Susannah Fraser Interviews Kate Liston-Mills

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 Feature image from KATELISTON-MILLS 

Growing up as a young girl in Pambula, Kate was “super uncool”. She read the Silver Brumby while everyone else discussed The Baby Sitter’s Club. She watched the Man from Snowy River most days of the week and spent far too many afternoons bored at her Nan’s. These Australian themes appear to have left their mark on Kate and are explored in her new book, THE WATERFOWL ARE DRUNK! which launches on the 10th June in Wollongong. This short story collection is based in her hometown of Pambula and traces loss, hope and connection through a family living in a small coastal Australian town.

These short stories are woven together to paint a portrait of a family experiencing the ups and downs of life, in a community where relationships are important and tea and bickies are the comforts that make the roller coaster all the more sweet, and a little more bearable.  I won’t delve too much into the content here, but you can read our REVIEW.  I will highly recommend you grab yourself a copy and read it. It is a fantastic book.

I was running late for my Skype interview with Kate. As I clutched my bags and scrambled for a seat on the bus, I managed to text her a quick update on my whereabouts. Kate messaged back – she was in the garden and covered in mud. Would that be ok? She would feed the dog and get tea ready. She sounded like a character in her book – warm, friendly, domestic. 

As the bus jerked through tight inner city streets, I realised I have known Kate, distantly, for about ten years.  I met her on a stinking hot summer’s night in Sydney through a mutual friend. She has popped up in my life about once a year, at various gatherings. My impressions of her were always of fabulous hair, a hearty laugh, and an ability to talk to anyone. However, I knew nothing about Kate, the Writer, and on the verge of her book launch, I was curious to find out! 

Finally connecting on Skype, I felt a little nervous. It was my first interview for Manuscrapped. I had my list of questions ready to go and held tightly to the draft manuscript of her book that I had finished that day. As the ring of an incoming call sang, I was immediately at ease with the bubbles of energy and ready laugh that emerged onto my screen. She had settled in with a glass of schnapps and was happily getting a lot of love from her golden retriever Charlie. 

Kate explained that the collection actually came about because of one of it’s short stories, Dick’s Dead. She had entered a prize and didn’t win. However, some time later, one of the judges contacted her and proposed that a book be developed from it. After much hard work and many late nights, she was preparing herself for the launch.

Was she nervous? You bet! The whole experience of being published felt surreal. It was strange to work so hard on something and then to let it go out into the world. She is super critical of her own work, and if the editor hadn’t demanded she stopped, she probably would have edited it forever. She emphasises the need for writers to be kind to themselves, advice she is seemingly trying to take on herself.

Perhaps, some of the nerves of the launch also came from the choices that Kate has had to make to enable to her to arrive at this point of publishing. She has always struggled to find time to write. She is often very inspired after a book launch or talk, rushing home to type out her ideas in a flurry, working late into the night. By morning, however, she is hit with the reality of work and routine and the energy stagnates.

Earlier this year, she made the decision to quit her job because there simply wasn’t enough time to write, and she couldn’t foresee it changing. She now freelances as a journalist and through this less intense workload she manages to write a little more, but it is still tricky.

Her answer to that?  Just do it whenever you can. Life is too short not to make time for the things you love. She understands that a job is important, and you need to pay the bills, but you have to prioritise it. If she doesn’t have space in her life to write, she can get quite depressed. Kate discusses this frankly, and I think she may have arrived at this realisation through various paths of trial and error, with writing continuing to come out on top.

Kate is inspired by places but doesn’t always write about the South Coast. She says she often feels nostalgia for where ever she isn’t. When in the country she writes about the city, and vice versa. But she has to know the place well, really well so that she is authentic and real in her writing.

She is in awe of her favourite author Tim Winton’s ability to this with so many diverse places. She aspires to be like that one day, knowing things, “deeply, below the flesh. It’s like he has lived so many different lives. His grasp of Australiana is so strong. Nobody writes like him”.

As we continued to discuss her hopes as a writer, I asked Kate what advice she would give to emerging writers. She answered with truthfulness and generosity of wisdom, with a genuine desire to help others with anything that may have helped her. She emphasised that first and foremost you must believe in yourself, as no one else will. When she was first starting writing, it was very difficult to be taken seriously.

Secondly, you have to get yourself out there – just “be a part of the world”. Attend festivals, talk to people, read. Try to make as many networks as you can. If you meet someone and they “don’t think you’re a crazy lunatic,” they might think you are someone they could invest in. Enter competitions and submit for everything.

She also explains that you have to do the hard yards. It’s not easy. But be sure to get yourself a good group of people with whom you can share your stuff. Make sure you respect these people and their opinions. Make sure they give you honest critical feedback and support when you need it. They will be crucial in helping you build your skills and become a better writer.

But mostly she says, once you decide you love it, you actually have to say: I like this. I like this a lot and I want to do this. You have to be no one before you are someone. Stick with it and see what happens. So, that is what she has done, and now has a book to show for it. And that for Kate “is a little step in the right direction”.

Kate Liston-Mills, kate liston, waterfowl are drunk, kate liston mills writer, Emerging writer, emerging writers festival, what is an emerging writer, young writer, your writers, australian writers blog, blogger or writer Available from June 10, 2015

THE WATERFOWL ARE DRUNK! will be launched as part of NATIONAL YOUNG WRITERS MONTH in Wollongong on June 10 at JANE’S CAFE.  The event kicks off at 6.30pm and will also include ‘Capital Misfits’ by Sydney-based writer JYL Koh and ‘I Cast a Spell On You’ by Brisbane-based Sam George-Allen.


Susannah Fraser

by Susannah Fraser

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