author of In the Skin of a Monster
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Canberra, but growing up involved plenty of travel. I started primary school in Tokyo (the only kid with a sandwich in her lunchbox) and finished high school in the woods outside Olympia, Washington State, USA (aka that rainy place near where Twilight was set). In the years that followed, I went to university, became a lawyer, changed my mind, re-trained as a film producer and worked in television. And then I quit it all, so that I could finally (perhaps a little belatedly) follow my dream of becoming a writer.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I wanted to be an astronaut because I was fascinated by the idea of going into space. When I was eighteen I wanted to write stories about going into space… but that seemed about as far-fetched as going to the moon, so I enrolled in law-school instead. When I was thirty I wanted to write stories for eighteen year olds, because I’d never fallen out of love with young adult fiction.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At eighteen I was fairly black and white – I believed in good versus bad and right versus wrong, without much focus on the in-between. Now I’m much more drawn to the grey areas, especially when it comes to characters. To what compels decent people to do terrible things, and vice versa. Put simply, at eighteen I strongly believed in absolutes… and now I generally avoid them.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
I lived near Seattle when I was seventeen, right when bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were huge. I think the grunge movement probably influenced my writing insofar as I’ve got no tolerance for flowery or pretty.
As for books, my two favourite short stories – A Perfect Day for Bananafish by JD Salinger and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber by Ernest Hemingway. They taught me that stories can pack a punch, fast.
And thirdly, the film Blade Runner… because it was so damn cool. It made me wish that one day I could tell stories like that.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Tone deaf. Stick-figures only. Terrible dancer. Can’t sew. Don’t like performing. Useless at craft. Zero design skills. No interest in sculpture. Or installation art. Or printmaking. Or basket weaving. Love writing. Love novels.
In the Skin of a Monster is a young adult novel about Alice, a girl whose identical twin sister took a gun to school and killed seven innocent kids; now Alice wears the face of a monster. It’s a small town and no one can stand to even look at her. But when Alice encounters her sister on a deserted highway, ‘bad’ is just the beginning. Alice soon finds herself trapped in a dangerous new reality: a broken world that’s filled with the nightmares of everyone in the community.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope that after reading In the Skin of a Monster people find themselves thinking about the nature of good versus evil. Or the impact of judging a person based on how they look. Or the power of dreams and nightmares. Or the path towards forgiveness. Or some of the other themes that are explored in the novel.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Melina Marchetta because I love her voice, I relate to her characters and her stories always feel real to me. I also admire the way that, as a writer, she’s managed to transition into different genres.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My goal is to keep writing. That might not sound very ambitious, but I think it’s a huge deal in the scheme of things. A lot of people go through their whole lives and never find that thing they love. And of the ones who do find their passion, not everyone gets to indulge it. So the fact that I’ve found what I love to do and am able to do it? That’s jackpot territory already… and I simply plan on making it count.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Treat your story idea like a relationship. If it’s good, commit to it. Stick with it through the tough times and work out your issues. Dig deep when you have to. When things are hard, don’t be tempted by another. That shiny new idea might be younger and fresher and newer but that doesn’t mean it’s better – you simply don’t know it well enough yet to see its flaws. Besides, if you move on every time the going gets tough, where will that leave you?
Invest your time and your love into the one you’ve got, holding nothing back. If you’ve tried everything and it’s still not working, move on knowing that you did your best. But if you can find a way to make it work, that’s when the magic happens – the ‘warts and all’ depth of understanding.
Kathryn, thank you for playing.
by Kathryn Barker
‘One of the most original novels I’ve read for a long while. Great voices. Complex relationships. Just what I love to read.’ – Melina Marchetta
What if your identical twin sister was a murderer? Does that make you a monster too? A profound, intense, heartbreaking fantasy that tackles issues of fate versus free will, and whether you can ever truly know someone.
Caught in a dreamscape, mistaken for a killer … will Alice find a way home?
Three years ago, Alice’s identical twin sister took a gun to school and killed seven innocent kids; now Alice wears the same face as a monster. She’s struggling with her identity, and with life in the small Australian town where everyone was touched by the tragedy. Just as Alice thinks things can’t get much worse, she encounters her sister on a deserted highway. But all is not what it seems, and Alice soon discovers that she has stepped into a different reality, a dream world, where she’s trapped with the nightmares of everyone in the community. Here Alice is forced to confront the true impact of everything that happened the day her twin sister took a gun to school … and to reveal her own secret to the boy who hates her most.
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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