WELCOME TO GIRLFRIEND FICTION
Spent much of her childhood in Papua New Guinea, without a television. But she was in easy reach of a library, where she 'inhaled' stories. She studied Arts/Law at Melbourne University before working part-time for a record company while she began her life as a writer. Her first books were the fantasy series 'The Chanters of Tremaris' and she also wrote a stand-alone novel called 'The Taste of Lightning'.
How did real life influence the characters in Always Mackenzie?
'At first I was quite nervous about writing teenagers in the real world, rather than a world I’d invented, but after I’d dug out my old school diaries, it all came flooding back. What really interests me (as with the fantasy books) is relationships, and reading those old diaries brought back the most vivid memories of the special fun and the pain of the intense friendships you form as an adolescent, and the tension between the demands of those friendships and your first tentative explorations of your own individuality.
'Another vivid memory from those years was the very painful experience of having my two closest friends at the time become each other’s best friend, excluding me, which was something I’d never written about.'
What was it like writing Dear Swoosie with fellow Girlfriend Fiction author, Penni Russon?
Penni and I had the best fun writing Dear Swoosie together. It all happened very fast - one of us said idly, "Wouldn't it be fun to write a Girlfriend Fiction book together?" and the next minute, so it seemed, we'd begun, and Poppy and India's story was spooling out of us almost too fast to catch.
Penni and I were already good friends, and writing pals. I've never been mates with another writer, and it's wonderful to have someone to whinge to about writing problems (first person or third? how many words make a good chapter? why isn't this character working?) and compare notes. One day, in a silly mood, we counted up the number of times our characters gave each other sideways glances, or bit their lips, or used the word "just." But writing something together... it was a scary idea. Would we be able to really get inside the heads of the characters that belonged to each other? As a writer, you become used to owning all the people in your imagined world; in a collaboration, half the people belong to someone else. I wasn't sure how Poppy would react, what she'd say or do. I had to wing it. But it wasn't long before Poppy and Mandy were just as real to me as "my" characters, India and Sarah.
Penni and I took turns to write a chapter each. Every few days a new chapter would arrive; it felt as if the book was writing itself. Although we'd planned the story together, there were always surprises in each chapter, jokes to squeal at, poignant lines to savour. One odd side effect of writing together was that we seemed to disappear into our characters. While we were writing, we almost totally stopped communicating except through the novel-in-progress: no emails, no phone calls, no visits. It was as if we had become India and Poppy; we had no existence outside our unfurling story. Luckily, we both wrote fast. Knowing that someone was sitting impatiently at the other end of the line was a great incentive to stop procrastinating.
The downside of disappearing into our characters was that when things went wrong between the girls in the book, I felt compelled to ring Penni and check that everything was okay between us - it was all too real! Another time, after we'd finished the novel, Penni and I went op-shopping together. Penni took one look at the garments I'd gathered - a velvet skirt, velvet jackets, a lacy top - and said, "You realise all those clothes belong to India?"
When we finished Dear Swoosie, we both knew we'd created something special. It seems so perfectly right to have written a story together that's about friendship, and love and loss and laughter; about mothers and daughters, about the past and the future. We laughed a lot writing Dear Swoosie; and when it was finished, we cried.
Embarrassing high school moment?
'I really hesitate to tell this story because it proves how thoroughly uncool I was; I'm still embarrassed by it. I was a very unsociable teenager; I did have friends but none of them were really sociable either. Anyway, I was invited to a party and I had nothing to wear. (I should point out that I went to a school with a uniform.)
'After an agonised shopping trip with my mum, we finally bought a red floral print dress with frills (this was the 80s). And of course I arrived at the party and everyone else was in jeans and shorts and cut-off tops and my frilly dress was totally unsuitable. It was excruciating. Maybe that's why I'm still not that keen on parties!'
Life at school
'I loved school, on the whole (except sport and sewing); I loved English, of course! Also History & Latin. We had a tiny Latin class which stayed together all through school, and we were all friends; one year we were jammed into a teeny little funny classroom that jutted out from the main school with windows all round, and my best friend and I used to go there for deep and meaningfuls in our spares. When I went back for my school reunion I was very sad to see that room had been knocked down and replaced with a spiffy new wing of soulless classrooms.
'My favourite subject ever was in Year 10, we had a special one-off class called History For Specialists which one of the teachers invented for a group of us who loved history and wanted more than the curriculum offered. We went on lots of excursions to historical sites, learned about archaeology, and had great debates about historical controversies. Nerd heaven!'
What's the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
'I've always been pretty bad at taking advice. I'm sure I've been given plenty of fantastic advice, if only I'd listened to it!'
Winter of Grace
Kate Constable's second book for Girlfriend Fiction is Winter of Grace.
Find out more about Kate at www.kateconstable.com