Katrina Nannestad talks “Olive of Groves”

Katrina Nannestad is the author of children’s fiction book Olive of Groves – shortlisted for the 2016 Indie Awards. We contacted her to find out more, and Katrina was only too happy to answer a few questions.

So, Katrina, for those who haven’t read Olive of Groves yet, can you tell us what it's about?
“This, dear reader, is a moving tale of friendship and betrayal, hope and despair, laughter and tears… and a 10-year-old girl with a heart as big as a pumpkin.”

A pumpkin? That’s medically impossible, but we’ll let it slide. So tell us more about this 10-year-old girl.
“When Olive arrives at Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers, she is stunned. This is not what she expected! The headmistress is completely bonkers. Danger and bad smells abound. And Pig McKenzie, school bully and all-round nasty pasty, has taken an instant dislike to Olive.

“Olive, however, is clever, brave and kind and soon wins the friendship and devotion of three rats, a short-sighted moose, a compulsive liar and a goose who faints at the sight of cherries. But are friendship and wits going to be enough when Pig McKenzie puts his Truly Wicked Plan into gear? Oh deary, deary me! You’ll just have to read it to find out.”

Nice. And we guess it could have been a very small pumpkin. Anyway, it’s certainly original, that’s for sure! So tell us, how did the idea for this book form, including its wonderful characters?
“Many of the characters and ideas in Olive of Groves had been prancing in and out of my imaginings for years – Pig McKenzie, the talking animals, smart girls with great strength of character. It was a simple suggestion from my publisher, however, that gathered them together in this one rollicking tale: ‘How about a boarding school story?’

“Immediately, my talking animals put their paws, claws and hooves in the air, begging to be involved. I decided to send them to boarding school with some naughty boys and a troop of budding circus performers. Now I had cute, feral, dangerous and exotic. Not wanting to cramp the activities of such a delightful cohort of students, I placed Mrs Groves, the most befuddled headmistress of all time, at the helm.

“Pig McKenzie, my deliciously wicked villain, had been trying to squeeze his slimy snout into one of my books since I created him 15 years ago. I don’t like his manners, but he really did respond with great enthusiasm when I offered him the role of head boy and school bully at Groves.

“And somewhere in the process, Olive stepped forward as the perfect heroine – clever, courageous and loyal, but not at all cool. It was love at first imagining. If Olive were real, I’d want her to be my friend… despite her embarrassing lack of co-ordination.

“The rest of the story just happened. Once my imagination kicked into gear, the fantasy world of Groves took on a life of its own. I just went along for the ride, recording as faithfully as I could all that happened. That’s the joy and magic of writing!”

So, speaking of writing (were we ever not?)… when you’re writing, what's your typical day like – do you have a writing routine?
“When working on a book, I have a disciplined daily writing routine. My study is at the end of the house and contains everything I need for work – computer, pens, paper, reference books, pin board. I aim to be at my desk, writing, by 10am and write until I am so hungry that I have to stop for lunch. I usually break for about an hour – eat, drink coffee, perhaps walk to the post office or read something (not my own work!). I continue to write for the afternoon until fogginess or family commitments butt in – usually about 5pm. I leave the study at that time, but my mind is always on the story, day and night, until it’s finished.”

Sound rather regimented!
“Sometimes my routine relaxes a little – when the first draft of a book is done, when I am planning school visits, when family stay etc. I can be flexible, but too much flexibility is dangerous. It leads to sloth and lots of blank pages!”

And no publisher (except perhaps one that produces notebooks) wants that. So Katrina, what’s next for you? What are you working on?
“At the moment, it’s polishing time for the third book in the Olive of Groves series. I’m always brewing new children’s stories, and there are glittery dreams and frazzled flakes of paper floating around my study right now. Maybe one of them will take shape soon.

“I’m also spending time on a rather different project – something personal – for me and for my mother. It’s a story inspired by something tragic that happened to my grandmother, a mingling of fiction and family history. Or maybe it’s a mangling. Time will tell!”

And finally, what's your three pieces of advice for aspiring writers who hope to be a full-time writer like you one day?
“Read a range of good literature and when something makes your heart sing, take note. Mark it, read it again, wallow in it. Learn to be a good writer by osmosis!

“Be disciplined. Make time to write, then use it. Write even when you don’t feel like writing. You can polish a pile of dodgy writing until it shines but a blank page is always a big fat nothing with nowhere to go.

“Be brave! DO send that finished product out into the world – to an agent or a publisher. This might sound rather obvious, but the fear of rejection can be crippling, and sharing our writing can feel like baring our souls. Take the plunge. It’s worth it for the time you get the thumbs up.”

Again, Olive of Groves has been shortlisted for a 2016 Indie Award – definitely worth a read.Visit Katrina's website to find out more about her books.


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