Ep 292 Interview with Kaneana May, author of ‘The One’.

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In Episode 292 of So You Want To Be A Writer: Screenwriting competition closing soon and Love Your Bookshop Day is coming up. You’ll meet Kaneana May, author of The One. Plus, we have copies of Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire by AWC alumna Nat Amoore to give away.

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Show Notes

Love Your Bookshop Day 10 August

Australian sci-fi, horror and thriller screenplay competition closes 12 August

Writers in Residence

Kaneana May

Kaneana May studied television production at university, graduating with first-class honours in screenwriting. She went on to work in television, including roles as a script assistant on All Saints, a storyliner on Headland and a scriptwriter on Home and Away.

Since becoming a mother, Kaneana has turned her attention to fiction writing. Kaneana loves to read—mostly YA, romance and women’s fiction—and also loves watching TV and films. Writing, boot camp, coffee, chocolate and champagne are just some of her favourite things. Kaneana lives on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales with her husband and three children.

The One is her debut novel.

Follow Kaneana on Facebook

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

Competition

WIN ‘Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire’ by Nat Amoore

This podcast is brought to you by the Australian Writers’ Centre

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Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo

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Interview Transcript

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Kaneana.

Kaneana

Hi Valerie. Thanks so much for having me. I’m a huge fan of your podcast so I’m actually pinching myself that I’m going to be on it.

Valerie

Oh, we are so excited to have you on it because congratulations on your debut novel, The One. It’s just awesome. Now if there are some readers who haven’t read your book yet or haven’t got their hands on it, can you tell us what it’s about?

Kaneana

Of course. The One centres around a reality TV dating show, something like the one. And the story intertwines the lives of three women, a producer, a contestant, and an occasional viewer in their pursuit to not only find themselves but their happily ever afters along the way.

Valerie

Now how did this idea form? And what made you think of this premise?

Kaneana

I think the premise was sparked because I have a background in television. I studied TV production at university and then went on to work in screenwriting. And I think that my general knowledge of what happens behind the scenes, I kind of forgot that it’s not what everyone knows what happens.

And it just came about in conversations I was having with friends when we were talking about The Bachelor. And just a few comments friends were making and I thought, oh, they don’t realise what happens behind the scenes, how that’s kind of manipulated or how things are provoked and prodded in certain ways.

And the idea first came for Darcy, who is the producer on the show. She came to me first about what it would be like to work on a TV show. And then what it would be like to work on a TV show about dating and then having problems in your own love life.

Valerie

I love it. Because I love this whole premise of behind the scenes of a dating show. I find all of these aspects fascinating.

Now the thing is you mentioned that you were a screenwriter, so you have been involved in All Saints, Home & Away, and a number of other productions. What made you decide, I’m going to write a book now? Because it’s very different.

Kaneana

It is very different. But I was actually writing books on the side. I mean, when I say writing books, I was writing manuscripts that were still on my computer, but I was doing it while I was working in TV. I think when you are working in television, you’re working in such a big team and you are driven by the script producer and the premise of the show that you’re working on.

With All Saints, it’s all medical. You’re in the hospital. On Home & Away, it’s in Summer Bay. You’re kind of restricted to whatever parameters the show has. And with novel writing there’s yourself and a blank screen, essentially, or a blank page. And you can just do whatever you like.

So I think it just started off as a bit of an escape. I started doing courses and enjoying my own writing on the side. But I probably didn’t get serious about it until I started my family. And my eldest, my son, was starting to have two sleeps a day. And a very wise older woman said to me, now you need to make sure you make time for yourself during the day. Motherhood can be very draining and very isolating.

So I don’t think she was necessarily meaning start writing a book. She was just meaning whether you want to do yoga or watch TV or sit down and have a cup of tea. But that advice really stuck with me. And so I started – I had two sleeps at this time, I had two sleeps a day – so one of them I’d quickly whip around and do whatever preparation for dinner or cleaning or cooking. And then the other sleep time was just me and I would write. And then as time went on, that cooking and cleaning time just kind of went to the side and it was all about writing.

And I ended up writing another two manuscripts that are just on my computer. I haven’t had any success with. But The One I wrote when I had all three children. So I think my eldest was about five, five and a half, and the youngest was just a newborn. And I had a toddler in between.

So I don’t know how I did it, but I did.

Valerie

Wow. Fantastic. So the thing is, you said that while you were scriptwriting you were writing these manuscripts on the side. So where does The One fit in to your timeline? Was it the first, the fifth, the tenth, the second? And how did it evolve?

Kaneana

I think it’s probably the third serious one. When I first started working in television, I dabbled in a few different story ideas but nothing got completed.

And then when we were in, we went to London and lived over there for a little while, and I started working on a young adult book, and it was behind the scenes of TV then too. And I did complete that one.

And then I moved on to a new adult age, they were all out of uni. And then I moved on to more women’s fiction. So I obviously just keep getting older and older.

Valerie

Yes. And do you think it got older because you got older? Or do you have a preference for a particular demographic or age group? In terms of writing for that demographic or age group?

Kaneana

I think it probably has something to do with me getting older. But also, I’ve always loved reading young adult fiction as well. And I think… I have also taught, so I’ve been around teenagers. So I think their voices stick in your head.

And I also had a short story published earlier this year in the Underdog anthology, which was all for unpublished authors. But it was all based at teens and with the hashtag #loveOzYA.

So I think teenagers and teenage stories are pretty important too.

Valerie

So with this story, you have three women. And you came up with Darcy first, you mentioned. How did you then… Because you had to get to know or you had to know your three main characters, and obviously the other characters as well, but particularly your three main characters so well. Was there a… Were they really clearly formed in your mind from the beginning? Or did they grow as the manuscript progressed? And how did you, if you did anything, keep track of their personalities, their quirks, their characteristics, whatever was going on in their life, and so on?

Kaneana

Yeah, I think they did kind of form as the manuscript kept developing. Darcy was the one that came to me the easiest. And then also Penelope, who has a smaller role in it. I kind of knew more about those two, whilst I think I really had to dig a little bit deeper for Bonnie, who is the contestant, because I had to think, okay, why is she coming on this show? And what kind of people come on this show? And I wanted her to be more like a fish out of water. This isn’t something that she would normally do but she’s kind of pushed to do it because of her circumstances at home.

But yeah, it definitely develops along the way. And different drafts. And trying to make sure their voices are all different so that they come off the page.

I think in terms of being able to do the three different women, that comes from television training, though. I find that because with storylines of A, B & C storylines when you’re plotting a TV show, that kind of really stuck in my head. And so that was what I did naturally. And even in the manuscript I’m working on at the moment, I’ve done it again with the three different women.

And I think maybe next time I’ll try something different. Because it is hard to make sure the three interweaving storylines all line up and hit high points at different points within the story.

Valerie

And of course with that background in scriptwriting, you were very familiar with the three act structure. Because so much of scriptwriting is just based on that and also based on when the television commercials are!

Kaneana

Yes, that’s right.

Valerie

So with writing a novel, scriptwriting is a very collaborative process. Because you are dealing with so many other people and sometimes you are writing certain episodes but someone else is writing the next episode, and then you’re back and then someone else altogether, and so on. Did you find it, was it hard to get used to, to adjust to being all by yourself and not having to answer to anyone?

Kaneana

I guess it has been different, because you don’t have someone else to bounce off ideas as much. But I kind of tend to talk about my manuscript, especially with my mum. We’ll go for a walk and I will bounce ideas off her and talk about it. And I find even speaking about it out loud helps me get a clearer picture in my head sometimes.

Valerie

Right.

Kaneana

And I’ll also… I’m very visual about it as well. I need to write it down. And I might divide the paper into three and kind of line things up. I think that’s coming back to TV and how everything we used to do was on a whiteboard and you’d always see it. And you go, okay, that person’s dropping out of the story a little bit, we need to, I need to give them something there.

You know you need to see them, but then you think, well, we can’t just see them for the sake of seeing them. What’s the point of the scene? And all that. It was TV training of the importance of moving forward, moving the story forward, or showing something about the characters or their relationship with someone else.

Valerie

Is it safe to say then that you’re a plotter? That you plotted it all out and you knew what was going to happen. You’re not a pantser?

Kaneana

I think I do a little bit of both. I do plot but sometimes it might be that I know that we have to see them, but I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen there. And I don’t always write chronologically… I’ve lost the word! Chronologically.

Valerie

Right? You don’t? Okay.

Kaneana

And I was listening to your podcast at Vivid, and I can’t remember who was saying, but about the spotlight scenes.

Valerie

Yes.

Kaneana

Yeah. I do a lot of that. I know what that scene is and might write that scene, and then I’ll have to go back and go, oh, what’s going to build to that scene? And have to put things in either side.

But that happens in TV too. A lot of the time you’ll know your big scenes or your big commercial break scenes, and then have to figure out how you’re going to build up to that or…

Valerie

How they got to the cliff hanger?

Kaneana

Yeah. How did you get there? Why are they on the cliff about to fall off?

Valerie

Yes. Wow. And so when you were writing, and in the midst of writing the main core of the manuscript, can you describe what your typical day was like? Because you’ve mentioned you’ve got kids and perhaps you were busy with other commitments at the time. What were you doing at the time and how did you structure your day in order to get the words down?

Kaneana

Well, how I work now is quite different to how I worked with The One. I wrote The One in about 18 months. And it was all within baby quiet time or sleep time.

Valerie

That’s amazing.

Kaneana

So some days I wouldn’t get anything done, or sometimes I’d have a baby in my arms. I have written pretty much the whole thing with either Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol or Ninja Turtles or something playing in the background. My desk is in the lounge room so the kids are very close. Often they want to sit on me. I’d also write at night.

But whilst I had this, I had children at home the whole time. But now my youngest is at preschool so I do have a bit more flexibility of time to myself.

Valerie

Wow, I think that’s amazing, that you wrote it in baby sleep time, basically. And just around your kids.

So now that your youngest is in preschool and you’re working on another manuscript, what does your writing day look like? Is it far more focused and you can commit far more time to it?

Kaneana

Yeah. It’s funny because you kind of make… Even though I had smaller times, I had to sit on that chair and I couldn’t leave. I am still pretty disciplined. I have two days now and pretty much six hours from drop off to pick up. And I don’t leave the desk very often. It’s to make coffee or tea or to get lunch.

We have just gotten a new puppy, though.

Valerie

Oh!

Kaneana

So he keeps pulling me away. So I’ve gotten up probably more in the last six weeks since I’ve gotten him than ever before.

Valerie

Yes.

Kaneana

Because I keep feeling guilty, I’ve got to go have a play or walk him around the yard and give him a pat.

Valerie

How adorable.

Kaneana

Yes. He is very cute.

Valerie

Take me back to… Because you studied television production at uni. Take me back to why you wanted to go into the television industry in the first place.

Kaneana

Well, I think it was… I always loved story. And playing stories. I often had a little notebook and would write. But I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer. I did go to Cleo for work experience when I was in year ten.

Valerie

Did you?

Kaneana

Yeah, I did. And I kind of had forgotten about that until you and Allison were talking about it. I was like, that’s right! But I don’t think that that… I knew that that wasn’t quite the right fit for what I wanted to do. I think I’m a bit more make believe than the article side of writing. I never got into that side. I was more like, let’s make up a story! Even now if I listen to a… I’d like to hear someone tell me a story than listen to the news.

Valerie

Yeah, sure.

Kaneana

So when I was about ten years old, my aunty… No my cousin, sorry, was a makeup artist on E Street. And I went to stay with her in Sydney and went on the set of E Street. And I think that that is probably the biggest spark for me. Like, seeing behind the scenes and thinking, wow.

Valerie

Oh my god! Marcus Graham did it for you!

Kaneana

Yeah!

Valerie

Simon Baker!

Kaneana

That’s right. They lured me in.

Valerie

Oh my god.

Kaneana

It was all very magical. And then my parents bought a video shop when I was in high school. So I worked in their local video shop for many years, so I watched lots of TV and lots of stories. Sorry, lots of movies.

And my local high school also did a video production elective through English. So then I did that. And then in the late years of high school, I did Design and Technology and decided to do a documentary. So I think it was just a few things that all kind of combined together.

So then I did TV production. And still I didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to do writing in TV. It wasn’t until my third year doing TV production that I did a work placement at Home & Away in the script department. And sat down and I think within half an hour I was just like, oh my goodness, this is what I want to do. People were talking to me about story arcs, and character development. And it was six months ahead of what was on TV and I was already a fan, so I was like, oh my goodness! All this stuff’s about to happen!

So then I decided to stay on and do an honours year and kind of learn more about the craft of screenwriting. And developed my own show as part of my thesis, and things like that. So got a little bit more skill behind me.

Valerie

I love it. I have to admit, I did work experience on Water Rats.

Kaneana

Oh, I loved Water Rats growing up!

Valerie

I loved Water Rats! So again, I was a fan. And then I was discovering… So I completely relate to your experience. And what’s interesting is that I really saw how collaborative it was and how many people were involved, and I mean I absolutely loved my experience, but I just wanted to work by myself!

Kaneana

You were the opposite! You were like, this isn’t the right fit.

Valerie

That’s right. That’s right. So anyway, at some point obviously you decided, I’m going to write books. I’m going to write manuscripts on the side. Now I have to admit, you’re probably the only… You’re the first interviewee we’ve had who bounces the story ideas off their mum.

Kaneana

I know.

Valerie

So when you decided to do that, though, did you do it in secret? Or did you actually tell people, hey, I’m writing manuscripts now on the side. Because it’s interesting, sometimes a lot of people keep it secret for a while.

Kaneana

Yeah. Well, I think because I had been screenwriting already, people already knew that I wrote. So seeing my name on the credit for a script for Home & Away was one of the biggest thrills. And lots of my friends knew about that and knew that I loved doing that.

So in terms of writing my own, I don’t think I was necessarily secretive about it. I probably just didn’t chat about it as much. But a lot of my friends know that this is a long time coming. That I have been wanting this for a very, very long time.

Valerie

Yes.

Kaneana

And I think also, a big step for me was I did the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Build Your Author Platform course. So I had created an online presence about two years before I got my book deal. And I think doing that was a big step, putting myself on social media as a writer. And in my head I was like, I am not a writer, I haven’t got a published book.

And that was a really hard step to take because you’re really putting yourself out there. But it was great in making connections. And reading a lot of books and making sure I was making connections with other authors and other readers. I found that hugely beneficial.

It was also knowing different hashtags to look at. And then you just kind of, the whole world opens up with you discover more books to read. And the types of books that I wanted to write, then you’d know where to look.

Valerie

And also, you did the creative writing course at the Australian Writers’ Centre, and a few other courses. So how did that impact your writing?

Kaneana

Oh, well, I think I would love to just study for the rest of my life. I love learning things and I think there’s always more to learn.

I think one of the huge things about doing a course is that you are committing yourself to time with your manuscript. So if you sign up to do something you’re going to say, okay, well, that means I’ve invested in this, I’m going to commit with my manuscript. And therefore you’re going to see progress with it.

And you can always develop your craft. And I think some of the great things about doing the courses is that different presents bring different things to the table.

Valerie

Yep.

Kaneana

And they might… Different elements within a story… I know with The One how I originally started it wasn’t how it is now. And that came about from the creative writing course. I kept having to go, okay, I’m starting this story in the wrong spot. And had to keep shifting scenes around and figuring it out.

And then you look at opening sentences and opening paragraphs. And concentrating on different voices of the characters and word choices. So I think craft is a huge thing of the writing courses.

But also just motivation to keep on going. I often felt really inspired after going to a course and meeting other people within the course, whether it’s a presenter itself or just other aspiring authors or other writers that are at different stages of their career. It just really motivates you to keep on going.

Valerie

Yeah. And so tell us about how you got your book deal.

Kaneana

Okay. So I became a member of the Romance Writers of Australia. I must have become a member the year before I actually went to their big conference. So I remember seeing that they were posting that they were up in Brisbane, and remembered seeing, oh you can pitch at those conferences. And I was still working on The One.

And then I ended up entering The One into their Emerald Award, their unpublished manuscript award. And it went quite well in that and I got some really great feedback. And it was still about six months until the conference but I thought, oh, I think I’m going to hold on to this and I think I’m going to try and pitch it rather than send it in to the slush pile, so to speak.

So I did more courses and had my synopsis and my pitch down pat. And then they have a really great system at the Romance Writers where you can sign up with people and practice your pitch and get really ready with authors. And so then on the weekend, it was in Sydney last year, I went and I pitched to several publishers and agents.

And it was about five and a half weeks after the conference I got a phone call from Harlequin to say that Rachel, who is my publisher, she really liked it and wanted to take it to an acquisitions meeting. So that was very exciting, but I also had to stay quite grounded because it still wasn’t a deal yet.

Valerie

Yeah.

Kaneana

Yep. But it was great just to step in the right direction. And I got the phone call about six days later to say, yes, we’d like to offer you a book deal.

Valerie

Do you remember? Like, what you were doing at the time?

Kaneana

Yes, I remember. When I first got the call about the acquisitions meeting I was playing Barbies with my youngest daughter, which was kind of, you know… Mum said that when I was little, I couldn’t be pulled away from the Barbies. I was always making stories with my Barbies. So it kind of felt really nice that it was similar. I was still doing the same thing years and years later.

And then I was actually teaching. I was running from… I’d just an exam supervision and was going to sport and I didn’t have time to ring back. But I just listened to the voicemail and the voicemail said that they’d offer me a deal. And I had to go into sport for the next couple of hours before I could call her back.

So I had to play handball with the kids at the high school for a couple of hours in their sport time, thinking, oh my gosh, it’s actually going to happen! I think that was a super exciting day.

Valerie

And then when you held it in your hands for the first time?

Kaneana

Yeah. Getting the ARC, the advance copy, that was pretty thrilling. I was bouncing and just seeing how excited my kids were for me, as well. And yeah. It’s all been really exciting.

I actually think that the excitement, I’ve had a lot of it, and now I’ve hit this number, oh my gosh, it’s actually happening, I don’t think it’s hit me. Maybe it will when I see it in shops. But I’ve gone a bit numb. And I think, oh gosh, this dream that I’ve been hoping for for so long is happening which I feel very, very lucky.

Valerie

So what’s next for you? What are you working on now?

Kaneana

I’m working on another women’s fiction about three women and their interweaving relationships. But I don’t have a deal for that at this stage so hopefully I’ll be able to show it to my publisher soon.

Valerie

Yeah. Very exciting. And finally, what would be your advice to aspiring writers who hope to be in a position where you are when they’re holding their book, their novel, in their hands?

Kaneana

Sorry. The three…

Valerie

Yeah. Your top three tips.

Kaneana

Sorry. Yes. One of them would be to move away from the computer, which I had to do a lot of with the three kids. But I think I wrote, well, probably plotted in my head a lot of the story when I was away from the screen. It’s really important to step away. Like you kind of figure out story issues. Whether I’m on a walk or a run or doing the dishes or in the shower. I think that’s always really helpful.

Another one would be, I was going to say to talk about plot points and plot issues and characters.

Valerie

To your mum.

Kaneana

To my mum. On a walk! We often go for a walk. And I have to say, now I’m having a problem with this. And she’s really great. She doesn’t just say one thing. We talk out about five to six different options.

Valerie

I love it.

Kaneana

And then I go home and she doesn’t say which one she prefers. She might tell me later that that wasn’t the way she’d want to go.

And another one is to get involved in a book club. Now this is… I love my book club and my book club girls and spending time with them is something I always look forward to, especially because writing is very isolating. But I think being in a book club has allowed me to understand what others enjoy and don’t enjoy in different books.

And it also keeps me quite grounded in realising that what I’m writing isn’t for everyone. Not everyone is going to love it and that’s okay. Because within my book club, we all very different opinions and tastes. And I think putting your book out into the world is quite difficult, because you’re putting it out there for opinions and judgement. And I think, that’s okay. It might be for some people but it’s not for others.

So I think my book club has really helped me try and step back and look at it all a bit objectively.

Valerie

Wonderful. Look, congratulations on The One. So excited for you. And I have no doubt it’s going to be a wonderful success. So thank you so much for your time today, Kaneana.

Kaneana

Thank you for having me.


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