Interview With Author Pippa Kay

Please introduce yourself and your book(s) !

I am Pippa Kay, and I live in Sydney Australia. I have three books published. The first two were self published: Doubt & Conviction: The Kalajzich Inquiry was a non-fiction investigation into a controversial murder in Manly in 1986; Back Stories is a small collection of my award winning short stories and a few poems. My third book is Keeping it in the Family and this was published by Ginninderra Press. It is a collection of short and longer stories linked by the common theme of families. They are very diverse and Australian. I’m very proud that this won an award for Best Fiction by the Society of Women Writers in 2018.

You can buy my books here:

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

When I wrote Doubt & Conviction I had access to information about the case that wasn’t available to many people and wrote the book because I believed a huge injustice had been done. I still believe the wrong man was convicted for this murder, and after serving 25 years in prison he is still trying to prove his innocence.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

My stories are usually inspired by a character. It might be someone I have met or someone I have read about. Or, it might be myself in disguise.

Once I have a character in mind I focus on their wants and fears, and this helps me plot the story. Eventually they will have to face their fears and they may not get what they want. In any event they have some sort of struggle (internal as well as external) and by the end of the story they have changed. For better or worse? It depends.

How do you deal with creative block?

For me, writer’s block is not a matter of having nothing to write about, but a problem with deciding what to write about. Too much choice! I belong to a writing group called The Common Thread Writers, and we often give each other writing prompts (usually in the form of a picture) and sometimes this narrows my focus and forces me to write something about that picture.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

Legally, in a non-fiction book it is to slander someone and get yourself sued. I battled with this possibility when I wrote Doubt & Conviction and had to get it “legalled”. People writing memoirs and biography have to be careful of this too, and if you’re worried get a good lawyer.

Creatively, when writing fiction there are many mistakes you can make. Poor editing makes a manuscript look shoddy if you are sending it to a publisher – get at least one other person to read it and no close relatives who will tell you it’s good just because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Point of view is also very important. I usually experiment with 1st and 3rd person narrators and change the character whose viewpoint I want to use.

Do you have any tips on choosing titles and covers?

I’m not an artist so I’ll leave the cover to someone with more expertise. I was disappointed in the cover of Doubt & Conviction. I designed the cover for Back Stories myself, with a little help. I love the cover Ginninderra Press found for Keeping it in the Family as it really expresses what the stories are about.

I have a bit more expertise when it comes to titles, but I agonise over them. I don’t think I’ve ever had a title in mind when I start writing a story, and it may take a number of drafts before one comes to me, and then I have to go back and start all over again focusing on the theme of the story, as reflected in the title. I like titles that are a little ambiguous or that could possibly have a double meaning, like “Doubt” and “Conviction” which are opposites, but it also plays on “reasonable doubt” and “criminal conviction”, which are thematically important to the book. I hope a reader picking up my book, or about to read one of my stories will be curious about the meaning of the title. It’s important not to give too much away when choosing a title.

How has your creation process improved over time?

They say practice makes perfect. Many years ago I taught myself to write and bought books on writing and attended courses, which was very helpful. After some successes in short story competitions I began teaching Creative Writing and of course I applied what I was teaching to my own writing.

I also read a lot and am occasionally asked to judge short story competitions. This really makes you think about the craft of writing, which can be learnt. But really good writing comes from the heart and that can’t be taught. Sometimes it requires honesty and courage to get what you want to say down on paper, and I think I’ve become braver and more confident over the years.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your books.

The best includes being taken seriously by readers; winning an award for Keeping it in the Family; having something to say and getting it out there. The worst is the hard slog and finding time. Family and friends don’t seem understand how much time it takes – not just physically sitting in front of your computer but all the thinking that goes on, which makes me very absent-minded. Sometimes I lose sleep over my characters.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a number of calls from people who had read Doubt & Conviction – thanking me and adding to my store of data, though some were a bit wacky and others were very emotional. I also had a couple of mildly threatening calls.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers?

I want people to read my stories. I want to make people laugh and cry and think. So, serving my readers is my priority, and I find that satisfying.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

What you write about must be important to you and your reader. Emotion colours your memory, your thinking, the choices you make in life, and it follows that it also plays a huge part in any sort of creativity. You’ve got to laugh and cry with your characters, you’ve got to put them through hell and lose sleep over them. If you don’t, then why bother?

Do you have any creativity tricks?

Walking. On my own, at my own pace. It’s like a form of meditation to me.

What are your plans for future books?

I’m trying to stretch myself. I’ve recently written a couple of novella-length stories which give more scope than short stories and I’m enjoying that. I’m hoping to put three or four novellas together into one book. Each will stand on its own but they will be linked. I also play around with poetry which, because of its brevity, forces you to use fewer words for maximum impact.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.

In my teenage years I lived in a mental asylum, then called Callan Park. My father was a psychiatrist and we lived in the grounds. It was a time when there were big changes in the treatment of psychiatric patients and the high walls surrounding the hospital were pulled down. I may write about this period of my life one day.


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