Kim, you have travelled the world and worked in a number of professions. What led you to your current passion, writing for children?
I've always liked children's books, so it's not really a new passion although it is definitely still current. When I was 16, I went to Germany, and because my German wasn't as fluent as my English, I read German children's books rather than adult novels. I had forgotten this, but was going through my bookshelf the other day and found some old Erich Kaestner and fairytale editions that I had from that period.
Having rediscovered children's literature, upon my return I went through a period when I read my younger sibling's books. I remember finding Robin Klein this way. They were books for which I was supposedly too old, but they spoke to me and amused me and I think once I'd broken the 'age-appropriate' barrier, it was just something I did between adult novels.
I didn't write anything until a number of years later. When my friend was very ill at university, I wrote a short story to entertain her. After she died, I wanted to commemorate her in some small way and finding a home for The Vegetable Ark — the story I'd written for her — seemed to be a way to do that. By this stage, I was working as a lawyer, but a miserable one, and as I fished around for an alternative career, writing seemed like something I could have a go at. I can't say I've never looked back — I have, constantly. Every time I hanker after a pair of shoes, actually. Writing does, however, keep me sane if poorly shod and I keep hoping one of these days I'll do something worthwhile.
Although your first publications were picture books (Family Forest, The Unexpected Crocodile, The Vegetable Ark) you have also written a chapter book (Pip, the Story of Olive) and more recently, true crime for young adults. Do you have a favourite genre?
Not really. When picture books work — and they are a collaboration so are reliant on a number of parties — I think they are an extraordinary form. Novels are wonderful because they allow an author to explore characters and ideas in so much more depth, regardless of the genre or audience.
If I have finished a novel, I look forward to writing something shorter — something I can think through in its entirety while I hang out the washing and fish Lego out of the central heating ducts. When I'm working on something shorter, however, I prefer sinking my teeth into work that is less pernickety. Picture book texts can be really bitty and need to be unpicked and unpicked for them to sit with any degree of decorum on the page.
How do you manage to be so versatile? Is it possible to write across genres in a single day or do you need to wake up each morning and decide which writing hat to wear for the day?
When things are running smoothly, I only get 3 hours good writing time four days a week, so I just write whatever deadline is most pressing. Once I have found a voice for a story, regardless of what genre it is, the rest sort of happens. If I have an idea for a picture book or for my next novel, I put it in the relevant file on my computer so I always feel there is something to move on to. I do tend to work on picture books between novel drafts as voices can merge if I work on two novels at once.
While your most recent picture book, Esther’s Rainbow, evokes rich colour-associated senses, an underlying theme to all your books is relationship and family. Is this a conscious decision?
No! I'm definitely nosey and have always been interested in families and the relationships that comprise them. My sister is a psychologist so we spent hours dissecting people as teenagers and this is an interest we have both taken through with us to adulthood.
While picture book writing can involve a degree of collaboration with the illustrator, it doesn’t always. Can you tell us about your experiences?
Great question. There is definitely a tendency at the moment to keep writers and illustrators siloed. Writers compose a text. Illustrators then read it and bring their vision — sometimes an entirely different vision — to the narrative, which can be incredibly exciting. This is how I worked with Sue de Gennaro in The Vegetable Ark (KBR review here). The editor and publisher were the go-betweens and really managed the process even though I had known Sue before we both started publishing!
With Lucia Masciullo on Family Forest, we both attended storyboard meetings and it was far more collaborative — of course the text demanded that as I had a strong idea of the visual jokes (half-sister, step-mother arch enemy) but Lucia bought a lovely richness and warmth to the illustration which made the book.
For Sara Acton in Esther's Rainbow (KBR review here) and The Unexpected Crocodile, the process was different again. These books have probably carved a middle path between the two processes I've depicted above. Sara certainly receives feedback graciously (I send through little pictures I think might help) but she has a gorgeous eye and a very clear vision for her work and it's a joy to see her ideas take form.
It's funny being a very visual person (I did honours in Fine Arts at uni) without any capacity to illustrate. I love to have some involvement in the way a book looks but am just as thrilled to see what an illustrator can bring to 'my story' to make it 'our story'. Perhaps it's just a matter of finding a groove with each particular illustrator and publisher. I feel honoured to have worked with so many talented artists.
Your true crime novel Cry Blue Murder was also a collaborative piece. What advantages are there in working so closely with a fellow author? Were there any particular challenges?
Cry Blue Murder was a wonderful way to get back into writing. I was exhausted after the birth of the twins and found it really difficult to find time to puree pumpkin, let alone research my middle grade novel. I wrote the first draft of The Lyrebird Calls with an Australia Council grant but it was lacklustre. Cry Blue Murder (written with Marion Roberts) was the perfect way to find my voice and confidence again and keep publishing in a difficult period.
Collaboration was super for plotting — Marion and I both agree we wrote a novel we could never have written solo and because we each took a character, plotting had to be meticulously planned which was a good discipline. The first draft was wild and giddy and funny as we tried to outsmart, outwit and out write each other. The subsequent drafts were more difficult. Our major issue was time as Marion worked during the day (when I had the kids) and just as she'd log off the computer and move on to looking after her teenagers, I'd be ready to crack into the writing part of my day. For the most part, however, we shared the same vision for the novel and we got there in the end!
With picture books, a chapter book and YA now under your belt, are you planning to dabble in other genres?
I'm not sure. I have a middle grade novel coming out and a few picture books on my desktop. Even if I were to write an adult novel, I imagine it would explore children somehow. Maybe I'll do something completely different — a book on parenting twins or navigating stepfamilies or children's birthday parties. I'll always go where my heart (and the contracts) blow.
What can we look forward to reading from you next?
The Lyrebird Calls is a novel for younger readers, which is being published in Australia by Allen & Unwin. I'm excited about it!
Kim Kane's latest book is the delightful picture book Esther's Rainbow, illustrated by Sarah Acton and published by Allen & Unwin. Visit Kim's Facebook page to keep up to date on her latest writing news and events.