Krissy Kneen: Author of fearlessly honest works

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Krissy KneenAcclaimed for the ‘fearless honesty of her work’, Krissy Kneen has worked across a number of different writing genres.

The author of Steeplechase (2013), she has also written a collection of erotica Swallow the Sound (2007), a memoir Affection: A Memoir of Love, Sex & Intimacy (2009), which was shortlisted for the 2010 ABIA Biography of the Year, and Triptych, An Erotic Adventure: 3 Stories in 1 (2011).

Shortlisted three times for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award, Krissy works as the Marketing and Promotions Officer at Avid Reader bookshop in Brisbane.

We sat down with her at the Sydney Writers’ Festival to discuss her latest novel and her new writing direction.

Click play to listen. Running time: 10.39

steeplechase

Transcript

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Danielle:
Hi, I’m Danielle from the Australian Writers’ Centre, I’m here at the Sydney Writers’ Festival about to have a chat to Krissy Kneen. She’s the author of three books, her latest is Steeplechase. I’m going to have a chat to her about that. Hi Krissy.

Krissy:
Hi, how are you?

Danielle:
First of all just tell us about the latest book, Steeplechase.

Krissy:
It’s a book about sisters, and it really explores the idea of finding your own sense of self, and also the idea that sisters are not this great sisterhood of people kind of standing together, supporting each other. That sisters are more complex than that, they’re really about competition and really a lot of people base their own identities on their sisters. So, this is about two sisters who are brought up very close together, and one of them develops a mental illness, and the other one who doesn’t want to be left behind develops the same illness, to keep up with her sister. And they actually reconnect after 25 years of not having seen each other, and the old patterns begin to emerge again.

Danielle:
I guess it is quite a dark book, and one reviewer described it as ‘gothic’. Is that something that you set out to do, or did it just come as you were writing it?

Krissy:
Kind of after the first draft of it there was something missing from the book, and I suddenly realised that it needed to be treated a bit more like a ghost story, because one of the sisters sees an imaginary friend and the other tries very hard and eventually does begin to see the imaginary friend, too. And that needed to be treated like a bit of a ghost story, because for her what was real and what wasn’t real was very hard to discern. And so for her it was like a ghost story, like seeing a ghost who isn’t there and who suddenly materialises. So, I did actually start reading quite gothic works and ghost stories to get into the feel in the second draft.

Danielle:
This is a bit of a departure for you. There’s been a memoir and there was also an erotic fiction book. Why this change in direction?

Krissy:
It’s actually the direction I was going in before I went into exploring sexuality. So I had written a couple of very sort of dark literary novels, and they had gotten short-listed for awards, but they had never been published and then I sort of realised I needed to focus on something that was a little bit easier, I suppose, to digest. And so I worked on the sexual memoir then and moved onto sex writing.

I moved into sex writing really because most of work did explore sexuality, but it explored it within the context of a literary novel, and often it was a taboo or a dark kind of sexuality. And so I realised that if I just focused on the sexuality people would be more interested in reading that work. And so I went there to try and get a book published, really. And it was very successful for me, but I really am moving back to form, as with this book, and it does still deal with sort of dark sexual elements, but definitely within a literary fiction context. And, I’m hoping that I can move forward to writing both sex books and literary fiction books in the future.

Danielle:
Sex is something that writers find really difficult to write. Was it something you struggled with? With the last book, the exotic fiction, did you really struggle writing those things?

Krissy:
No, I didn’t, actually. I find sex really easy to write, so I’m kind of the opposite. I find familial relationships are the hardest subject for me to tackle, so that’s why I’ve tackled it in Steeplechase. But the other two books dealt with sexuality, and I actually find that easier because I find sexuality to be fun and humorous and joyful. And so I really enjoy kind of just immersing myself in the pleasures of sex, and I find the writing quite easy, which is kind of the opposite of what everyone else seems to find. So it’s interesting.

Danielle:
I only ask this because the PR – the very last sentence is, ‘This is her first non-exotic novel…’ did you feel you were being pigeon-holed a little bit?

Krissy:
Yeah, I think so. After two books which focus really strongly on sexuality, people expected this one to be another sex book. And I think even before it came out, when people saw the jacket they were going, ‘Oh, is it a sex with horses book?’. And I was like, ‘No, it’s not really a sex with horses book’. So, people just expected that they were going to see sex when they read this book. So I think it was kind of important for those readers who are not interested in reading erotic fiction or non-fiction, so those readers who don’t want to read a sex book can actually feel safe that there’s not much sex in this book – there might be a little glimpse, but not very much. So it was kind of a way of making sure that those readers would come to the book.

Danielle:
Just tell us a bit about your writing process. Do you plan your book and then sit down and write it all in one hit? Is it a gradual thing for you? What’s your process like?

Krissy:
I really need to know where the book is going, so I need to know something towards the end or towards the middle that will keep me going. When I’ve got that kernel of what it is that I’m aiming for, then I just start and I write in order. I used to write out of order, I used to write random chapters from all around the book, and I find that really confusing with a book-length work. It’s actually really hard to keep a whole book in your head, and so I would get very confused with what I had taken out, and what I had put in, it would just really complicate things for me. So I found starting at the beginning and working through to the end of the first draft is fantastic, and it really keeps things in perspective. Then the next draft I write everything on index cards, throw it up over the wall, then I can work out what to take out, what needs expanding on. Then I can redraft from there.

Danielle:
Do you have a very strict writing routine that you stick to while you’re working on a book?

Krissy:
I think the strictness of my writing routine is that every time I’m not doing something else I’m writing. So, it’s not like I get up and I do ‘X’ amount of hours and then I do something else. I actually just force myself to work in between everything. So if I have an hour after work before I have to go and do something I will sit down at a café and I will work for that hour. And, I’ll just make sure that every single spare second I have I spend on writing. And it’s not always the same, because my life is quite varied – sometimes I do shifts at the bookshop during the day, or sometimes I’m running an event at night, it just chops and changes. So the only way to do it is to force yourself to work when you’re not doing something else, and not to have too much of a social life, too.

Danielle:
As a bookseller, what’s it like to have somebody come up with your book that you sell to them?

Krissy:
It’s lovely, but it’s also a little bit awkward. I’ve done the pretending it’s not my book thing. I’ve done the, ‘Ah, this got really good reviews’, and then, like, putting it in the bag and sending it to them, that’s always fun. And there was one woman once who came up with a copy of my book and she said, ‘There’s a sign saying ‘signed copies’ next to this, but I can’t find any signed copies’, and I actually said to her, ‘Oh, we’ve got them under the counter, just give me a second’. I took her book and I bent down and I signed it, and I said, ‘Here’s one’, and I gave it to her. It was a stupid thing, my co-worker was standing there watching me do it. As soon as she had gone out we just like cracked up laughing. He was like, ‘I’ll just sign that book for you. Why don’t we do that?’

Danielle:
And she was none the wiser?

Krissy:
She was none the wiser, and it was a terrible thing to do, but it was like, ‘Well, I can just sign that for you’, and I just didn’t want her to know it was me, it just felt a bit odd.

But a lot of people do know that I’m a writer now, so a lot of our customers will come in specifically to buy my book because they know I’m there. So that’s actually lovely when that happens, and they say, ‘Oh, could you sign it for me?’ And that’s really nice.

Danielle:
I’ve just got one final question. What’s one piece of advice you would give to new writers?

Krissy:
I think reading so much – like reading and writing is the only trick to it. I think you need to put in the hours before your writing takes off and is better, but you also need to read equally as much. Some people say just read everything, and I actually think what you need to do is find where your voice is naturally comfortable and read all of that, so don’t read things that are going to take you away from what you want to work on. Like, really find that area that you think, ‘This is what I want to write one day’, and read everything you can in that area, and that will make you a better writer.

Danielle:
Excellent advice. Thanks so much, Krissy. Enjoy the festival, and good luck with the book.

Krissy:
Thank you.


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