To be honest, I first began working on Writing Clementine as a form of personal therapy. A close family member was going through a really rough time, with a relationship breakdown and a struggle with mental illness. I was at a loss as to how to help him. I’m not a very practical person. I didn’t know what I could offer him – other than unconditional love and support – that could help in any way. I felt powerless.
So I did what I always do when I want to fix something in the world and don’t know how to – I wrote. I wrote my story and I wrote his story and, along the way, I ended up writing the stories of some other people I knew, and of some things that happened in my life. I worked through a lot of things, in the end, from my history.
I was helped in all of it by the memory of a miraculous teacher I had in college. His name was Mr Hiller. He was an art teacher, not a philosophy one, as Ms Hiller is in the book. But he did tell us, on our first day, to sit down and write. And we did it every lesson after that. Even our first exam was centred on free writing. It was brilliant therapy for me during a tough time in my young adulthood, so it made sense that I used the same techniques to help Clementine examine her own issues.
Eventually, my family member got better. Eventually, things got better for Clementine too. And I think writing helped us all.
Everything I write is a bit about me, and a bit about working through things in my head, and a bit about trying, in some way, to help. As I said, I’m not practical, or sensible, or very clever. The only thing I can do is write. It’s the only way I know to make the world a bit brighter and better. I write for teenagers because I want to tell them that things will be okay. I want to make them smile. I want to help them get better if things are bad.
I never plan my novels. The characters grow inside me and they tell me their story. I wish I was a plotter. It would make life so much easier in the editing phase, but I think if I did plan or map things out in advance, writing would come to feel like a job; like work. Now, it is my joy and my passion and my saviour when things are less than happy. And it comes organically. It comes easily.
And that’s not to say that it’s always good when it comes out. My first drafts are, without fail, woeful. But I like editing, too, and I love working with wonderful editors, like Elise and Jodie at Allen & Unwin. I love the feeling that my words are becoming bigger than me. They are taking on a life of their own, and being moulded and shaped by talented people; beautiful souls. There’s something so special about this process. It’s a kind of therapy in itself!
Kate Gordon is an Australian writer of young adult fiction living in Tasmania. Her latest book, Writing Clementine, is published by Allen & Unwin and is now available. Visit Kate's website and Facebook page to keep up to date with her latest book and writing news.