AUTHOR INTERVIEW – KATE HANNEY (Comtemporary Young Adult)
Welcome to Kate Hanney!
We like to begin by finding out more about our writers. Tell us about yourself—you know, all that stuff that makes you interesting!
I think it’s fair to say I am not very well travelled! I’ve always lived within a 3 mile radius of where I was born, and within ten minutes walking distance of all my immediate family. I was born in Sheffield, (South Yorkshire), went to school in Sheffield, studied at The University of Sheffield, and I work in Sheffield. There was a brief time when I strayed over the border-into Barnsley-for my first teaching job, but that apart, I am definitely a Sheffield lass born and bred.
For about 15 years I’ve been employed as an English teacher, working with students aged 11-16. For 12 of those years, I’ve worked with teenage boys who have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Although challenging at times, this is a job that can never, ever be described as boring! And on the whole, I love it.
As well as my family, who are very important to me, I also love animals, and we have an assortment of pets. One of my hobbies is horse-riding, and I could never imagine living in a home without a dog—dogs, in my opinion, are fab.
When and why did you begin writing?
I first played around with the idea of writing many years ago, when I was in my first teaching job. I was meeting so many great kids, and their energy and outlook on life was so inspiring. But things didn’t always go their way, and the more I learned about some of their backgrounds and what some of them had experienced in their short lives, the more determined I became to share this with a wider audience.
Before judging these young people for some of their behaviours, I thought it was important that people knew how they’d been shaped and influenced by their environment and the adults around them. For me, writing a novel seemed to be a natural way of doing this.
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing though, and this is a fact that would be immediately apparent to anyone who could bear to read any of my early drafts.
Then my first child came along and writing got forgotten about for a few years. But, and I apologise for not being able to think of a more original metaphor, the seed had been planted. The story I’d started to write, wouldn’t leave me alone. The main character—my main character, who I loved like one of my own kids—wouldn’t leave me alone. So eventually, I went back to it, started re-writing it from scratch and managed to get a good chunk completed.
I still wouldn’t have known what to do with it however, and it could easily have been left to languish on my hard-drive. But after a chance conversation with one of my students, he persuaded me to let him read it. Amazingly, he loved it, and over the next few months he nagged me to get it finished, which I did, and “Safe” was written.
What is your genre?
Contemporary, realistic, Young Adult. Always with a gritty edge!
What’s your process? Seat of pantser, well-devised outliner?
Perhaps it could be called, ‘organic’; it just sort of happens. I have a relatively detailed plan of the plot in my head, and I feel like I know my characters inside out, but up until now I haven’t been one to produce pages of plans or character profiles. I generally do just sit down and write.
What other writer inspires you? Your work?
Ooh, I love John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Arthur Miller. Then more contemporary authors like Melvin Burgess.
What is your favorite work by you? And why is it your fav?
That’s like asking me to choose my favourite child; I can’t do it! When I’m in the process of writing a book, that’s the one I’m completely absorbed in, and I have to be totally in love with it to carry on. I suppose the previous ones do get forgotten about a little when I’m concentrating on a new one in this way, but when I’m having a break from anything new, they all bounce back into my mind with equal fondness. I think that’s possibly because they are all bit different-I wrote them all for a slightly different purpose, so they don’t have to compete with one another!
Where does your character inspiration come from?
After working with hundreds of kids over the years, I suppose it would be impossible for me not to be inspired by some of them, although none of my characters are directly based on anyone I know—they really are works of fiction.
I also come into contact with lots of people, both through my job and my personal life, who are interesting and who must subconsciously inform some of my character traits and choices. As my own children grow up, I think I also take some inspiration from them.
What’s your best/worst experience as a writer
One of my best experiences would definitely be going into schools as a visiting author and speaking with kids who have read my books. I love hearing their feedback—which, thankfully is always complimentary—and I love hearing them talk about my characters and their situations as though they are real. These visits, along with getting emails from readers, or reading their reviews, are the things that make the hundreds of hours it takes to write a book seem worthwhile—it reminds me why I do it.
Another fantastic experience has been setting up Applecore Books with my brilliant author friend, Wendy Storer. Applecore is our own independent publishing company, and as well as publishing our own books, we are now starting to look at taking on new, exciting authors to join us.
My worst experiences? Mmm, nothing really springs to mind. I’ve had the usual rejections—and the closer you get to a deal with a major international publishing house, the harder those rejections hit. But nobody died. I would have been ecstatic to have landed a deal with a conventional publisher in the past, but now I’m ecstatic about the advent of Applecore Books…and who knows what the future may hold?
Writers get a lot of advice—from friends, coworkers, other writers and complete strangers. What is the best/worst writing advice you ever got?
One of the best pieces of advice I received came from Helen Corner at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, and that was, “Slow things down.”
Because of the nature of some of the boys I teach, I have a tendency to maintain a very quick pace—if there isn’t something happening every ten seconds, the boys can get bored, and then I’ve lost them. But what I learned was how to keep up the pace, i.e. always have something ‘happening’—whilst also building tension more successfully by slowing the action down, really building the scene, and by including the necessary details that ensure the reader is totally submerged in the situation.
The worst advice? Well, that came from someone who reviewed one of my books—I think it was “Watermelon”—on a peer-review website. He basically slated it, then told me that writing wasn’t really for me, and asked if I had considered taking up another pastime? That’s not bad advice because I’m outraged at his response—he’s entitled to his opinion; when we put our stuff ‘out there’ we have to accept, expect even, that some people won’t like it. But it was bad advice because I love to write, and if someone gains pleasure from something, no matter what level they’re at, I don’t believe anyone else should tell them to stop.
There is always a spoilsport out there! What is your latest work?
I’ve just published two books within a month of each other. The first was “Watermelon”, a very gritty account of how a boy who lives in a care home is so desperate to belong, that he becomes trapped in the world of drug-dealing and teen gangs.
The other was “Someone Different”.
This is written as a duel narrative, and tells the story of Anna, a very privileged, privately educated teenage girl, and Jay, a teenage boy who doesn’t attend school and who is mixed up in youth crime. It’s about how a twist of fate brings them together, and how they then have to battle against poverty and prejudice to keep it that way.
I love the covers!
What do you want your fans to know about you and your work?
Gosh that’s a hard one. I think it would have to be, that I know I deal with some very controversial issues in my books: drugs, neglect, gun-crime, gangs, under-age sex, to name but a few, and I know some people would think these aren’t necessarily appropriate for a teenage readership. But these are the realities of life for so many young people, and I would hate for people to pretend they aren’t.
What I hope I do, is present these issues in a balanced, honest and sensitive way. I would like kids who are in these situations to be given a voice (an authentic voice, that isn’t often found in literature) and for them realise it’s not just them that these things happen to. I would also like to encourage kids who aren’t in these situations to pause for a minute before they judge anyone who is. I would like to give them some sense of what it might have been like for them if they’d been born in a different bed.
Share something about yourself that your readers don’t already know.
I can touch my nose with my tongue.
Or, more seriously, that I had to have one to one tuition at school when I was younger as I really struggled with reading. Although it’s much better than it was in my childhood, my spelling is still quite poor as well, and I think if I’d been at school now, I’d have been diagnosed with dyslexia.
But all of that can be overcome, especially in this day and age of the spell check. If you have empathy for people, and some sense of imagination, you will be able to write stories!
Where can your readers find out more about you and your writing?