Ep 105 Get into the mind of your character with Method Writing; and meet journalist turned novelist Kayte Nunn, author of Rose’s Vintage.

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podcast-artwork In Episode 105 of So you want to be a writer: Get into the mind of your character with Method Writing, handwriting has its advantages; and meet journalist turned novelist Kayte Nunn, author of Rose’s Vintage. Plus: an app that spots unnecessary words, how nonfiction and fiction author platforms differ, and much more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

5 Ways Screenwriters Can Get Into the Minds of Their Characters

4 Reasons to Write by Hand Rather Than Type

Writer in Residence

Kayte Nunn

Kayte-portrait-2Originally from the UK, Kayte Nunn has lived in Sydney, Australia for more than 20 years. She is a freelance book, magazine and web editor and writer with more than two decades of publishing experience and is the former editor of Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine.

Kayte Nunn is the author of Rose’s Vintage.

She is the mother to two girls and when not writing, reading or ferrying them around can be found in the kitchen, procrasti-baking.

Kayte is currently working on a historical novel set in Cornwall, Chile and Sydney.

Kayte Nunn’s website

Find Kayte on Twitter

App Pick

This Web App Identifies Unnecessary Words In Your Writing

Working Writer’s Tip

What’s the difference between a nonfiction author platform and a fiction author platform?

Answered in the podcast.

Pitch Your Novel

Competition

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript

Allison

Kayte Nunn is a freelance book, magazine and web editor, and the former editor of Gourmet Traveler Wine Magazine, which may possibly be the best job in the world. She writes on travel, health, well-being, parenting and lifestyle topics, and has been shortlisted for local and international short story awards.

 

Her first novel, Rose’s Vintage, is out now.

 

Welcome to the program, Kayte.

 

Kayte

Thank you, Allison.

 

Allison

Now tell me, was being the former editor of Gourmet Traveler Wine Magazine the best job in the world?

 

Kayte

It was pretty good. Yes, I was there as the deputy editor and then the editor I guess all up for about seven or eight years. I did get to do some amazing things, taste some amazing wine and eat some incredible food that went with it, and just meet some wonderful people in the industry as well. So, yes.

 

I think after that my liver just couldn’t take it anymore.

 

Allison

Do you have an extensive cellar of your own?

 

Kayte

I did have. We’ve managed to drink our way through it. Actually, my husband thought it was my dowry, that I came with this wine cellar. He was very happy.

 

Allison

How fantastic.

 

Kayte

Yes.

 

Allison

You’ve actually been a freelance writer for many years, editor, writer, et cetera, and you’ve worked in different aspects of the publishing industry. When did you actually start writing fiction?

 

Kayte

I think I’d always written a little bit. I jotted down story ideas that I had. When I was a teenager I wrote terrible poetry and stories. But, I always thought it was something that other people did. I never quite had the confidence that I would ever one day be a writer. That was a secret dream that I never admitted to myself, and certainly not to anybody else.

 

But, about three years ago — I started by writing a couple of short stories, and I really liked the way I felt at the end of writing them and how satisfying it was. Then I had kind of the perfect storm where I had a gap between freelance assignments of about six weeks, my youngest daughter was in daycare for three days a week, so I wasn’t about to pull her out of that. It was the middle of winter and I just thought, “You know what? You need to do this, Kayte.”

 

I had also read a couple of books and thought, “Well, if they can get published, you can do better than that.” Little did I know just how difficult it is.

 

And a friend of mine had got a publishing contract and I thought, “Well, if she can do it, why can’t I?”

 

So I made myself sit down and start writing.

 

Allison

And did that turn out to be Rose’s Vintage?

 

Kayte

It was. It was. It started off with a different title and a different nationality protagonist, but it’s what it evolved into. Yes.

 

Allison

Of course, Rose’s Vintage is set in a vineyard — oh my goodness, what a surprise. Is this part of the whole writing what you know thing? Or did it stem from something else? Like, why the vineyard?

 

Kayte

Absolutely, it was writing what you know. I’d learnt so much about wine and wine-making, although there’s still a lot I don’t know, in the course of my job at Gourmet Traveler Wine. I thought, “Why not, it’s a beautiful setting, wine is a very sexy and sensual product, and there’s this great sense of community that I really wanted to try and achieve in the book.

 

I mean these things evolve slowly. I didn’t know it all to start with. It was just as I was writing. In fact, the initial inspiration for the book came when I was sitting in Bondi on a really gray, dreary day. And, Bondi was not looking very nice at all, it was pretty tatty, I thought, “What would it be like if you were an English woman and you showed up here and it was nothing like you expected, what would happen to you?” And that’s where the story sort of started.

 

Allison

What was the road to publication for it, then? You said you sat down a few years ago and started sort of writing it. How long did it take you write to a draft that you were happy with and then what happened after that?

 

Kayte

It took about a year, because I had other freelance projects come in, in the meantime. I was always desperate to find time to write and I used to write way into the night sometimes, I’m not a night owl. I would take my laptop to my daughter’s soccer games and write sitting in the car. I would write while she did swimming training, any time that I could squeeze in an extra sort of spare hour or so I would write, because I just wanted to get the thing done.

 

So, after about a year I had it, what I thought was a reasonable draft, little did I know that it was still very rough.

 

I started querying publishers and agents. In the meantime I sort of got a list of — I read other books and thought, “Oh, well that’s so and so’s agent, I might like to approach them.” So I got a list together and I started querying a few, and I had a few requests for the full manuscript, but I also had my fair share of rejections.

 

One day out of the blue one of the agents that I had sent it to rang me and said, “Right, I like what I’ve seen so far, can you send me the rest and give me an exclusive for a month and then we’ll talk?” And we did. She gave me, I think, about 45 minutes’ worth of notes over the phone, saying, “Do this…” “Change that…” “Change that…” And so I was like, “Yep, OK,” go away and do it. And that took another few months, and I came back with a new draft and then she started sending it out.

 

And then there were a few publishers who liked it, but said it was a bit close to other authors in their stable. It just took a few months, then one day she happened to be having a chat with, the publisher at Black Inc, who had said they were starting up a new women’s fiction imprint. She thought, “Well, this is the perfect book for her,” And apparently it was. So, that was great news.

 

Allison

It’s really a little bit of a dream run in many ways, for many of the stories that we’ve heard in the sense it’s the first novel that you’ve ever attempted.

 

Kayte

Yep.

 

 

 

Allison

You got an agent, you got a publisher, and here we are with it out on the shelves. Do you kind of have to pinch yourself a little bit sometimes?

 

Kayte

Yes, a little bit. Although it’s been almost a three-year process, so it hasn’t happened overnight.

 

Allison

Nothing in publishing happens overnight.

 

Kayte

No.

 

The book’s been through more drafts than I can care to count. And it’s changed quite a bit since it started. So, I really feel like I did my apprenticeship on this book.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Kayte

I knew how to write. I started thinking, “Well, I’ve written professionally, I know how to write grammatically and well,” but, what I didn’t know was how to tell a story. It was in the course of writing the book that I learnt that, getting feedback from a number of different publishers and people in the industry. I did a couple of master classes, which were really useful, and I read a couple of really good books on writing and thought, “Right, well, now I know what I need to go back and do to make it better.”

 

Allison

So, when you got those first 45 minutes’ worth of notes over the phone, when you put the phone down, did you kind of cry, or do you think all of your years of being a freelance writer and taking that sort of feedback made you a little bit more resilient.

 

Kayte

I was completely receptive to it. I was delighted that she was so keen on it. So, the fact that I had to do some extra work on it… I mean after a while, after kind of draft number eight, I think it was, I thought, “Oh god, do I have to keep doing it?” Because there was on publisher who kept asking to see it, and see it back again, that I didn’t eventually signing with. But, all of which helped make the book better, but it was quite a process.

 

I think the hardest thing for me was when I had to cut the first three chapters, eventually. And I was like, “Those are the first words I ever wrote.” My agent said, “Well, sometimes you just have to write your way into the story.”

 

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Kayte

Of course now I can see that it’s all the better for it. What I have really learnt is that it is such a collaborative process. You really need an objective look at it from somebody else that knows what they’re doing to kind of point out where it’s not working and where it could be better.

 

Allison

Who is your agent? Who was it that actually eventually took it up?

 

Kayte

Margaret Connelly.

 

Allison

Excellent.

 

It’s quite a romantic story. I’ve read the book, it’s a lovely read, I really enjoyed it.

 

Kayte

Thank you.

 

Allison

There’s a lot of romance in the story. Did you actually set out to write a romantic novel? Like, did you think, “I’m going to write something that’s got a happy ending? How did that come about?

 

Kayte

Definitely that had a happy ending. I thought about the books that I had really loved when I was a bit younger. I read Julie Cooper inside out and back to front so many times and found it a real comfort.

 

I’d also read, when I was in my teens, a series of books by H. E. Bates, The Darling Buds of May, and all of those. I loved that feeling of everything just being so jolly and nice, and it’s just a beautiful world to be in, and I realized as I was writing that I wanted to create that kind of world in the book.

 

Love stories seem to be quite an obvious thing to start with for a first book.

 

Allison

Did you sort of do any work in the how to write a romance novel area? Or did you just allow the story to kind of inform that romance as it came through?

 

 

 

Kayte

I think I just went where the story went. I knew where it had to end, but it was kind of the journey in between that I had to figure out as I was going along.

 

I was training for a marathon at the time, which was extremely helpful, I didn’t think too far ahead. I just had to do what I had to that day or that week. I’d go out for a really long run, I’d often think about the plot and what had to happen and what might happen on my long runs, and by the time I got home and had a shower I’d be like, “Right,” ready to sit down and write. And then I would get up very stiff-legged four hours later.

 

That became a bit of a process in itself.

 

When I was growing up I read heaps and heaps of Mills & Boon and stuff like that. I’m sure my mother was horrified. I read an awful lot of what people call chick-lit. So, I think I kind of absorbed what was required from that kind of book.

 

Allison

You’ve got a professional background as a writer, which as you say gives you that confidence that you know how to put a sentence together. What sort of other lessons do you think from freelance writing did you take into the process of writing and finishing a novel and getting it published? How do you think your background as a freelance writer and editor informed your fiction writing?

 

Kayte

I think in quite a few ways it was helpful. I wasn’t precious about my work or my words. I knew that I was just beginning and it was a start. And so I welcomed all the help and advice I got.

 

I didn’t always take 100 percent onboard, but I took a lot of it onboard.

 

I knew how to set myself a deadline. I’m used to working to deadlines and I’m quite goal-oriented. I’d set myself a deadline of, say, 1,000 words a day, or I’d do this sort of super Saturday thing where on a Saturday I would lock myself away from the family and just write for an hour. It’s amazing what you can get done when you really concentrate on that time.

 

I think it just gained its own momentum. I became keener and keener to sit down with it and to keep the story going.

 

I hadn’t completely planned it out, but at times I’d sort of plan out a few chapters ahead. On the days that I didn’t really feel like it, I’d just sit down and go, “OK, well, you’ve got to write this scene. This is what has got to happen. Sit down and write it.” Before I knew it I was quite absorbed in it. So, that was good.

 

 

 

Allison

While you’re doing this you’ve got your family, and you’re still doing your freelance writing and editing and things like that. Did you ever get to the end of the day and think, “I’ve written 3,000 words today, I really can’t face doing fiction.” Or, did it just feel like a break for you, like a nice change?”

 

Kayte

It felt like a little bit of a break. But, sometimes I didn’t and I just didn’t. I didn’t put myself under too much pressure. I just kind of did it when I wanted.

 

They were mostly the times when I couldn’t get to it, and so by the time I had some time to do it, I was sort of chomping at the bit, going, “Right, I really want to write, and I’ve been thinking about this scene, and let’s get it down.” So, that was actually quite useful in some ways, rather than having an enormous amount of time and fiddling around and not getting anything done.

 

Allison

What about with the editing process? Because I know from my perspective that I’m completely used to having my freelance writing editing, know exactly how to go about editing 3,000, you know, 2,000 or 3,000 words, 1,000 words, whatever. Faced with the edit of 70,000 to 80,000 words, knowing the changes that you make at the start of the book affect every single thing that happens throughout the book, did you find that structural edit process daunting at all? How did you approach it? Did you break it down? Like, what did you do there?

 

Kayte

It was useful with sort of the final structural edit from my editor, because she just gave me a list of points and I just methodically went through and addressed every one. But, there were some very long days where I just wanted to spend the whole day on it, because I needed to keep it all in my head. Otherwise you do end up with discrepancies, and I still did, and that’s why you have an editor and then a copy editor.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Kayte

Yes, and you’re absolutely right, you make one change and it affects everything else. So, there were some 12 hour days where I just needed to focus on that, which is hard work, quite exhausting.

 

Allison

As someone who does work as an editor and has worked as an editor, did you edit books as part of your…

 

Kayte

I have edited books, yes.

 

Allison

You would have understood the process from that side, yes?

 

Kayte

Yes. Yes, I did, completely. Although it was a lot more involved than I had realized and very detail-orientated. Yes.

 

Allison

It’s great fun, isn’t it?

 

Kayte

I thought, “Yes, I’m used to my non-fiction being edited, but I’m not used to it being pulled apart and really, really forensically examined, which was the case with this, which I mean it was a fantastic experience.

 

Allison

Let’s talk about finding your kind of fiction voice, because that’s another thing. When you’re writing features and you’re used to that sort of factual writing and you’re putting it within the environment of a publication that has its own particular voice and readership, et cetera, that’s one very particular skillset. When it comes to actually writing fiction and discovering your own voice and working through the way you actually go about things, did that take time? Like, in the sense that you’ve said that this has been through several drafts, Rose’s Vintage, was the voice there right from the start? Or did you find that that’s developed as you’ve gone through?

 

Kayte

I think it has developed, definitely. I wrote it as if my sister was going to read it. I wrote it specifically for her, and knowing what she likes. So, I had this big post-it note on my computer saying, “Make it funny, at all costs.” And I tried. Yes, I sort of thought, “Well, I’d like her to enjoy it,” so that’s the kind of voice I went with.

 

Allison

So, you gave yourself an ideal reader, basically?

 

Kayte

Yes.

 

Allison

Yes, and that’s often something that people do say, and I found the same thing myself is that if you write it for someone specific, you actually end up writing something that is universally enjoyed, but you have an idea in your head of who this person is.

 

 

Kayte

Yes.

 

Allison

Yeah. OK.

 

Kayte

Well, hopefully.

 

Allison

Hopefully, technically. Yes.

 

Kayte

Hopefully I do. Universally enjoyed.

 

Allison

What surprised you most about the fiction publishing process?

 

Kayte

I think I knew from having my — my original career was in book publishing, so I knew just how long it took. But, I guess it was how nitty gritty it got. But, still I knew it took a long time, but it’s still taken an awful long time. I think if I’d known at the start, three years ago, how long this was going to take, I would still definitely continue, but I would be a bit more patient. I think you have to be incredibly patient.

 

Allison

Yeah, you do.

 

Kayte

The good thing was, when I had finished the first book I started writing a second, because I had an idea for the second, in the same setting, but not a sequel. And that stopped me worrying and literally waiting for the email box to ping or the phone to ring. So, I just thought, “You know what? I’ve done all I can on this, let’s start something else and just keep going.”

 

Allison

That is a great piece of advice, and it’s advice that is often handed out willy-nilly, but not everybody takes it up, because they’re so busy pressing sort of ‘return’ on the email inbox, waiting for the answer, et cetera, that they don’t get onto it.

 

Kayte

Yeah.

 

Allison

How did you kind of get yourself in the mindset to do that?

 

Kayte

I guess I had some time to think. I had a few weeks and just thought and a new character came to me and I knew how she was related to the other characters in the first book, and then I just started writing.

 

Allison

Fantastic.

 

Given your background, the fact that you’ve got experience in different aspects of the publishing industry, you probably understand that there’s a certain amount of work that needs to be done by the author, to help promote, market the book, et cetera. Have you taken steps yourself to do that?

 

Kayte

Definitely. I’ve been working very closely with the publicist at Black Ink, and we’ve divided up the work between us, but I think even before then I had been reading a lot of writing advice on the internet. I’d been following various writers on Twitter and publishers and that kind of thing, just to kind of put myself in that environment.

 

I’d also spent, before I launched my website, because I knew I needed to have some sort of — just a shingle where people go and find out a little bit more about the book, if they wanted to. I’d looked at other authors’ websites and thought, “What are they doing well?” “What do I like?” “What don’t I like?” And I’m also quite a visual person, having been a magazine editor, so I wanted it to look really clean and fresh and reflect the book, but not be all about that first book.

 

Allison

No, because you’re sort of setting a brand image for yourself in many ways, aren’t you?

 

Kayte

Yes.

 

Allison

And it’s actually terrific. I think your website is great.

 

Kayte

Thank you.

 

Allison

I can very much see your magazine background in it.

 

How long have you had that together? Is that something that’s evolved over time? Have you tweaked that along the way? Or, is it just a recent addition that you’ve put up, ready to go, “Here’s my shingle, let’s do it.”

 

Kayte

It’s a recent addition. Yes.

 

Allison

OK, terrific.

 

Kayte

I knew that I would need to get one done before the book comes out, but I hadn’t had a need for one before then that I saw, necessarily. In terms of my professional work, I keep that very separate, and that’s on LinkedIn, and that’s how most people find me for that.

 

Allison
In the sense that you were saying you’ve worked closely with the publicist and you’ve divided things up and you’ve done the research, what do you think is the one thing that you thought, “I really need to do.”? Was it the website? Or was there something else that you felt you needed to do to help promote the book?

 

Kayte

I think being aware of who the book bloggers are in my particular genre has helped.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Kayte

And just being aware of who they are and what they like and how they review books. And so I gradually collated a list of those before we started the publicity sort of push. So, I already had a list to go of people that I thought might be interested in the book, both here and in the US, and the UK.

 

Allison

Great, so you’ve really — yeah, OK. You might want to send that list to me. That would be good.

 

Kayte

All right. I will do.

 

Allison

So, um, so what are you working on now? Is the second book finished? Or are you still working on…

 

Kayte

It’s finished and it’s been accepted by my publisher and I think it had one draft, so clearly, hopefully, I’ve learnt something in the first book.

 

 

Allison

Wow, that’s amazing.

 

Kayte
One draft and my agent was happy with it, so it went to the publisher. Both of those have also sold in Germany, and I actually just heard yesterday that Rose’s Vintage has sold in Poland as well. So, that’s exciting.

 

Allison

Oh, that’s brilliant.

 

Kayte

Yeah.

 

Allison

Well done you on your debut novel.

 

Kayte

Thank you.

 

Allison

That’s fantastic.

 

We were sort of talking via email before we started this, and since we’ve had that conversation that there is a little bit of a movement in book set in wineries and vineyards and things like that. It’s like a little sub-genre coming through that we can see. Have you sort of become aware of that? Is that a relatively new thing?

 

Kayte

I have. I’m definitely aware of it, because I’ve been looking at other books that are kind of competing or similar. And, yes, I mean writers like Monica McInerney and Loretta Hill, Patricia Stringer, there is this kind of sub-genre of rural romance.

 

When I first pitched the book I sent it to my agent, Margaret and said, “Look, it’s rural romance, but it’s not, it’s slightly different.” She immediate saw that and got that. Yeah, look, rural romance has been incredibly popular and very successful. So, it’s nice to be a slight part of that as well.

 

Allison

Fantastic.

 

Just to finish up today, as we like to do, I’m going to ask you for your top three tips for writers.

 

 

Kayte

My first one is — the obvious advice is always you can’t be a writer unless you’re a reader. But, when you’re a reader read critically. I love to read and get absorbed in a book and almost let the words wash over me, but I have to make myself stop and I read the books by writers I really admire, and I think, “Well, how do they create a character… how do they build tension… what’s their dialogue like? How do they start their chapters? How do they finish their chapters?”

 

I almost go through some of the books that I admire really methodically and I look at the chapter beginnings, I look at the chapter endings, and I look at what happens at certain points in the novel and why does it happen there, and where. Just as a way of understanding how successful books work, really. So, to read critically is my first one.

 

Allison

 

Kayte

Second one would be pay attention. Notice details. You’re out for a walk, how might you describe the scene? How people talk? Think of the language they use. Think about all of your senses, not just sight. So, touch, taste, hearing, all of those, to be able to use in your book.

 

When I first started Rose’s Vintage I kept just a Word doc and I put all of my notes down on it. I’d have little ideas for little lines or little bits of dialogue, and I eventually was able to work most of them into the book. I keep a notebook by my bed, because I invariably wake up in the middle of the night and think, “Oh yeah, I’ll remember that in the morning,” and I never do. Never do.

 

Just pay attention to what’s going on around you, because that’s really useful information to be able to include.

 

And then my third recommendation, I’ve got two books to recommend, which I found really helpful. The first one is called Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maas. And the second one, which was recommended to me is called Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver.

 

Allison

I have not read that one.

 

Kayte

I didn’t read a lot of books about writing, and I think you’re in danger of becoming paralyzed in reading too many, but I read two or three and those two were particularly useful.

 

 

 

Allison

We will get the links and put those links in the show notes so that our listeners can find those.

 

That’s all we need today. I think that was an excellent chat. I would like to ask you — your website address is www.kaytenunn.com

 

Kayte

Yes, and it’s K-A-Y-T-E N-U-N-N.

 

Allison

And Rose’s Vintage is out now. Of course we can now look forward to a second book coming soon to a bookshop near us as well.

 

Kayte

Yes.

 

Allison

Fantastic.

 

Alright, Kayte. Thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. We hope that Rose’s Vintage goes gangbusters and you might need to restock the cellar.

 

Kayte

Thank you very much, Allison. It’s a pleasure.

 


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