Ep 240 The copywriter who cold called 500 places in one week. And meet Kirsty Manning, author of ‘The Jade Lily’.

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In Episode 240 of So you want to be a writer: Avoid the perils of striving for perfection and learn about the copywriter who cold called 500 places in one week. Impress your friends by using ‘defenestrate’ in your casual conversations and discover your chance to win an awesome 3 book pack. You’ll also meet Kirsty Manning, author of The Jade Lily.

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

Shoutout

JamesLindsay76 from Australia:

Over the summer I had a bad case of writers block. So bad I found it hard to write a tweet without getting the sweats. Then I found this awesome podcast. I listened to one podcast and quickly mainlined several more. I was mowing, cleaning toilets and any other chore I could just so I could hear Valerie & Allison talk about all things writing. Like domestos in my drains my writers block was washed away and I quickly found excuses to get the manuscript out. I have now finished book 3 in my ‘Plato Wyngard’ series, edited and polished and sent it off to the printers. Hoping to launch in July and believing it’s the best Plato yet. I used a lot of the tips and strategies talked about in these awesome podcasts and truely believe they have made my writing tighter and more effective. After reading Allison Tait’s ‘The Mapmaker Chronicles’ I have even started a new middle grade series using Viking mythology and hoping this could be my break out series. Thank you Valerie and Allison, I look forward to each podcast as they drop and really appreciate the inspiration. – James Lindsay

Writer in Residence

Kirsty Manning

Kirsty Manning grew up in northern New South Wales. She has degrees in literature and communications and worked as an editor and publishing manager in book publishing for over a decade. A country girl with wanderlust, her travels and studies have taken her through most of Europe, the east and west coasts of the United States and pockets of Asia. Kirsty’s journalism and photography specialising in lifestyle and travel regularly appear in magazines, newspapers and online.

Kirsty’s first novel was the enchanting The Midsummer Garden published in 2017.

The Jade Lily is her second novel.

Kirsty is a partner in the award-winning Melbourne wine bar Bellota, and the Prince Wine Store in Sydney and Melbourne. She lives with her husband and three children amid an old chestnut grove in the Macedon Ranges, Victoria.

Follow Kirsty on Twitter

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(If you click through the links above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

Competition

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Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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Interview Transcript

Valerie

Kirsty, thank you so much for joining us today.

Kirsty

My pleasure.

Valerie

Now this beautiful book, your beautiful book, The Jade Lily. For some readers who haven’t read the book yet or discovered the book yet, tell us what it’s about.

Kirsty

Well, it starts with a little girl. Well, she’s not little, 13 years old. On the night of Crystal Night in Vienna. And we follow Romy as she flees Austria and boards a ship to Shanghai, the only place in the world, really, that they can go without a visa and that would let them in to the country.

So they go to Shanghai. And here she befriends her next-door neighbour, Li, a Chinese girl. And she learns the world of Shanghai through her next-door neighbour’s eyes.

And then there is a contemporary storyline of Alexandra who is coming home to Melbourne, because her grandfather is dying. And through her grandmother she learns the story of her Jewish refugee grandparents and their time in Shanghai during the Second World War, and their life in what is now known as the Shanghai ghetto.

Valerie

And it’s just such a great idea for a book and a setting and an era. I understand there’s quite an interesting way this idea came about and into your head. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Kirsty

Well, I actually was in Shanghai on a holiday with my children and I was walking down a laneway in Hongkou which is one of the poorer areas of Shanghai. And I walked past an old door, there was a red door with a rusted-on Star of David. And I was gobsmacked. I mean, what was this Star of David doing in the middle of Shanghai which was a communist country? And it was the last thing I was expecting.

And I then found out that just around the corner there was a Shanghai Jewish Refugee’s Museum. And we went there and I discovered that 20,000 – over 20,000 Jews were given shelter in Shanghai during the Second World War.

And this just blew me away. I had no idea of that history, of that pocket. I had no idea of the history of Shanghai full stop. And I had no idea of the Jewish history in Shanghai. And it just fascinated me. It just kept on calling me.

And I came home and I contacted the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne, and they put me in contact with some people and resources and I just started researching from there.

Valerie

But when this occurred, this was 2005 I read somewhere, I think. Is that right? No. When did you go to Shanghai?

Kirsty

2011 the first time I went there.

Valerie

But when you came back, did you think, I’m going to write a book about it? Or did you think, I’m just interested and I’m just going to do some research?

Kirsty

No, I didn’t. I had no idea. Actually it was 2014. I’m jumping ahead. I’m thinking my years of my children.

I didn’t know. But I was hooked. I was completely intoxicated by the history of Shanghai and the city, the scents, the smells, the architecture. We walked The Bund and the French Concession with these plane trees, giant plane trees that overhang the buildings and kind of kiss in the middle, so you’re walking through this almost cathedral of trees in the French concession.

And I just was fascinated with this city that could be old school dumplings out of a pot on one corner, and then the fastest train in the world and Bladerunner the next. It was fascinating to me. I’d never been somewhere like that, and it was really quite eye opening.

Valerie

So you do this research because you’re fascinated. At what point did you think, I’m writing a novel based on this?

Kirsty

Well, I went back. I became so fascinated with it we did a stopover again on the way on a family holiday. And I went back to the Jewish Museum. And then I started looking at the people’s stories and the shoes they were wearing and the photos of the flooding and the heim which were the boarding houses that the refugees lived in in the ghetto, and the cafes. And I started learning about the stories of people, how they came to be in Shanghai and their life in the ghetto in Shanghai.

Because don’t forget, in the late 1930s, Shanghai was the wealthiest, the most glamorous, the most dazzling international city in the world. And it just must have been extraordinary to sail up the river and see The Bund, these huge European Renaissance and Art Deco buildings perched on the edge of the river, with sampans and barrels and live frogs and snakes and the scent of star anise and cotton and these strange smells of foods that they’ve never smelt before.

And I just thought, imagine! Imagine coming into this city from Europe and seeing these buildings that look ostensibly European but not understanding the language or the scents or the culture or anything around it. It would have been packed, packed the docks. And I’ve seen pictures of the river where the rivers are just heaving with boats and sampans and there’s jetties everywhere. It just felt like chaos in the pictures, so I can only imagine what it felt like when you got off on to the docks.

So I really tried to capture that. I started thinking about how I could capture that in a story. And then there was one particular photo of two little girls. It was a European refugee and two Chinese girls laughing. And they were wearing little Peter Pan collars. And it looked like they were sharing a joke. They both had their hair pulled back with ribbons. And they looked like really tight friends. And I thought, that’s it. That’s my story. This is a story about… This is my way into Shanghai, it’s going to be through the friendship of two girls.

Valerie

Love it. And so you went back the second time. You go to the museum, you find out all this other stuff. You see this picture of little girls and you think, okay, that’s my story. What then did you have to do to do more research about the era and the customs and just everything really?

Kirsty

Well, I took a walking tour of Shanghai. There’s a great historical society called the Art Deco Shanghai. You might not know, but Shanghai has one of the greatest collections of Art Deco buildings in the world. So I did a walking tour of those buildings.

And I also did a Jewish tour with a journalist called Dvir Bar-Gal and he took me through, walked me through the buildings, starting at the Cathay Hotel that features in my book, and took me right through the ghetto into the buildings that people lived in. And then again on to the museum. And he showed me where they cooked and where they lived and how they went to school.

And then I started reading a lot of memoirs from people. There’s a lot of articles online. And I bought a lot of memoirs too. But the thing with memoir is everyone remembers things slightly differently.

But what was universal in all the memoirs was the deep reverence that the refugees had for the Chinese people. And how they really took them in and looked after them and their generosity. It was a real sense of…

To be stateless, these were stateless refugees, and it would be the most horrific awful feeling. We see it, it’s still happening today. And there’s nothing any of us wouldn’t do, really, to save our families and to get them into a safe harbour. And it really struck me that’s what all of these people were doing.

And their resilience and their courage to survive those years of the Japanese occupation where food was essentially cut off, and so everyone had to make do. Chinese families were sharing with Jewish refugee families in the ghetto. There could be as many as 10 or 12 or 14 people to a room. It was really… It was tough. Bitterly cold in winter and in summer humid and hot with dysentery and typhoid rife, with not enough medicine to treat people.

And yet still, the photos that I saw at the museum were people sharing Chinese New Year meals together and going to school together and playing hoop games in the street. It really was quite an extraordinary time.

Valerie

So you do have a couple of timelines going. And obviously they’re interrelated. When you were writing it, how did you arrange your writing? Did you write the timelines separately and then mix them up? Or did you write them in a linear fashion? How did you plot the story as you went along with these two timelines?

Kirsty

Well, before I started this book, I knew that it was based during a war, the Second World War. And there were certain dates I had to hit.

And it just so happened, Valerie, that I had done the Scrivener course that you offer through the Australian Writers’ Centre, because I thought that it would be good to get a new tool. The kinds of books I write, dual time frame, and this one especially with very clear dates. I mean, in the Second World War there are certain dates that you have to hit. And so I…

Scrivener really helped me map at those dates, the line of the story. So I had certain ideas of scenes that would happen. And without giving elements in the story, you know, the war begins and ends on certain dates, and there are certain things that happen in Shanghai that were big international events that happened on certain dates. And so I put those in as key events.

And then I had certain scenes that I wanted. I wanted Romy’s first impression of Shanghai. She sails in on the boat. I wanted her in the Cathay Hotel. There were certain… Shanghai is almost a character in the book as well. And there are certain places that I wanted to show off in Shanghai on particular dates. That was really crucial. So I did that.

And then I had the contemporary timeframe. And I could colour code that, so it was very clear. And that allowed me to lace the contemporary story through. Because that was… Obviously Alexandria’s dealing with different issues. But really, when you’re writing historical fiction, you are lacing a mystery through the book. And you have to lace it through both eras. And I found Scrivener very useful for laying out the line of my plot.

Valerie

But when you actually wrote it, did you write the timelines separately? Or did you actually jump between the two?

Kirsty

I did bits and pieces. I would work on…

The benefit of working in dual timeframe is you can work on the historical aspect until you’re sick of it, or until you’re at a part where you don’t know, and then you can switch across to the contemporary.

I start… I have a very… Before I even start writing a book, I have a very clear idea of what the opening is. And I have a very clear idea of what the ending is. And then as I said I had some key dates. So in the middle I kind of patchwork it together until I get the sense of what the characters are and what the line of the story is.

But I always know where I’m heading. I mean, that can change, and it did change slightly. But it… There were certain aspects… So the historical, the first hundred pages, I just wrote that in one go. And then I broke it up. And then with the contemporary, that was scene by scene laced throughout. So that’s how I work.

It’s a bit like threading together a patchwork quilt. And sometimes you have large chunks. And then I think in the last few days before this was due with the publisher, I had two scenes, I just wasn’t quite sure how to link two crucial scenes. And I was still umming and ahhing about it, and then in two days I kind of wrote the two connecting contemporary scenes that stitched the whole book together and it was like voila!

Valerie

Yes! Fantastic.

Kirsty

I’m not sure how that happened completely. But that was a touch of magic. You do the work and then it just comes home, it brings it home.

Valerie

That’s right. The magic of creativity. So you said you have a very clear idea of how it’s going to start and a very clear idea of how it’s going to end. Which is great. And the way it starts is very powerful. Did the way it ended up in the book reflect the way it started in your head when you were conceiving it?

Kirsty

Yes, it did actually. It did. Because I think by then I had done a lot of research into the era and then I had stepped away and developed my own characters.

And I should say that the Holocaust Museum put me in touch with two Jewish refugees – Sam Moshinsky and Horst Eisfelder. And as I was writing… When I finished the first draft I actually went and met with them. And Sam has this booming baritone voice and he was a Russian Jew that lived in the very wealthy French Concession. And Horst lived in the Ghetto. He was a Viennese refugee. And he actually, as it turns out, came out on the same boat as my character Romy. And his parents owned Cafe Louis which features in my book as well. So I didn’t know that when I was writing it, but it came out when he was reading it.

And they… I had written the beginning, and I had written the end, and I had the characters in my mind. And then I gave it to them to read to feel – as well as some other beta readers, too. But I really wanted to know if… Because I was very nervous writing about this era that people lived through. And I am not Jewish, and I am not Chinese, and yet I felt very, very compelled to tell this story. So I wanted to treat it with the utmost respect and to feel like I was hitting the true notes without touching on anyone’s personal story.

Valerie

Sure. And this is your second book.

Kirsty

It is.

Valerie

I mean, your second novel. The first one did very, very well – The Midsummer Garden. Did you feel what is known as the pressure of the sophomore act?

Kirsty

Um… I don’t think so. Because I remember when my publishers asked me… So my first book went to option. And all of the publishers asked me if I had a second book. And I had this Shanghai story buzzing in my mind. And I remember, I sat down on Good Friday, actually, and typed up the proposal for it. And handed it in, that my agent handed out with the option. And it got bought.

And I really didn’t read that proposal again until the day before, funnily enough, I handed it in to the publisher. I thought, oh, I better check. I better check I’m on the right track here. And it was pretty close to the wire! So it had…

I think the resonance of this story, and I don’t know how that happened, but I did feel… I don’t think I felt pressure, because this is a very different book to The Midsummer Garden. It’s got much bigger themes. I felt pressure to capture the era well enough that people who lived it would appreciate it. I thought that was my pressure.

Although my husband did say that it was like I was giving birth. Because every time I would past the office I would say, “I’m not doing this again! If my next book, remind me, I’m not doing a war with tight dates like this!”

Valerie

What was the hardest part about the process, then? Or about capturing the era? What was the thing that was the toughest bit?

Kirsty

Well, I think because there are so many wonderful World War Two stories, and nobody has fictionalised this corner of history in Shanghai.

And I think the hardest bit was telling the story properly and capturing the era and making an interesting enough tale that would keep people enthralled to the end.

So I don’t think my publishers put any pressure on me. In fact, they were like, you really need to relax, actually.

But I sent it in to the publisher, I sent it in to my agent. And my publisher, she’s a beautiful woman, Annette Barlow, she was very busy and I didn’t hear from her for a couple of weeks. And I was holding my breath for two weeks.

Valerie

Oh, it’s stressful, isn’t it?

Kirsty

And eventually she got back to me and said, “Kirsty, this is magical. It is wonderful. You’ve created something special here.”

So I think my pressure was to do it so that if people like me had not come to the story before, you could pick this up and curl up and learn about a new era and have a wonderful tale.

Valerie

Oh, it absolutely does that. It absolutely does that. So have you always wanted to write novels?

Kirsty

I think so.

Valerie

So when you were little?

Kirsty

I really did. Yeah. Creative writing was my favourite story, my favourite subject when I was little. Mostly, my stories were about ponies and netball. Although I did branch into the crime area, because I did… My mum reminds me I wrote a story about smuggling guns to Afghanistan in netballs.

Valerie

Oh, right!

Kirsty

And I did a bit of poetry through high school. And I studied literature. And I remember writing an essay on Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda. And there’s a particular scene where the glass house is floating down the river. And that was it for me. That was it. I thought, if I can once in my life write a scene like that, that would be magic.

And then I studied literature at university. And I went and worked in book publishing. But I worked in non-fiction. And I loved that. I really loved that. And then when I had kids, I started working freelance journalism. So I did a lot of travel writing and features and a lot of food, obviously, food and wine. Because that’s my personal interest.

But what that told me, when you’re a freelance journalist, you’ve really only got 400 or 800 words to capture a place or a person.

Valerie

Yes.

Kirsty

And so that gave me the skills of writing, creating, capturing a personality and the essence of a place in a very tight way. And I think that really…

Valerie

Now… No, you go on.

Kirsty

No, I was saying that stood me in good stead for writing novels. And writing a thousand words pretty quickly.

Valerie

Yes.

Kirsty

It was very businesslike. I’m very businesslike when I write.

Valerie

Okay. So let’s talk about that then. When you were writing, and it’s more than just an idea, you’re actually writing it, how did you approach it? Did you aim for a word count? Or a number of hours with your bum in the chair? How did you approach it so that you would get it done?

Kirsty

Well, with this book I did the Nanowrimo. So I did the 50,000 words in the November.

Valerie

November of what year?

Kirsty

Ah… Two years ago.

Valerie

Okay, so 2016?

Kirsty

Yes.

Valerie

Okay.

Kirsty

And that gave me sort of a loose draft. And that was a lot of unfinished scenes in there.

But generally, I think the benefit of having been a jobbing journo is that I don’t waft around and wait for the inspiration to come. I sit down. I write a thousand words. If it is not great, I know that I can edit it. I know I can fix it. But you can’t edit something you don’t have. So it’s all about getting those words down.

And a book like this, the scale of it is so vast that you really have to do the work. But I do the research. I’ve learned from my first book… I guess the difference between writing a first book and a second book is that I know not to go down rabbit holes of research.

And having planned out, mapped out the story, the loose plot… I mean, I leave it really open. You can’t be too dictated by it. But having a very loose thread gave me a very clear idea of what I needed to know, dates I needed to know, places I needed to write about. And circumstances around each of those scenes. So that was very useful, I found.

And also, when you’ve got a publishing contract to get a book out in a year, you really can’t afford to faff around. You really need to know what you’re going to research. And as much as I’d love to spend hours on end looking up the different types of dumplings in Shanghai…

Valerie

And trying them all!

Kirsty

And trying them all. You do, you just have to be very clear about what you need to know.

Valerie

Yes. So you touched on earlier that you have a passion for food and wine. You kind of have a day job, right? Can you tell us a bit about that?

Kirsty

Well, my husband and I have the Prince Wine Store in Melbourne and Sydney. And also a restaurant, Bellota, we’re partners in a kind of European wine bar down here in Melbourne. But I should say I don’t work on the floor at either of those places.

Valerie

Right. So do you have to spend a lot of time on that business? And is it quite a juggle then? Or really, do you spend most of your time writing and being an author?

Kirsty

I spend most of my time writing now. I come and write upstairs at the restaurant. Obviously, that’s… Business conversations are ongoing in our marriage and partnership. But my head is not so much in the business.

We have three children as well, and we live just out of Melbourne. And I still do a bit of freelance work every now and again. So I find that I’m up to my eyeballs in logistics in any given week.

So I really, that’s why when I sit down to write, I really have to write. I have to punch it out. There’s no coming back to it the next day. Because the next day can easily loop into the next day.

Valerie

Yes.

Kirsty

And my weekends and school holidays are completely chewed up by children’s sporting activities, and social activities, and logistics. And being in the country, we have to drive everywhere. So I spend a lot of time writing besides swimming pools and basketball stadiums, as well.

Valerie

I love it. So with this book, as we’ve established, there’s quite a bit of research that was done not only in Shanghai but also here. How did you manage that research? As in, on a practical level, can you describe to us where did you keep it? Did you keep it electronically? Did you keep it in folders with lots of bits of paper? How did you record the things that you remembered from going on the tour and stuff like that? So can you tell us a bit about that?

Kirsty

Well, I keep copious notebooks. So on the tours, I took notes.

Valerie

Oh.

Kirsty

So I had copious notebooks and photographs from my various trips. And I did breakfast food tours. And as I said, the Art Deco tour. And then I did a private history tour through the French Concession. And I kept notes on all of that.

I had memoirs that I read. And I have a very sophisticated system of sticky noting pages.

And on various scenes, as I read something, I’ll start to get an idea of a scene. And I’ll often open a new scene in Scrivener and just footnote the page of the books that I’m going to work on or come back to. Just as a reminder, when you get to that scene, this memoir on page 32 has spent some time in that area. Or they were there on that day where this incident happened. So refer back to that page. So I do that. I do that quite a bit, actually.

Valerie

That’s so systematic!

Kirsty

It doesn’t feel like it at the time! But I guess it is.

And I have a series of sticky notes also on the back of my door, of my office door, that I colour code. So I have one colour for the contemporary and one colour for the historical. And I literally just move them around on the back of my door with…

Say, she, Romy arrives at The Bund, Chapter 1. And then, Romy goes to her new apartment, Chapter 2. Romy at the cafe, Chapter 3. And then I’ll move them around and insert…

That allows me to put in the contemporary storyline as well. And I can also tell at a practical level – if I’ve got too many sticky notes of the one colour, I can tell where the momentum of the story is. And it’s just a visual – and you can do that in Scrivener, too, of course. But sometimes I forget. So I refer back to my very effective sticky note on the back of the office door.

Valerie

Yeah. And so this book…

Kirsty

It’s a bit like the index.

Valerie

Yes. That makes sense. And I love the colour coding to visually see where the momentum is in your story.

So this book is out. So what are you working on now?

Kirsty

I am starting on a new book that threads through several eras in London, and uses London at the kind of heart of the international jewellery trade. So it will be another mystery, a family mystery. And family secrets. And it will thread, I think this one will go across three different eras.

Valerie

And how have you researched that?

Kirsty

Well, I’m just diving in at the moment. But I’m planning on taking myself off to London and a couple of other places.

But this came about, this particular story came about by a newspaper article that I saw. And it just triggered a question. It was just ripe for the picking. It’s a mystery. An unsolved mystery. It’s based on a real life unsolved mystery.

So I am going to, without giving too much away, I am going to dive into whether it’s still a mystery and whether I can solve it.

Valerie

Wow. Cool. And so…

Kirsty

And who doesn’t love a diamond?

Valerie

Well, yes, exactly. So do you find that you want to dive into a different era each time with your novels? Or a different world, effectively, and research it? Is the research just as an important part of the process as the writing?

Kirsty

I think the research is crucial. I think the two go hand in hand.

I kind of wish I was a bit the author that wrote in the same era. I think that would save a lot of time.

Valerie

I reckon.

Kirsty

But I think my stories come from the idea first. The story and the place. It’s one particular… Like that moment in Shanghai. And then in The Midsummer Garden, there was a particular chateau in France that triggered an idea. And in London there’s a particular mystery that I need to explore. And it comes from the story and the question that needs to be solved. And then I build a story around that.

So I go to the place, I research it, and then I’ll find that my characters and my story are building alongside that process.

And already, I’ve mapped out for this book, I’ve used Scrivener again, to kind of lay out the rough lines of a story. I’m not quite sure where it ends, this one. I’m tick tacking. But I think at that moment where I’ll work out exactly what happens, I will solidify in my mind exactly who the characters are, because I’ll know what decision they made. And then I can get going.

Valerie

How have you been able to manage or reconcile the fact that… Because as a journo, when you’re writing 500-word pieces or whatever, it does not take that long. It’s something that you can research it, you write it, you file it, and there’s kind of instant gratification.

Whereas this, the production of a book takes so much longer. I mean, the seed of the idea was when you saw that Star of David, and then there’s the research, and then there was Nanowrimo. And that was already 2016. We’re already 2018.

How can you sustain that? Especially when you’re so used to things that had instant gratification by comparison?

Kirsty

Yes. Well, that has been a learning curve for me. Because I’m not the most patient person in life. But it has been quite a luxury.

I think I’m quite a nerd at heart. A history nerd. I’ve always… I loved when I was at university my thesis year where I just dived in. I researched some obscure thing about literature for days on end. And I think it’s been heaven to… At this stage of my life, really, it’s good for me to slow down and be thoughtful and dive in and do something properly.

And it’s really hard work. I mean, I, with all my publishing background and journalistic background, thought, hm, I’ve probably got this. I could, you know, I’m an avid reader. I could have a go at a novel. And I completely underestimated the amount of work and time and dedication it took.

And it’s all the things that we tell our kids. You know, to persevere and keep your passion and don’t quit and keep going. I find myself giving my own pep talks every day. So it’s… It’s tricky.

Valerie

So if it’s so much hard work, presumably it’s all worth it, of course? And if that’s the case, what then, finally, is the most rewarding thing about the whole experience?

Kirsty

I think it is… Every day, when I go to bed, I am just so grateful, really. I mean, it sounds a bit naff. But I just love how I spend my time now. And I just love that my job is to read and research and write.

And the most rewarding thing… I think my most rewarding thing, obviously it’s very rewarding, I’m holding the book in my hand here. And that is terribly rewarding.

But when you get messages from people, especially the beta readers, and people who lived in Shanghai at that time, saying that they found the book had really captured the era and that it was – while the book was especially heart breaking – they found it heart-warming.

And I had a letter from a woman, an advanced reader, who wrote to me and she said that she felt like it had explained her aunt’s character to her. That her aunt had been a refugee, and she was always so happy. She was always so stoic. And this woman had actually – if you could believe this, I said you should write a book – she had caught a hot air balloon out of Germany.

Valerie

Oh my god.

Kirsty

I know, right! She should write a novel. And she said her aunt was just this incredibly grateful, kind, just very happy with what she had. Family was everything. The basics. Family, friendship, kindness, courage. All of those things were in her aunt, and she could see them reflected through the character, and she could understand how that came to be.

And that was, I mean, I was almost in tears after reading that email. Because I think those were the lessons I learned from interviewing those people. And to think that I may have got some of that on the page is, I mean, that’s the best moment, I think.

Valerie

What’s your advice then for aspiring writers?

Kirsty

Well, I actually asked my children what I should say for this, because they’re big listeners of this podcast. And they said: keep going. Use all your fingers when you type. And work in a soundproof room.

Valerie

What?

Kirsty

I think they meant keep away from the kids when you’re working, because I lose my train of thought.

But my real tips were to get some tools and learn the craft. So I think it’s really valuable to do a course, a creative writing course. Because you really learn about the craft of writing.

The second tip I would say is to read widely, and read outside the genre that you write, too. I read everything from memoir, to crime, to thrillers, to romance. And I read all of them with intent or with purpose, looking through each one saying, I see what you did there.

Valerie

Yes.

Kirsty

And I sticky note those books, too, all the time. I’ll be in bed reading and I’ll whip out a sticky note and write a note and I’ll say, you know, great character foil. Or ooh, an upending of a mystery. Or that was a great red herring. I sticky note all my books as I read.

And the third one is to join a community. Join an online community. I got into this community I guess by the Allison Tait website that somebody put me on to. And then I’ve since met lots of writers online who have become my real-life friends, which is lovely.

And I’ve got a lot of inspiration from people who are doing it when I was… And still do, I should say. Every day. Connecting with people who are doing the same thing, I’ve found, and getting tips from them has been enormously helpful.

At the same time, it can be a bit overwhelming. Because you can see people ploughing ahead and writing four books and 20,000 words in a month. And I think you have to step away sometimes. At some point, you can procrastinate a lot too, looking at what everyone’s doing and what everyone’s writing. And you really have to step away. Like, use that to buoy you and step away and find your own voice. And find a way for you to do it. So that’s my final tip. Trust yourself.

Valerie

I love those tips. And also, I think that’s interesting what you said about reading books analytically and saying, I see what you did there. Because one of the things I found with this book, and I find that if it’s a great book, I personally don’t think “I see what you did there”, because I’m so engrossed in it. And I think that that you’ve done that successfully.

Kirsty

Oh thank you.

Valerie

Because I know, I’ve caught myself, I caught myself from time to time going, oh, I’m not analysing it. You know what I mean?

Kirsty

Thank you.

Valerie

Yeah. So well done. And it’s a beautiful book. So congratulations, Kirsty. Everyone should go buy it and read it. Thanks so much for your time today.

Kirsty

Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here.


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