Katrina Nannestad

Filmed and edited by David Todd

Duration: 14:45

Katrina Nannestad chats to author Yvette Poshoglian at the Sydney Writers’ Festival about her writing process and why she didn’t like reading when she was a child (gasp!!!).

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Transcript – Katrina Nannestad


INTERVIEWER: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Premier's Reading Challenge at the Sydney Writers' Festival Primary Schools Day. We're here backstage with author Katrina Nannestad. Thank you so much for joining us, Katrina.

KATRINA NANNESTAD: You're welcome.

INTERVIEWER: We're really, really excited to have you here. Has itbeen a real buzz talking to the kids this morning at the festival?

KATRINA NANNESTAD: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Big hole full of children all ready to listen to stuff about reading, and writing, and books. It was very nice, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, it's so exciting for us to be here. The Premier's Reading Challenge is kicked off now in New South Wales, so everyone's busy reading. Are you somebody that reads many books at once or do you just read one book at a time?

KATRINA NANNESTAD: I generally read one book at a time and I'm a bit of a mood reader.


KATRINA NANNESTAD: So I often have a stack about this high on my bedside table of what I want to read. And some will be quite heavy books. Others will be quite light and fluffy. And I read by mood. I can't read too many heavy books at once, and I don't want to read too much fluff and bubble at once, either. So I read my way through by mood.

INTERVIEWER: OK. And do you have a particular kind of genre that you like or do you read just about everything?

KATRINA NANNESTAD: Oh, I particularly like literary fiction. And I do like humour as well. So if it's literary fiction with some laughs in it, I like that.

INTERVIEWER: That's brilliant. And do you keep books everywhere in your house, or are they sort of-- or they're in special places.

KATRINA NANNESTAD: [laughs] I try not to keep them everywhere, but they tend to creep out of bookshelves, and end up one in the bedroom, and in the lounge room, and in the kitchen, and in my handbag. But I do have a book nook at my house. So it's off my study, and it's a little nook with three walls filled with shelves. And that's where I put my books. And I rearrange them from time to time, too, because I think they need to be arranged in different ways at different times depending on how much I love them, or whether I'm reading a lot of Australian books, or whether I'm more interested in some American books. So I just love the thing of holding books, and looking at books, as well as reading them.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah. It's always fascinating talking to authors about their books because there's always a logic behind what they do and everybody's different.

KATRINA NANNESTAD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: And one of the other things that we like to ask from the challenge is about the writing process as well. So it's up to you how much you want to share, but when you're in the middle of writing, do you find you read a lot or you don't read a lot? Does it influence you? Or how does it work when you're a writer.

KATRINA NANNESTAD: I think when I'm in the midst of writing a book, like a longer novel, like 'The Girl, the Dog, and the Writer in Rome,' I work so many hours a day writing my story and then reading over the manuscript that by the end of the day, I'm all overloaded and I tend to watch trash on TV. [laughs]

INTERVIEWER: Got to switch off, yeah.

KATRINA NANNESTAD: When I'm not in the middle of that really intense writing stage, I like to read all sorts of things. And I often will I even stop writing during the day, and I'll sit down and write a book in my lunch break, because I just love writing that much. But yes, certainly in that intense writing stage, I just haven't got anything left for words by the end of the day.

INTERVIEWER: [laughs] Well, we know so many of your beloved characters. We've got the 'Red Dirt Diaries.' We've got 'Olive of Groves' as well. And your recent series with Freja Peachtree, who is one of my favourite characters, in 'The Girl, the Dog, the Writer in Rome.' Are you writing one at a time, or do you often have lots of ideas on the go?

KATRINA NANNESTAD: I often have a lot of ideas on the go when I'm in the planning stage. So often, I'll take ideas from earlier books that haven't ended up working out or from pictures or different things. And I'm working on lots of ideas, and then cull it down. But once I'm writing, I really like to work on one thing at a time.

I do at the moment have a couple of series on the go, but I find that it's easier to work on one solidly and then leave it. Because I actually-- part of my writing process is that I really disappear into the world of my story, and I feel like I'm living with my characters and living in the world of the story, so that I can't really do that with two stories at once.

INTERVIEWER: Well, in 'The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Rome,' Freja has an unusual adventure, and she teams up with somebody quite interesting in Rome, in the city of Rome. But I found it to be a really interesting book about family and friendship and what it means. Are we going to see more adventures from Freja?

KATRINA NANNESTAD: Oh, absolutely. I've just finished editing the second adventure from Freja, 'The Girl, the Dog, and the Writer in Provence,' which is southern France. And there are lots of croissants in that book.


And I'm just currently embarking on writing the third book in the series, which will be the last book in the series. So there is an overriding theme of family and belonging and where Freja belongs. And that will be coming to conclusion in the third book in the series.

INTERVIEWER: Oh. I think characters just live within us when we love them. And we've been talking to other writers about books that they love right now or characters that they've loved forever. Were you somebody that loved characters when they were growing up, or delved into books, or didn't delve into books?

KATRINA NANNESTAD: Well, I actually didn't really like reading when I was a young child. And I know that I told the children that today, and the whole audience went--


You know, fancy having an author stand up on stage and tell you that they didn't like reading. But I think I was given such boring, boring books when I was a child, really boring books. And I'm sure there were wonderful books out there, but nobody showed me the right books. And I truly believe there's the right book for everyone out there. It's just that I wasn't fortunate enough to have that given to me.

And I've often wondered, how did I end up loving stories and writing so much when I didn't have books as a part of my childhood? But my family are great storytellers. My grandparents and my aunts and uncles and my parents would always tell stories about their childhood. And I loved that, because their childhoods were so different to mine. And I loved that whole magic of entering into a story, even if it was an oral story, not a written story. And I think really, that's where my love of story comes from, is just that beautiful intimacy of sharing family stories.

INTERVIEWER: Well, it's so cool, because we have writers festivals now where we get to see authors talking about stories and how they come to tell, how you come to tell your stories. So for the reader, it's kind of been like let into your little world of how you think. And I always find that fascinating.

And I think, you know, the readers out there, are a lot of the people doing the Premier's Reading Challenge are also budding writers. Were you always a writer? Were you always interested in words? Or did you start writing at a certain point in time?

KATRINA NANNESTAD: I think really, my writing--


--my writing interest didn't start until right at the end of school. And that was because that's really the time where I really became passionate about reading, because of that early experience of reading being such a boring one. I saw no point in writing stories. Why would I want to reproduce this boring stuff that was being fed to me at school?


So my passion for writing, I think, really began when my passion for reading started. You know, seeing these magical stories that could take you to another place, that you could get completely absorbed into made me want to try to reproduce that sort of magic myself.

INTERVIEWER: I understand you're working on a new series with a lovely new character. Are you able to tell us a little bit about it?

KATRINA NANNESTAD: Yeah. It's a series for younger readers. I usually write for upper primary with these books here. It's a series for five to seven-year-olds, and it's called 'Lottie Perkins.' And it's about a little girl called Lottie who has great ambitions in life. And she changes what she wants to be when she grows up from week to week, but every time she has a new ambition, she totally believes that she can achieve that. So it's quite a fun, lighthearted, sweet series, and I'm very excited about it. Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Do you have little readers that read for you or give you feedback? Or do you tend to keep things close while you're working on them?

KATRINA NANNESTAD: I tend to keep things fairly close. I do sometimes share things out loud with my family. But my family at home at the moment consists of a dog, and she's a great listener. She'll stare very earnestly at me as I read aloud. And my husband and my son, who's 22 years old. So none of them are really my demographic, my audience. But they're great listeners, and they nod and smile, and they're very affirming. Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, that's great. Sometimes [inaudible] about anybody who will listen.



INTERVIEWER: So that's always good.

KATRINA NANNESTAD: But even having said that, though, reading aloud's a really great part of the writing process, even if no one's listening. It makes you think differently about the words you've written when you read aloud, even if there's not an audience.

INTERVIEWER: Even thinking about that process of when you're writing and listening to the story, are you somebody that sort of plots and plans the book? Or do characters sometimes take hold and take you in a new direction?

KATRINA NANNESTAD: I think I do plot and plan. And particularly when I've got stories like 'The Girl, the Dog, and the Writer in Rome' that's a crime novel and there's a mystery, I really need to have a hold on what's going to happen. Otherwise, goodness knows where it would end up. So I do plot and plan very carefully.

Having said that, though, the characters will sometimes take on a life of their own, and they will take the story somewhere completely unexpected. And the one series that I felt like that really happened with me was 'Olive of Groves,' which is quite a rollicking sort of tale. And it's set in a boarding school for naughty boys, talking animals, and circus performers.

And those characters were just wild and woolly and so much fun. And I honestly got to the point halfway through the first book where I felt like they were running along doing stuff, and all was running after them with my notepad, recoding what they were doing. It was magical. It was so much fun. So in that case, I sort of plotted, but things didn't really happen the--


--way I expected them to.

INTERVIEWER: There you go. That's so great. Is every day when you're writing the same? Are you somebody that wakes up at a certain time, goes and sits at the computer, and writes for a full day? Is that how--


INTERVIEWER: You're really regimented like that.

KATRINA NANNESTAD: I am very regimented. I'm a little bit freer. If it's editing, I need more breaks. I find that fairly difficult to sit for long lengths of time, so I'll do some things in between. And when I'm planning, I'll go for lots of long walks, because walking, I find, is very good for getting my thoughts rolling and for clearing out problems.

But when I'm actually in the middle of writing a book, yes, very much. Monday to Friday by 10:00, I sit down at my desk, and I write until I'm too hungry to write anymore. I have lunch, and then I write until I'm too tired to write anymore.

INTERVIEWER: Wow. So if you had to give some advice to young writers and readers, writers particularly about starting a story, oftentimes they sort of say to us, I can write a great first sentence, but then what happens next?


What's your best piece of advice to keep going?


KATRINA NANNESTAD: The best piece of advice. The first piece of advice before you start the first sentence would probably be to make sure you're writing about something you like, something you're excited about, something that's going to give you fun. Because I think everyone writes better if it's something they're enjoying doing. And doing what they want to do, not what someone else has told them to do.

And getting past the first sentence, it's a bit of a tough answer, but just soldier on. Just sit down and keep writing. And even if the writing doesn't sound good the first time around, you can come back and fix it up. And as soon as you've got something on the page, I think your thoughts start to flow more. And the more you're writing, the more your thoughts are spinning around that story.

And the ideas do eventually come. Sometimes it can feel like you're sitting there, trying to squeeze the words out of the pencil. But I think if you just really make yourself do that second sentence, then the third sentence might be a little bit easier.

And I experience that myself, writing every book. I start and I think, how did I write a whole book last time? You know, but I make myself go on, and it starts to come naturally the more I try.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, that's-- yeah, that's a relief to hear--


KATRINA NANNESTAD: That's a very practical. That doesn't sound very creative.

INTERVIEWER: No, I think there's something to be said about trying and continuing and pushing on so that you do have something that you finish ultimately. It's not perfect the first time.

KATRINA NANNESTAD: Yeah. And I think too, the longer you're living in that world of your story, thinking about your story, the more the characters come alive in your mind, and that's when it becomes easy. Or for me, that's when it becomes easy to write.

INTERVIEWER: Are you the sort of author that is always taking notes whenever you're out and about? If you eat-- meet-- eat-- meet interesting characters, or if you overhear an interesting conversation, are you the kind of person that kind of sneaks a little line on two away for future use?




KATRINA NANNESTAD: I try to remember to bring a notebook with me. And you try not to sit at cafes, eavesdropping and recording conversations. But yeah. Certainly lines that people say sometimes stand out, or there's a funny situation even in a shop or a cafe. A funny change of words that happens in your own life that you just think, oh, that could so be a good scene in a story.

And also interesting people you see. You know, I love Melbourne, because there are all these cafes, and you can sit and have a cup of coffee sort of really in the street. And you see all these amazing people walk by. And I think, oh, those shoes would be great on a character. Or look at that fabulous person there. They want to be written into a book.

INTERVIEWER: Yes. Well, that was definitely how I felt about the first Freja Peachtree, because everything about it from the names to the places to the food were just all things that I would love to read more of.


INTERVIEWER: Yes. Well, we wish you all the best, and thank you very much for joining us today at the Premier's Reading Challenge at the Sydney Writers Festival. Thanks, Katrina Nannestad.

KATRINA NANNESTAD: You're welcome. Thanks.

End of transcript