Updated: Mar 22
by Josephine Park, Lead Reviewer for Children's and Young Adult Fiction
The Book Dragon Team have the pleasure to introduce Author Katherine Hetzel, the rainbow-loving, 4ft 11.5 inch tall, and quirky author of Kingstone, The Chronicles of Issraya and Granny Rainbow. Her vibrance and enthusiasm for life and books really shines out in the interview as she gives us an insight into her creative and unique writing process. Read on to find out more about Katherine's work, and her simply marvellous tips to start your own writing journey.
Tell us about yourself as an author - when do you write, how do you write and where do you write? I tend to write in my lounge, sitting on the sofa with my laptop or a notebook. As the weather gets warmer, I often go down to the bottom of my garden, where we have a garden room; then, I squish into a bean bag, play some music, and watch the birds as I write. I write whenever I feel I’ve got a block of time to devote to it, but I’m not a disciplined writer in terms of how long I write for or how frequently.
Can you describe your writing journey? What inspired you to start writing and when did you start? What challenges have you faced along the way and how have you overcome them? I’d always made up silly poems and stories for my children when they were younger. When they went to school and I was a classroom volunteer, I realised that not everyone enjoyed reading stories as much as we did, and I was convinced I could write something to encourage the children to read. So I started to write, but I wasn’t very good at it. I’d always written, but I hadn’t realised up to this point how much more attention you have to pay to your readership and when polishing your work up. A lot of my learning over the next few years (after being rejected by many publishers and agents!) was to learn how to write ‘properly’ rather than intuitively. Rejection is a big step to overcome, because it knocks your confidence, so I had to develop a lot of resilience and simply plough on.
Where do you get your ideas from? Where do you look for future ideas and what tools/resources have you found most useful to support your writing? Ideas come from everywhere! I keep several (probably too many) notebooks where I ‘capture’ any ideas, or things I see or hear that could become - or be used in - a story. I am a very vivid dreamer and keep a dream journal, so sometimes they get used for stories. And a lot of the time, I find ideas because I see something and ask myself ‘what if…?’, have a play with the answers, and then try to shape them into some sort of coherent story. I wouldn’t say I go looking for future ideas – sometimes they just happen! Like the picture books I’m hoping to collaborate on with a friend. I think my use of tools or resources often changes with projects. I’m up for trying things like sticky-note planning, or three act planning, but I’m not the kind of writer who plans the storyline in detail, so I dip in and use what I need when I need it. Probably my most useful tool is an A4, ringbound notebook – new novel, new notebook – and I can clip a pen to the inside of the spiral so I’m never hunting for a pen when something occurs to me.
Please tell us about your work - what is your favourite book you have written and why? Please include any characters you loved writing about and the inspiration behind them. I can’t say I have a favourite book that I’ve written, because they are all special for different reasons. However…I think I would have to say that Kingstone holds the most special place in my heart because it was the first book I wrote where I truly found my voice as a writer. It felt comfortable, and this was also the point where I think I realised that I had my own writing process that worked and produced a great result. I love writing all of my characters, although they can be a little difficult at times - especially when they don’t want to do what I want them to! Eventually we have to have a chat (yes, I talk to my characters) and they usually end up telling me what they need to do. I do love writing a baddie – especially a baddie who doesn’t think they’re bad. Some characters are inspired by real people – my Granny inspired one who was blind, for example, but otherwise it might be a picture or a behaviour that gives me some inspiration that I build on.
Do you have a favourite genre to read, and what author do you most admire and why? My favourite genre is probably fantasy, but I do read widely because that helps me to write other things into my stories. There may well be some elements of romance or horror or comedy or thriller tucked into the fantasy stories that I write, and to know how to include those effectively, I need to understand how those things work within their genres. You can learn a lot from other authors by reading their books and trying to analyse how they did something so well. My favourite author is Terry Pratchett. The way he builds his worlds is fabulous, and he always made you think about the world we live in by showing you some of it through the lens of Discworld. His stories are like old friends to me, and still capable of making me laugh out loud or cry.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer and why? How about the worst? The best advice I ever received was ‘make stuff happen!’ I had a story and it felt boring; the character just pootled through the story, having things happen to her that carried her onwards. I was challenged by the lovely Julie Cohen to ‘make stuff happen’ – let the character make some decisions of her own, to drive the action as a result rather than wait for things to happen. So now, whenever my story feels a bit stuck and my character’s not doing very much, I go back and see what I can do to shake things up a bit. I’m horrible to my main character, or I let her make the wrong decision, or I throw something unexpected into the mix and see what happens as a result. The worst piece of advice is usually fronted with ‘what you want to do, is…’ That’s because it’s usually an opinion dressed up as advice. And an opinion is personal, not objective. It’s what that person would do if they were writing the story, rather than helping you to write what you want to write.
What 3 pieces of advice would you give a new writer?
Three bits of advice for new writers? First – write! You can’t be a writer by thinking about it. Writing takes practise. Second – read. Lots! You can learn so much from other writers – the good ones and the ones who maybe aren’t so good. (In fact, I have a book that had so many rookie errors in it, I read it whenever I start to doubt my own abilities. And no, I’m not going to tell you the title!) Finally - write what you can, not what you can’t. For example, I have writer friends who write amazing comedy – I’d love to write like that and make people laugh, but I can’t. I’d also love to write beautiful prose like other friends, but my own style is rather more simple and less wordy. When I write the way I can, I write well. As an author and a reader, what matters most to you when reading a review? What would inspire you to read another author’s work? As a reader, I don’t like reviews that tell you the story – I want to read the book to find that out! I like to see reviews that tell me how the book made the reader feel, whether they had to keep turning the pages or whether the characters are memorable. As an author, I like to see reviews that show me the reader enjoyed my story. That they were rooting for the characters I’ve created and believed in the world (remember, I’m a fantasy writer!) I’ve created for them to live in. I do appreciate reviews that are honest too, in that the reader may not like my story. If they explain why, I might be able to make changes to the next one I write so I don’t disappoint in what I deliver. As a bookworm, anything that takes my fancy inspires me to read, but often it’s word of mouth that gets me curious. Nothing’s off limits.
What future work have you got coming out? At the moment I’m working on a HUGE plot hole in Tilda and the Dragons of Nargan, the fourth title in my Chronicles of Issraya series, so it probably won’t be published until 2023. I’m also in the early stages of collaboration with an illustrator to put stories to her amazing illustrations, and I would like very much to put together a collection of short stories for an adult audience, based on one of my favourite writing prompts.
When you’re not writing, what are you doing? I am a volunteer librarian at my local primary school two afternoons a week; I enjoy knitting all my own socks; I like dancing and Pilates; I love my garden, though I’m not a very good gardener (I’ve started to grow some of my own veg); and you can also find me playing ‘brain games’ once a day with a mug of Earl Grey tea!
Want to know more about Katherine?
If you want to find out more about Katherine and her work, visit https://www.katherinehetzel.com for a full list of her novels, more fascinating insights into her life, and her contact details. The Book Dragon has simply loved working with Katherine and the Team wish her all the best with her continuing career!