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Social awareness in fiction with Katrina Roe

Katrina RoeCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry?

Being in media, I've always written for work, but only got serious about creative writing once I had my first child. I started toying with kid's books in 2009 (Gasp! Ten years ago!) and published my first book, Marty's Nut-Free Party, three years later in 2012. I work 5 days a week and have 3 kids and it's a real struggle to find time to write.

Describe your typical work desk.

I think I have written all my stories at my kitchen table, usually when one of my kids has been taking a nap. It's usually a mess. As I write this, I am surrounded by a mug of half-drunk Milo, a bowl of sugar, tomato sauce, babushka dolls, a box of tissues, my four-year-old's drawings, a Lynette Noni novel, Kat Colmer's YA romance Can't Beat the Chemistry, a Hope 103.2 waterbottle, the school newsletter, a pack of playing cards, a painted ceramic mermaid, my to-do list and a bunch of flowers. By the time I finished writing the list, I'd drunk the rest of the Milo. I really need to clean up!

Accepting difference and social awareness are prominent themes in your books. What interests you most about these topics?

I've thought about this and find it hard to articulate why I come back to these themes. Somewhere along the way I just became sensitised to the idea of people being excluded or misunderstood. Growing up with a brother who had a severe disability, then having a daughter with anaphylactic food allergies probably heightened my awareness of the need to care for those with extra needs. Since reading To Kill a Mockingbird as a teenager, I've been acutely aware of the power of books to build empathy and I seem to gravitate towards books about outsiders in my own reading. So I guess that just naturally comes out in my writing. And I love seeing the way kids respond emotionally to these stories.

What research do you do when writing from personal experience? Do you try and get a broader understanding, or make it uniquely your own?

I tend to write first from my instinct and experience, then research later to make sure what I've written stands up to the research. At times I have had to tweak or amend what I've written to fit the research. For example, when I wrote Gemma gets the Jitters, I initially had Gemma taking a photo from the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Once I researched the BridgeClimb and the techniques they promote for tackling a fear of heights, I discovered that no cameras are allowed on the BridgeClimb. So I had to amend the story to reflect that reality.

Writing can be a great emotional outlet, but can conversely be a mentally draining process. What is your advice for anyone struggling with this?

For me, the writing itself is always a joy, it's the rest of the process that is mentally draining. The constant promotion, worrying about book sales and publicity and the constant rejections. Sending off your very best work to a publisher and waiting months to hear anything back is the most agonising part of the process for me. Every time you publish a book you never know if you will ever be published again! Having so little control over editorial decisions can be tough on authors as well. It hasn't happened to me, but I know many authors find it tough when the publisher's ideas for the title or cover conflict with their own creative choices.

My advice would be to keep your writing in its place in your life. Don't let it take over your life. Make sure you're enjoying other activities and hobbies, a good social life and prioritising your non-writing friendships, your health and your family. You won't be a great writer if you don't live your life to the fullest.

If you could live a day in a literary character's shoes, which one would you choose?

Anne of Green Gables! She finds so much joy in everything!

Describe your panels for the Wombat Books conference.

I'm going to be discussing resilience for writers on a brilliant panel with Penny Jaye, Kate Gordon and T.M. Clark. We'll be looking at issues of mental health, bouncing back from adversity and work/life balance. I'll also be looking at social awareness in books with Josie Montano, Cecily Paterson and Kathy Hoopmann.

For more great panels like Katrina's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the image below for more information.

 Conference Tiles Resilience for Writers

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Resilience and research with Penny Jaye
Keeping it short with Emily Larkin

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