AUTHOR INSIGHT: MEET KATHRYN LEDSON

Kathryn Ledson (Photo credit: Alison Sadler)
Photo credit: Alison Sadler

In 2006, Kathryn Ledson had a “hissy fit” and decided she’d had enough of the world of business. After completing a writing and editing diploma, she tried to set up a freelancing or salary-based career, but eventually she abandoned these efforts and put her energy into writing her debut novel – Rough Diamond (reviewed here). She took time out from writing book two to answer my questions.

Tell me a bit about Rough Diamond and how it came to be. Did you set out to write a “detective” story?
I feel like I’m just graduating from kindergarten. When I started this novel I was still in nappies. I was winging it – just letting stuff come out and that was easy and OK because there was no audience or expectation from anyone (except my husband who thought I should be getting a job instead). All I wanted was a romance between an ordinary girl and an impossibly perfect man with an exciting, dangerous life. What emerged was something of a crime/thriller. I wouldn’t have dared set out to write such a thing. I do like your comparison between Rough Diamond and Moonlighting. I hadn’t thought of that before, but it’s quite right. I suspect the seed of this novel was planted back in the 80s, but by that show Scarecrow & Mrs King with Kate Jackson, fresh from Charlie’s Angels.

You’ve had some great feedback about Rough Diamond. Are you surprised? What do readers seem to like most about the story?
I’m surprised by absolutely everything. I’m surprised that people are reading it! And I’m just starting to get used to the idea that when people say they like it, they’re not just being nice. I read a Rough Diamond review the other day that said: “I’m not quite sure how to explain why I loved it so much …”. I think women can relate to Erica. Readers are saying they love the Melbourne setting. That it’s funny and fun (which is the best compliment because I love books that are funny and fun). If you’d asked me before anyone read it why I thought people might like it, I probably would have said it was about the romance, because that’s what drove me in a writing frenzy. I just couldn’t get enough of those two together. The plot kind of came later, strangely enough, and this involved a LOT of rewriting.

On your website you say “Erica’s will and need to exist were so powerful”. Was this the case for all the characters in Rough Diamond? Did they create themselves or did you plan them out? Are they loosely based on people you know? Are her parents like your parents?
My mother is horrified that people might think my father has similar habits to Erica’s father and that she is Mrs Jewell. I’ve promised I would publicly announce that Erica’s mother is NOTHING like mine! I think Mrs J is a cross between Kath (Kath & Kim) and Mrs Bucket (“Bouquet”) from Keeping Up Appearances. The other characters? The only one really who was based on a real person is Erica’s friend Steve. He was supposed to be my husband – a big, blonde, smiling builder – and named after our plumber friend who’s also a big happy bloke. But even Steve took on a life of his own and now really only resembles hubby physically. I do have a friend who’s a bit like Lucy in character – ballsy, no mucking around, gets things done – but without Lucy’s bossiness. Like Erica, I too need friends to go shopping with who’ll say “yep, that looks great, buy it” when I’m standing there procrastinating.

Do characters create themselves?
Absolutely. I remember reading an interview with Kerry Greenwood once where she said out loud to her computer (something like), “You’re not going to shoot him are you Phryne?” (Phryne did shoot him!) At the time, I couldn’t understand how that could happen – how a character could behave in a way that wasn’t consciously thought out by its creator – but now I do. Actually, no I don’t. All I understand is that it does happen – I have no idea how or where it comes from. Up there, somewhere (picture me waving my hand above my head). It’s a bit like touch-typing. I’d thought once I’d learned how to do it I’d understand how my fingers knew where to go, but I still don’t understand how they know where to go.

You also say that Erica fascinates you. Why is that? If you found yourself in the same situations as Erica, would you react the same way? 
It’s Erica’s responses to some things that surprise and fascinate me. When I write what she tells me to write (usually my best work), I often find myself re-reading it, laughing into my hand, thinking “dare I say that?”. I think Erica and I have very different thoughts about things, but my sister read my novel and said, “This is just like listening to you speak”. So there you go. But I think Erica’s a bit gutsier than me, and she gets over things; doesn’t take stuff too personally. Like working for someone like Rosalind. I’d last two minutes with a boss like that.

What was your publishing journey like? Any highlights/lowlights?
Lowlights are very quickly knocked on the head with a simple reminder that I am the luckiest person on the planet, but the only one really was when Penguin pushed back my publication date for the sake of clever marketing. So it was a long time between signing the contract and publication. Highlights? Before I signed with Penguin, I remember having an extremely selfish moment where I realised that not only did I want a publishing deal, I wanted it to be with Penguin and have Belinda Byrne as my editor. She is the most fabulous person and the team at Penguin is so professional and supportive, and that’s very important to me.

If someone wanted to start creative writing, what advice would you give them?
I’ve heard it said that creative writing courses are dangerous because they can stifle a writer’s unique, natural “voice”. Well, I think only lack of confidence can do that. I’ve done a number of writing courses over the past few years and am always a better writer because of it. I always learn something new and important. I always have light-bulb moments. Pay attention to what others teach you, but try to keep some distance from it, keep your ego in check, and do what you instinctively know is right for you.

There are some great tips for fiction writers on your website – when you write, what is your biggest weakness? Structure. The Big Picture (and I will be blogging about this). In life I can see and understand the big picture, no problem. But on a physical, material level, I get stuck. I’m such a detail person, I get frightened by the big picture. “I can’t do it!” is what I’m often shouting at myself (refer “lack of confidence” comment above – this is the stuff that kills a voice). I need things to be put in neat little parcels and I’m SO lucky to have two structural geniuses whispering in my ear. Belinda Byrne and my friend and mentor, Sydney Smith. They break it down for me. Put it in neat parcels so I can see it.

What has been your biggest learning experience so far?
Through finally finding my “thing” (being a writer), I’ve also found a  new level of confidence. And with that comes a sense of peace. And relief. It affects every aspect of my life.

Now that your book is out, what’s the next step? 
Finish Emerald Island and start plotting Number 3 (which I suspect with have a sapphire in the title). I’m having great fun with both.

What do you look for when you read fiction? Is Rough Diamond representative of the book you like to read?
Hmmm. I like action, humour and romance. If there’s a good dose of one or all, and it’s well written, then I’m happy. I like things to happen. And I like fantasy. I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was a young teenager. Haven’t readHarry Potter but I know I’d love it. I love dragons and fiercely brave (and handsome) princes. I like some literary fiction – I can be spellbound just by the beauty of someone’s writing. I like some non-fiction but wouldn’t often be drawn to it. I’ve read a few rural novels lately – those rural authors are awesome! The things they have to do with cows and fences and rugged men(!) when not penning beautiful, romantic stories set in our own incredible Australian landscape. Well, I think that covers just about every genre. Oh and I don’t mind the odd vampire story.

Lately there has been a growing move to put Australian women writers on the map, courtesy of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. Was this long overdue? Which Australian women writers do you admire the most? I think all positive things relating to women are long overdue. Who do I admire? The rural writers mentioned above. Last week my friend Margareta Osborn (author of Bella’s Run) spent God-knows how many sleepless nights helping to protect her home and family from those terrible Gippsland bushfires. Once that was under control she had to get back to normality. One day of her normality would put me to bed, exhausted, for a week. Oh and of course she’s producing lovely novels in her spare time. Geez. I do admire those gals.

What do you think gives your book an Australian flavour?
Erica’s voice, I think. And readers seem to be really enjoying the journey with Erica to familiar places. In Emerald Island Erica leaves Australia, but I think there’s still a very Australian flavour to it that comes through her voice. She also visits Darwin and meets some very interesting characters in Saint Sebastian. I think Aussies who’ve travelled will be able to relate.

Five things that mean the most to you in life?
Time with family and friends, the health of my family and friends, an increasing global consciousness that’s hopefully producing a growing awareness of all things nature including each other (just thought I’d throw that in there), my own spiritual growth, my gorgeous smoochy pooch.

Which book are you reading now?
Perfect Women by Collette Dowling (just when you think you know everything about yourself …) and Monica McInerney’sThe House of Memories.

Which book do you think all young women should read?
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton to ignite their imaginations. And one or all of these non-fiction books to ground them again: Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man, AB Facey’s A Fortunate Life and Wild Swans by Jung Chang.