kind of gone into anxiety hyperdrive!
How do you handle writer’s block?
Knock on wood, I’ve never had it. I’m sure it will come. I have brief periods (see above) of feeling listless or unmotivated, but they pass. I just read a bunch during those times, because that’s still working. Or I move on to something else until I get my mojo back. But it’s usually more that I’m a bit burned out, rather than being creatively blocked!
How important is research in the writing you do?
It’s surprisingly quite important! I’m writing a historical timeslip book at the moment, about whaling in Tasmania – that’s requiring a bunch of (fascinating) research. And the sequel to The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn, The Ballad of Melodie Rose (out in 2021) actually, surprisingly, took a lot because Melodie is obsessed with facts. I learned all sorts of interesting things about animals working on that one! For The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn I mostly learned about crows. I loved doing that. I’m very haphazard in my processes and I tend to research as I go rather than before I start. I love going down rabbit holes.
How much planning is required when it comes to structuring one of your books?
Haha! I don’t plan at all unless I’m forced to. And when I am told I need a plan, I write it under duress and then throw most of it out when drafting. I’m very rarely rebellious, but I do a fair amount of grumbling when writing chapter breakdowns! It always comes back to bite me in the editing process, though!
What’s the editing process like?
See above! I actually really love it, though. It’s like putting a puzzle back together, or untangling knotted wool. I’m very lucky to have amazing editors who seem to know all the ways to untie knots and who are very patient with me!
How did you come to be published?
By accident! I was working as a school librarian and doing a Graduate Diploma in Literary Studies, to learn more about the books the kids were reading. I enrolled in a creative writing unit 'just for fun' and ended up (accidentally) writing a whole manuscript instead of a short story. I loved doing it and found myself desperate for another “excuse” to work on my writing again, so I sent the story to Varuna, who offered me a fellowship. On the back of that, I was contacted by my first, wonderful (sadly, retired), agent, who took me on and introduced me to my first publisher, who asked me to write the last book in a series they were producing. And so the ball rolled on and on and when my agent retired she introduced me to my new, wonderful agent and – aside from four years off to be a full-time mum – I’ve never looked back.
Social media – like it or loathe it?
Loathe it. I get horrible anxiety just thinking about it. But there are some beautiful people I’ve 'met' in the Twitter AusWrites community who make it bearable. I would quit entirely if it wasn’t for them.
How do you handle the reviews?
I … don’t. I only ever look if someone sends me something with the subject line 'THIS IS A GOOD REVIEW'. Every review I’ve read of Wonder Quinn has been sent by the exceptional Jean, who is the senior publicist at UQP, or one of my friends. And still I have to take a deep breath before reading the review with one eye! The thing is, reviews aren’t for the writer, anyway – they’re for the reader. It’s better for me not to read them.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
My favourite ever job, being a mum (does that count as a job? It’s probably far too fun to be called one), but I only have one kid and she’s growing up, fast! So, I guess I’d go back to being a librarian – I loved doing that.
What is your number one tip for aspiring writers?
My kid loves the live action remake of Cinderella (and I do, too!). Ella’s mother always says to her, “Have courage and be kind”. I say it to my daughter often and I think it’s a good maxim for writers to live by. It takes bravery to put your heart and inner world out there. It is also so important to treat every other writer with kindness, knowing that. They are putting their hearts out there, too.
Plotter or pantser?
PANTSER IN CAPITAL LETTERS. To my detriment. And my editors probably hate me.
Tea or coffee?
Instant coffee and herbal tea. With biscuits.
When I’m not writing I’m…
Hanging out with my kid. Or reading.
My favourite place to read is…
Ebook or physical book?
I used to not mind at all – it’s all the same words and, after all, an eBook reader takes up less room in your handbag. But my eyes are terrible now I’m old, so I’m exclusively physical books, now. Which … is kind of a delight, to be honest, but means our house is 99% books.