UQP Writer's Room: Michelle Kadarusman
Why did you start writing?
Writing started for me when I was young and I’d write little notes to my family. I'm the youngest of five siblings so getting anyone's attention was hard! So I would write notes to my sisters and my mum if I had important stuff I wanted to tell them. Writing those notes turned into understanding that I enjoyed working things out on the page. I've always felt more comfortable communicating my feelings in writing.
How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but the idea of writing a book for adults has never crossed my mind. I once heard someone say you write the age that you’re stuck at. For me, I think I write the age I was most happy being. I’ve tried writing for young adult as well but the middle grade genre feels right. Water finds its level.
Where was your inspiration for your latest work?
With The Theory of Hummingbirds essentially I wanted to write a story about self-acceptance. The main character, Alba, has a clubfoot to illustrate the theme because I had a clubfoot as a child, but most of us have something that makes us feel different or left-out. Sometimes it’s physical, but it can also be something hidden and unseen. Often it is our own self-exile that keeps us feeling like outsiders. We are so pre-occupied to fit in and be normal, but what is normal and does it really matter?
I was also inspired to use the tiny but mighty hummingbird throughout the story as a metaphor for Alba’s gained insights and to help her to look at her challenges differently. In writing the novel I hoped to celebrate the differences we all share, no matter what the diversity may be.
How do you get started with a new project?
While the settings in my stories are quite different, similar themes run through my books – self acceptance, friendship, inclusion of differences. In my work I intertwine nature with human themes. I am also deeply influenced by nature and environment – how we treat it and interact with it – informs so much about who we are. I’m continually intrigued by the parallels.
Starting a new project usually means I’ve found an intersection of human themes and nature that I want to shape into a story. I spend a lot of time thinking about ideas before I commit it to paper or even an outline. By the time I get to writing something I’ve been thinking about it probably for years already.
Do you have a routine? What tools do you use?
Mostly I just need uninterrupted time. Breaking concentration during writing – a first draft especially – is frustrating. I need to psych myself into deep concentration.
I like to write first thing in the morning, before my head is filled with all the activities of the day. Realistically, I fill one or two hours with new words, while editing and revising makes up the rest of the day.
How do you handle writer’s block?
Dog walks are great to clear my head and think about writing problems. A lot of writing actually happens on these walks. Or I jump to a scene that I want to write rather than the one I’m struggling with.
How important is research in the writing you do?
Super important, for both location and content. I’ve travelled to different countries to research two of my novels and I have a research trip planned that I’m waiting to take once COVID-19 restrictions lift.
How much planning is required when it comes to structuring one of your books?
My stories are character driven rather than plot driven, so I’m not crazy about restricting myself to a rigid plot structure. I prefer to work with an emotional arc and usually have to be reminded (ever so gently by the editor) about plot.
What’s the editing process like?
I actually really like the revisions and editing part of the process. It is the first draft that I find ridiculously difficult, but after I’ve gotten that out, I like to mould and shape. I feel much more in control at this stage.
Honestly, I feel so grateful to all the editors I’ve worked with. They guide and elevate my work beyond anything that I could envisage when I set out from the first draft. I am forever grateful.
How did you come to be published?
I got my start writing short stories for a kids’ magazine in Canada called Chirp and another called Chickadee. From there I built my confidence to write my first novel. It was a YA novel and part of a series for reluctant readers. But my real passion is for middle grade fiction so I kept working on various middle grade projects.
Social media – like it or loathe it?
I like it. It’s wonderful to be able to connect directly with readers, teachers and librarians so I am delighted to have it. But I try to balance it and not fall down the rabbit hole too much.
How do you handle the reviews?
I guess I’ve been lucky not to have any nasty reviews. Sometimes I’ve had reviewers or readers who have misinterpreted or misunderstood something. It’s tempting to try and address it when that happens but the golden rule is to let it go.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
For sure I’d still be working with books in some capacity. I founded and ran a children’s literacy charity for twelve years and also worked as the submissions and marketing manager for a literary prize for seven years. It’s a wonderful privilege now to be in a position where I can dedicate all my time to writing.
What is your number one tip for aspiring writers?
I don't believe there is secret sauce on how to become a writer, it's allowed to be a little mysterious and personal. You need to find your way by experimenting and making mistakes. Your writing won’t be like anyone else's, so let yourself enjoy your own creativity. Creative endeavours can be challenging, but they should always at some level give you joy. If you love to play with words and ideas and you love to let your imagination become unhinged and express a part of yourself – then you'll keep going until you become better and better.
Plotter or pantser? Pantser.
Tea or coffee? Tea, in a tea cup!
When I’m not writing I’m… Staring into space.
My favourite place to read is… I have a giant teak Java bench that I’ve dragged all around the world with me. It has an over-stuffed mattress and tons of pillows. I practically live on it.
Ebook or physical book? Definitely physical book. Holding a book immediately signals my brain to relax.