Tonight I’m sitting in a dimly lit park to rendezvous with writer and blogger Kathryn White. The sea breeze has picked up and the humid air is filled with the scent of brine. Occasionally car headlights cut the shadows beneath the trees, but this spot certainly feels isolated. Maybe daylight would have been a better idea …
RH: Welcome Kathryn, thanks for joining me in your own corner of Writers’ Block. I hope you like my re-creation of Southcoast Park, scene of two significant moments in Kellie-Sue’s story. As it’s evening, I brought some JD and coke. Interested? *Tempts Kathryn with alcohol*
KW: I’m in! Cheers!
RH: Great! *we touch cans imagining they are cut glass tumblers*
RH: Best Forgotten tells the story of Kellie-Sue Jones and the difficulties she faces thanks to her dysfunctional family, her selfish twin sister and the terrible secret she keeps. Tell us a little about Kellie-Sue and her family.
KW: First of all can I please recommend that no one ever try and keep up with the Joneses. They are probably one of the most dysfunctional family’s on earth. The Mum, Rita, is attractive and has a very successful career, but a troubled personal life.
RH: She’s been through a few husbands, hasn’t she?’
KW: She has been married four times. Her first husband apparently died while Kellie-Sue and her identical twin Cassie were at a school camp and she was so upset about this that she moved house and threw out all photographs of him. He was originally from Atlanta and had a gambling addiction. Her second husband doesn’t appear much in the book, but there’s some hints there, if you look closely, that he wasn’t a good person. Brian, her third, was probably the best of her husbands, the kindest and certainly the wealthiest, but he got stuck with the title of being boring. You can see that the twins really do appreciate their stepdad though. Her fourth husband is a very distant figure and barely mentioned in the story—Kellie-Sue and Cassie do not approve of him and have distanced themselves a bit.
RH: Tell us a little about the girls.
KW: Cassie is the older of the twins and the more outgoing one. She hides her insecurities by belittling Kellie-Sue. Consequently, Kellie-Sue has distanced herself quite a bit emotionally from her sister. Kellie-Sue is the most complex member of the family. She’s the smarter twin, which often goes unnoticed by her family, and she has an absolutely incredible imagination. She’s also suffered the most, first with Anorexia Nervosa and then by being betrayed by her first boyfriend. She also sees Rita’s and Cassie’s selfishness for what it is and can call them out on it in the most brutal way possible.
RH: Yes, Kellie-Sue sometimes makes Rita out to be ‘Mommy-Dearest’. We meet Kellie-Sue in a typically domestic situation – she is chatting to her neighbour who is having trouble with his child when her sister, with whom she shares a flat, demands a lift and denigrates Kellie’s interest in the neighbour – yet very quickly she tells us that she has killed a man. I love the contrast of this domesticity with such a gruesome act. Why did you decide to give her such a domestic setting and how important was this in shaping the story?
KW: The domestic setting was very important to me. I like to write about the secrets that seemingly ordinary people may be hiding while going about their lives. The reason a lot of serial killers or other criminals can go unnoticed by the community is because they seem so ordinary—in fact, some can be quite charismatic. Did you know that Ronnie Biggs, who was part of the great train robbery lived in Adelaide for a while during the 1960s? None of his neighbours had a clue who he was, but all seemed to think that he was a nice guy. Also, I think the domestic setting helped to shape Kellie-Sue’s character. In one sense, she’s more than just a girl who lives a mundane life. In another sense, she’s not a violent psychopath who did it just for a thrill.
RH: Yes, it’s always the quiet ones… Kellie-Sue faces several problems as she tries to keep her secret, but one of the most persistent is the rivalry she feels with her twin, Cassie. When you began writing Best Forgotten, did you set out to explore the nature of sibling rivalry, or did this emerge as you developed Kellie-Sue’s journey?
KW: This emerged as I developed the story. I found Cassie to be a very interesting character to write about. She has a lot of the same insecurities as her sister, but expresses them quite differently. I think each is resentful of the fact that they have a sister who looks just like her, and fears that the other may be loved more.
RH: One of the most intriguing aspects of this time-slip novella is the reliability, or otherwise, of Kellie-Sue’s memories. This is tricky to pull off but you keep it believable even when the story takes a couple of unexpected twists. Tell us a little about how you settled on the structure for Best Forgotten.
KW: Honestly? There was a lot of experimentation. I wrote three sections, which I titled past (the events before Kellie-Sue had amnesia,) the present (when she has amnesia,) and the future (when all is revealed,) and kept them as separate narratives. The tricky part was making them all fit together to make a satisfying story. It took me four days to write the original draft, and then almost two years to put it all together.
RH: I can relate to years of re-writes, but I’m envious you could write the story in four days! *contemplates that herculean effort while swigging at the JD and coke*
RH: This is Kellie-Sue’s story and she allows the reader to be her confidante as she reveals her secrets, confusion, frustration and feelings of betrayal. We only know the other characters through Kellie-Sue’s eyes, their words and actions. In a tale where truth is distorted this can be difficult. In some ways Kellie-Sue is an unreliable narrator. Share with us why you chose to remain in Kellie-Sue’s point of view for the entire story – or did it chose you?
KW: I agree with you, Kellie-Sue is an unreliable narrator. However, she comes across in the beginning as very honest—she has, after all, chosen to confide in the reader about a crime. At one stage, I considered writing a chapter from Cassie’s perspective, however, I felt that this would reveal a few plot twists prematurely, so I decided to stay with Kellie-Sue and let her reveal all in her own time.
RH: I’m glad you did. Cassie doesn’t choose her words too carefully and she might have spilled a few too many beans! I also enjoyed following Kellie-Sue as she unravels the secrets of her life. When she does so, she is forced to confront a startling realisation which makes her question what she knows to be true. What type of research did you do to paint such a believable portrayal of her mental distress?
KW: I researched quite a bit on Avoidant Personality Disorder, which Kellie-Sue has, though it is never named as such in the book. The bulk of the research was, sorry, quite boring. A lot of reading and also keeping an eye on various internet forums for people with APD.
RH: Yes, I always think research suits that iceberg analogy – what makes it into the book is a tiny glimpse of the work done.
RH: You’ve mentioned that you like to write about secrets of ordinary people, and certainly family (and family secrets) are a prevalent theme in your work. Best Forgotten and Behind the Scenes each explore this theme as does your blog. How important is family in your own life, and how have your experiences shaped your writing? (PS: I’m not suggesting you have skeletons in your family closets, though if you do…) *lets silence linger hoping for a scoop*
KW: My family is very important to me. I have a good life, I grew up in a nuclear family, the youngest of three children and the only girl. My parents will have been married forty-four years later this year, my brother and sister-in-law for sixteen … I write about family secrets because I guess it’s one of the things that frightens me the most. People have asked me what is the most important thing in my life and I always answer with, “Family”. I suppose somewhere in my mind losing that would be the thing that would hurt me the most.
RH: Oh, that’s a great self-insight. *decides not to press for dirt* For the last few years you’ve been writing a blog about ‘Amber’ and her domestic dramas, which you’ve recently published as Being Abigail. Tell us a little about this blog – how it came about, what you learned from doing it, how it may have influenced your writing journey.
KW: That came from a very strange time in my life, when I was trying to reinvent myself as a writer, after having no success for a long time. I thought the blog might last three weeks … if I was lucky. Originally, I wrote the blog anonymously, but an old friend of mine found it and called me out on it publically. Anyway, it got popular for a little while there. I think people could really relate to the character. She’s a bit melodramatic, let her insecurities get in the way and a bit spoiled but she is also a genuinely good person … probably the most pure of all of my characters. Prior to the blog, I had been writing short stories about Abigail and her partner, Samuel, at various stages in their lives for some time, though none of these have ever been published.
It has a huge influence on me as a writer. After years of trying to submit my work to publishers, I was, essentially, bypassing that and submitting straight to the public and letting them decide whether it was any good. Some days and some threads were better than others. Sometimes I was just at a dead loss for things to write about, hence why Abigail kept losing her iPhone and laptop. Other days, I had people from all over the globe logging on wanting to know what would happen next, if Samuel was a cheat and if Abigail was going to leave him.
RH: So the iPhone/laptop loss is your plot twist equivalent of Chandler’s ‘man with a gun’. I love that. Tell us about turning Being Abigail into a book.
KW: Writing the book was a huge, big deal. It was my first fully-fledged grown up novel, my earlier novella being a 20,000 word Twilight send-up. I took extracts from the blog and rewrote and fleshed them out to make a novel length story and added some new plot twists, characters and a detailed back-story to give it more depth. Having the book actually out there was a massive learning curve. I soon discovered that it is simply impossible to please everyone. And nor should you have to please everyone.
RH: That’s well worth remembering. *makes mental note* So what’s next for Kathryn White?
KW: At the moment, I am working on a novella. The working title is Cats, Scarves and Liars and is about a very young widow who is stalked by a sadistic older man. I hope to release that and a prequel to Being Abigail in 2014. I’m also continuing to write book reviews, both on my blog and professionally. After that, hopefully I’ll get time to complete a draft of a novel that has been sitting on the backburner for a while now called How to Write a Brain Dead Romance. It’s about a young writer who is unlucky in love …
RH: Busy girl. They sound great. Especially the brain dead romance… So, are you ready for your
What is your all-time favourite book/movie?
A Room with a View.
What are you reading now?
Eyrie by Tim Winton.
What is your favourite word?
What is the best bit of advice you ever got (about writing or life in general)?
Write about what you think and how you feel about humankind.
Thanks for joining us today, Kathryn.
Where can we find Best Forgotten and your other works?
Best Forgotten can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store
Kathryn White is writer, bookworm, poet. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia.
“I have not made the bestseller lists yet, but am still trying. I despise pretentiousness–a true artist knows the value of humility.”
Interested in finding out what Avoidant Personality Disorder is? So was I.