Delighted to welcome Katherine Hetzel to the blog today. I’ve known Katherine for several years now after first meeting online then in person at the Festival of Writing in York, where we see each other every year now. She’s also previously won a short story competition and her story, The Colour of Life, provided the title for the first anthology of winners published by Retreat West.
She’s here today talking about her debut children’s novel, Starmark, which was published earlier this year. Thanks for visiting the blog, Katherine.
Fantasy has always been my favourite thing to read. It offers an escape from the everyday and ordinary and gives me the chance to immerse myself in new, impossible worlds inhabited by people who aren’t a bit like me, but who I can imagine being. I suppose it was inevitable then, that I should begin writing what I most loved to read: fantasy. It also has the advantage of not needing much research – I can quite literally make everything up!
I wrote for children because I saw as a volunteer ‘listener’ to readers in my local primary school’s classrooms, so many children who hated reading. As a confirmed bookworm, and with two bookwormy kids of my own, I wanted to change that. With the arrogance of ignorance, I began writing my first novel about ten years ago.
StarMark is actually my second novel but the first to be published. It’s a rags-to-riches story (because I’m a sucker for a happy(ish) ending) about Irvana, who discovers her past, which changes her future (a phrase I have pinched from a five star review on Goodreads with the reviewer’s permission!)
I think as a child, I wanted to be something different, something special. Perhaps we all did…I knew I wasn’t, though. So I used a lot of my imagination pretending to be ‘discovered’ as someone important with a real purpose in life. As an adult, with a very normal life (whatever that means) I found that in the fantasy I was still reading, birthmarks were often used as a device to indicate destiny.
Perhaps some of that childish desire to be special stayed with me even into adulthood, because that’s the point I started from when I first had the idea for the novel. Instead of Cinderella’s shoe, there’d be something on the skin – a magical mark which turned to gold at the coming to power. That’s what made you ‘special’. But…but…what if you had that mark and didn’t know? And someone else discovered it before you did? What kind of story would that make?
That’s when Irvana’s world came to life.
It’s very much a ‘pantsed’ novel rather than a ‘planned’ one, partly because during the eight years it took to achieve publication with Bedazzled Ink, I learned so much about the craft of writing and myself as a writer. The goalposts kept moving and I lost count of the number of edits I completed. I needed to create a world different enough for the reader to imagine comfortably but not so different to their experience they couldn’t connect with it. I needed strong, memorable characters that children could identify with, ones they could imagine having as friends – or enemies.
Most importantly, I needed to remember what it felt like to be a child so that I could see everything through Irvana’s eyes and feel everything through her body.
Although aimed at children, I’ve been surprised by how many adults have read StarMark too. Perhaps because it’s a story about growing up, about seeing where you came from, how it shaped you, and about accepting who you are meant to be? I reckon that’s something most of us can relate to, whatever our age.
Katherine’s second novel, Kingstone, will be published by Bedazzled Ink in June 2017 and she’s currently working on The Crystal Keeper’s Daughter.