Sunday, October 12, 2014

Author Interview: K T Bowes: I Write For Teens Because I Remember What It Was Like To Be One

Your real name and pen name? 
Katharine T Bowes, K T Bowes

Please share some of the best memories of your childhood
I remember going to the local shop with my mum a few days before my fourth birthday and while she did her shopping, I just stood and stared at a beautiful doll in a box. She was as tall as me, had long dark hair and you could put batteries in her and she would walk and talk. I just loved her. I knew there was no point asking for her as we had no money and she was expensive. My father was a soldier and away at the time, so it was a very hand to mouth existence for my mother, with two small children. When I woke up on my birthday, the doll was at the end of my bed. I have no idea what my poor mother had to go without for me to have her. My children played with her and I think she’s still in my parents’ loft back in England, ready for the next generation to enjoy.
I loved bedtime stories and my mum always got books from the Air Force library on the base. She read me everything from Enid Blyton to Charles Dickens. But I remember one time, Dad was home for a week from where he was stationed and we were in the middle of reading Joseph and His Coat of Many Colours. My dad read it to me instead and I loved hearing his voice and the steady pace he read at. It was a precious time and still one of my favourite stories.

About your education?
Growing up in the Air Force was difficult because we moved schools so often. I had been to five different schools before I was thirteen. I hated starting new things or visiting new places and I used to wake up with a sick feeling in my stomach on the morning we started a new school. I was terrible at maths and science but really good at English, Art and History. My High School was an inner city school that was more like a war zone. If you even looked at somebody wrongly you could get your head kicked in. Kids there regularly carried weapons and the police were often there. The essence of that school appears in all three of my teen novels, although the violence is only portrayed as it really was in Free From the Tracks. I survived by making myself invisible and staying away from trouble, but it also meant I had to be very careful about how well I did, so that I didn’t stand out. I loved the external exams because your results were posted home, so nobody else needed to know how well you had done. Consequently, I did extremely well in fifth, sixth and seventh form and was able to go to the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. In the Hana Du Rose Mysteries, my main character, Hana, went to the same university and worked at the hotel on the seafront where I worked. I read an English Major with Classical Studies and Philosophy papers and got a good degree. I have studied at various points since then for the different jobs I have done. I have a Diploma in Consumer Affairs, a Learning Support Certificate and a Level 2 in Christian Counselling.

What career did you plan during your education days?
I never really knew what I wanted to do, which is why I drifted around so much. I would have loved to have had a plan, as I am someone who works better with lists and structure, but I think I’ve learned more with the life I’ve had. I’ve worked in some amazing places and learned so much about human nature, that it has provided the substance for my books now. I almost went into teaching but am so glad now that I didn’t. I interviewed at Swansea University for a Post graduate Certificate of Education but when I rang a few weeks later, was told that I hadn’t got in. I accepted a full-time permanent job in Law Enforcement with a government department and met my husband. The university rang my father on the first day of term to see why I hadn’t turned up, but by then it was too late. I’m glad though. My life has taken a different route and I’m happy with how it has turned out. I did end up teaching Special Needs children for six years in England and put my heart and soul into it, but knew by the end of it that teaching was not for me.

What languages you can speak and write?
English is the only language I can speak fluently and write. I did learn French at school but really wanted to do German. It wouldn’t fit my timetable and I was forced to take French instead which was a big mistake. One day, I would love to go back and learn German properly so that I can visit where I used to live and hold a decent conversation.

What is your biggest source of inspiration in life?
My relationship with the Creator. But it’s not about me looking at how other people live their lives and judging - that’s not my job. It’s about me trying to stay on the right path for my life and making sure that I’m doing what I’m supposed to. I never want to write something that I will end up ashamed of. I write what I think and feel and so it’s completely honest and real. Often, the emotional and mental wrangling of my characters is mine too.

What hurts you most in this world?
Needless violence and people whipping up support for causes that aren’t going to achieve anything. There is a line in a Casting Crowns song that says, “Save the trees and kill the children,” and sometimes that’s what it feels this world is all about. Human life has lost its value in the pursuit of shiny things and property and it was never meant to be like that. I look around and wonder if we’re that much different from Sodom and Gomorrah anymore. We’re all guilty of it and it’s not going to end well.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced? How did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was coming over to New Zealand on a one way ticket, with four small children and only a suitcase each. But we knew that it was right for us as a family and pressed on. For me, getting here and finding that it wasn’t as I had thought, was dreadful. There were no jobs for us and no support network. I felt like God had just dropped us here and abandoned us. But when I look back, all my distress was based on my own expectations and God didn’t promise any of those things I felt I was missing out on. I was angry with Him, but it wasn’t justified. It was an incredibly humbling experience, living on almost nothing and watching my very over-qualified husband applying for jobs in supermarkets and petrol stations. But we both learned such a lot about ourselves and who God is. We had some corners that needed knocking off our egos and it hurts to be pruned. I deal with emotional pain very badly but learned through that experience that I really can’t do anything in my own strength. I can’t create jobs through wishing and I can’t feed hungry children from desperation. But God can do all those things and when I finally stopped trying to fix everything myself, he did it in the blink of an eye. In a single afternoon, once I let go, my husband got a job and we bought our first NZ house. It’s the Flagstaff house on Achilles Rise in Hamilton that appears in most of my novels. One of my characters always lives there.

If you had to live a day of your life as one living or dead personality, who would it be and why?
I’d be Daniel from the Bible. He’s amazing. How can you be so rock steady when everything around you is falling apart? I don’t have his wisdom, his courage or his commitment and I wish I did. I would love to spend a day in his sandals and learn what it feels like to be that sure of yourself and your Maker.

What is your favorite genre and why?
When I’m writing, I favour the mystery genre. I start off writing a romance and always seem to find some suspense appearing in there. But when I’m reading, I will read anything from science fiction to romance or dystopia.

When did you start writing? What is the purpose of your writing?
I’ve always written something and when I wasn’t writing, I was making up stories for my children at bedtime or during car journeys. My children were fed on a diet of ‘Naughty Aunty Becky’ stories that recounted my younger sister’s many misdeeds. I wrote a children’s book called Darcy Dumb Dog, which I illustrated myself and I fleshed out the plot for About Hana back in England before we left. I wrote a few chapters but it somehow got wiped off my laptop in the journey over to New Zealand. I have worked throughout my marriage in some capacity or other and so the arrangement was that when we got here, I would have a well-deserved year off. I planned to rewrite those chapters then and do something with the children’s book. But we couldn’t survive on my husband’s salary each week as the rent ate half of it and we had four children to feed, so I had to go to work. My job was impossibly lonely and I didn’t feel as though I fitted in anywhere. I used to eat my lunch in the car. So I alternated between learning my road code ready for my NZ driving test and rewriting the chapters for About Hana. We often drove around bored at weekends just sightseeing and I noticed this magnificent school that was a Christian college and decided that instead of working in a bank, Hana would work there in the administration department. The Hana Du Rose Mysteries were born just from those first few chapters, written in the car in a half an hour break and the saga and location has grown from there.
At the time, the purpose of my writing was to act as a distraction from the pains of immigration and it provided me with a temporary escape. I had somewhere to run to and if I went for days without holding a decent conversation outside of my family, it didn’t matter because I could always plan what Hana was going to do next. It was a fantastic way of cheating depression, especially if I spent more time in Hana-World than in the real one. It’s quite a dangerous place to exist and you’re mentally vulnerable because you can opt out of life without realising. But it also stops self-destruction because in times of great stress, I will head straight into my imagination and get it all written down. Some of the most effective chapters in my novels, have come from real soul-searching and agony over situations in my life. Those storylines have a noticeably darker quality, such as Demons on Her Shoulder, which is a very powerful look at how a character closes herself off from physical and emotional trauma. Writing for me has become an escape and I feel sure that it keeps me sane.

Which of your work has been published so far? Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?
I have 11 novels published as eBooks and some of those are now also in print. 

The 6 Hana Du Rose Mysteries centre around an English immigrant in New Zealand who is widowed by her Indian husband and left with two teenagers to bring up in a foreign country. She’s now in her mid-forties and finds love with a NZ Maori. She has to learn to fit into his culture and accept his ways but she is rebellious and difficult. The first three novels in the series, About Hana, Hana Du Rose and Du Rose Legacy, show Hana coping with a gang of sinister men who have mistakenly hidden something precious on her property and want it back. She has no idea what it is or where it might be. It turns into something quite nasty and she is put in serious danger. The other 3 novels are all stand-alone but continue a lot of the same family twists so it’s helpful to read them in order. The New Du Rose Matriarch, One Heartbeat and The Du Rose Prophecy.

My teen novels, under the series title, Troubled, deal with teenagers living in the same area of the city and going to the same school. Free From the Tracks and Sophia’s Dilemma, focus on the lives of two children. Both come from dysfunctional homes with failed parenting and it makes it massively difficult for either of them to make good choices and decent decisions about life. The theme of all of the teen novels is ‘secrecy.’ Nobody else knows what they are going through or what the truth is about their home lives, even though they go to the same school and sit in the same classes. 

Blaming the Child, also has that theme of secrecy but this novel goes further, dealing with issues such as self-harming and teens that run away from home. There were children at my school who walked through a personal hell and yet looked fine on the outside. I don’t think that’s changed much. These books are very popular, strangely enough amongst adults as much as teenagers.

Demons on Her Shoulder is a novel about restitution and is based in Lincoln, England, where I grew up. A woman who once suffered from a trauma is now in her late twenties and counselling in an inner city church. A number of things bring her demons back to haunt her and she has to face the fact that they never went away. I get a lot of people contacting me about this novel and it seems to have done a lot of good along the way. It’s a mystery/romance but it also has an element of comedy as I feel that humour is important.

Artifact is also based in England, in Market Harborough, where I used to live. It’s about a woman who’s taken something of importance from a family trust site in New Zealand and fled to England. There are lots of reasons why she took it and she takes a temporary job working for a local museum, restoring some manuscripts that were found in a priest hole in the town church. There’s a lot of history in the novel and a few twists and turns. It’s more of a romance than a mystery.

What are your forthcoming writings?
Book 7 of the Hana Du Rose Mysteries. Its working title at the moment is The Du Rose Son and I’m desperate to get on with it. I have to kill off someone very important and am putting it off because I am going to find it as painful as him. I am also writing an English romance called The Actuary.

What genres you write in and why?
I write for teens because I remember what it was like to be one. Those 3 novels have been successful.
I write mystery novels because they interest me with their twists and turns. I’m not always sure where the mystery element comes from, but it appears and I go with it. I always know what the mystery is, but not always who did it.

What keeps you motivated towards writing?
It’s how I stay sane and well balanced. If you took it away from me now, I would be a raging nervous wreck always shouting about something. It all goes into the novel like a release.

If Writing a Book is taken as a project, what are the key essentials you take care of in Project Management?
You have to know where you want to end up - and head there. Then it’s a system of working backwards. Sometimes I write the ending before I write parts of the centre. In Blaming the Child, I wrote the final chapter before I wrote any of the middle. I don’t think you can control it to the extent of project managing it other than ensuring that there is a definite beginning, middle and end. Writing is sometimes as much a journey for the writer as the reader and it would be ill-advised to lock it into timeframes. I know people who write by the word count but I don’t ever do that. I couldn’t tell you how many words most of my novels are. They just come out of my head and onto the keyboard. If it’s flowing, then it will never be an exact science.

How do you plan, schedule and monitor your writing commitments?
At the moment I have a list of jobs in a notebook. I am in the process of going through all 11 novels and editing and doing rewrites. I’m also getting them all into print, which is a real labour of love and involves a lot of technical formatting, which I am rubbish at. I am half way through writing another Hana Du Rose Mystery and there is also another set of characters screaming in my head for attention in another UK based mystery/romance. It’s hard to fit it all in and feels haphazard most of the time unfortunately.

What are your future plans?
Eventually I’d like to stop working and just write. It’s hard to balance the two at the moment. I hope that I die writing. I’ll be half way through writing a novel and one of my children will have to try and finish it. So they’ll have to start listening to me before then and read my work. Otherwise, they will mess it up.

What is generally your preference in reading – a paper book or ebook? And why?
I love real books, especially hard backed. I love how they look and smell and that I own them. Before we emigrated, I owned thousands of books and it was hard to give them away and sell them to come to New Zealand. I just couldn’t bring them all here. Now I prefer to travel light. I have my Kindle and often fit it into my handbag. It means I can read a massive book anywhere I like. But there’s nothing like holding a real book. I love it when mine arrive through the post as proofs. I just want to hold them before they get all bent and scruffy.

What four top most things do you take care of while writing a book?
The plot has to flow: If it goes nowhere, readers won’t finish it. You can’t have readers wondering why a character behaved that way because they will just conclude that you did it to fit the story. Then you lose authenticity. A lot of that is down to research. If you don’t understand it and can’t find out about it, then write about something else.
Passive Voice: That’s the curse of modern writing and detaches readers from the narrative. The author doesn’t even realise they are doing it. I get rid of it as I go along and definitely in the final editing process.
Dialogue: There has to be speech, even if you don’t like writing it. It adds a different dimension to the story. I often go back and take out description and change it to speech. It’s not as eloquent but it invites the reader in, instead of holding them at arm’s length where they can get fed up and wander off.
Editing: There are some shockingly bad novels out there in the self-publishing world and it makes readers wary of spending good money on them. About Hana went out with editing errors and I wish it hadn’t. I’ve edited it countless times since then but nowadays, nothing goes out until it’s as clean as is humanly possible.

How much real life goes into a fiction writing?
It’s real life mixed with a goodly helping of fantasy. My mother uses an expression, ‘sometimes real life is stranger than fiction’ and that is so true. If you wrote down some people’s actual lives, nobody would believe you. My characters are made up of facets of people I know, but all mixed together. There’s only one of my characters who can be legitimately attributed to a real person and that’s David Allen in The Du Rose Prophecy. I didn’t know what to give my father for his birthday so I wrote a soldier into my novel and made him into a hero. That was my gift to him. He’s the only person on the planet who could decently recognise himself, although I often get people thinking that I’ve written about them. My husband is definitely Logan Du Rose, although I’ve even added to him. My poor husband doesn’t have quite that many scars on his body but he is the handsome, strong, silent type. He doesn’t read my books so has no idea, but plenty of women around the world seem to be madly in love with him.

Is a high level of imagination important to have for an Author?
For fiction - definitely. You can tell when an author is really in the story with you and that they felt and saw everything you’re now reading. It makes it authentic when you know that they’re sat next to you commentating. But everyone is different and a travel writer writes differently to someone who authors technical manuals. A romance novelist will describe Venice and its beauty, a travel writer will suggest places to visit and eat and a technical writer will explain how the sewage system works. Authors can’t really be put together in one big group because their subjects are too diverse but all of them will need an active imagination in order to get excited about something and then project it for a reader.  

Your dream destination on Earth?
Russell in the Far North of New Zealand. I’ve been there once and loved it. I could live there and write in a house overlooking the sea.

Your origin of birth and other countries you have visited/ stayed. What best things you liked in these countries around the globe?
I was born in the UK and have lived in Germany and New Zealand.
In England and Germany, I loved the sense of history. You can look at a threshold into a church and know that millions of people have passed over it. They walked like you and felt like you and there’s a sense of continuity. You can touch your ancestors through association with places. I loved how clean Germany felt. There’s a pride there that isn’t in the UK or New Zealand. My mother got told off once for hanging her washing out on a Sunday because nobody did that back in the 1970’s.

The best kind of history in New Zealand is Maori. It’s right under our noses but white people rarely go to look at it or try to understand. The town I live in is only150 years old and people would rather go and trace their ancestry back to Scotland or Ireland than celebrate what they have here. It’s an amazing country with a powerful heritage if everyone just accepted and distinguished it.

Your favorite time of the day?
Midday. I’m wide awake and productive. It’s my best time of day for doing anything.

Your favorite color and why?
I love yellow and I’m drawn to yellow things. It is the colour that seems to make me feel happiest. The trouble with yellow is that you can’t really have yellow rooms and yellow clothes. It’s just not one of those colours. I’d quite like a yellow car one day.

What is the last book you finished reading? What is the current book you are reading?
I just finished The Blue Amaryllis by Sonia DeLeon.
I am currently reading Tredan’s Bane by Lita Burke

Your favorite book and why?
The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye.
It’s a massive piece of work and takes me a month to read, every time I pick it up. I left my copy in the UK and need to buy it again because I can read it over and over. It’s the best book ever written. The writer lived in India during the British annexation and she sees it from the point of view of the Indian people. She writes this intricately woven novel about love and espionage and mystery and her characters are colourful and every page is full of vibrancy. You start to think that nowhere could be this raw and colourful.

Your favorite movie and why?
Dirty Dancing.
It’s a good old-fashioned movie about the underdog. It’s the age of innocence meets reality. It’s got everything. I’ve got it on DVD and often watch it by myself.

Your favorite celebrity and why?
Richard Armitage.
He’s handsome, an incredible actor and intensely humble. He came across a Tumblr site dedicated to him and was quite moved by the fact that people liked him enough to talk about him on a website. He made a few comments and sent in some photos himself. He’s a genuinely nice person.

Your favorite food?

Your favorite sports?
I love running and always try to watch the competitive track and field events on the television. I love watching basketball and netball live.

What is the force that drives you?
Fear of stagnation and becoming useless. If I don’t write, I suffocate.

What comes to your mind when you think of India?
The colours red and gold.

What three words come to your mind for each –
terrifying, humiliating, necessary.
Life, undervalued, precious, short
God, amazing, relief, ultimate
Humanity, wasteful, injudicious, lost
Terrorism, erroneous, frightening, sad
Racism, wrong, selfish, conceited
Childhood Abuse,
damaging, vindictive, forever
security, frail, vulnerable
striving, guessing, consuming
Old age
licenced, exciting, potential

First thing you do in the morning after waking up?
Go for a run on work days. While it’s still dark and everyone else is asleep. I get to see the sunrise and to believe that God has put on a show just for me. I saw a comet once and it was spectacular.

Last thing to do before sleep?
Ask my husband how long before he comes to bed, as he locks up and makes the house secure. I settle better with him in the room and always have. I don’t think he knows that.

If one fine morning you wake up and find your sex changed to opposite, what will be your first reaction?
I’d probably be quite pleased, as long as I wasn’t going to be stuck like that permanently. I like being a woman. I don’t tend to write from the point of view of males, as I think it can go badly wrong if you don’t know what you’re talking about. So from a research perspective, I would be thrilled.

State your signature line/ tagline/ best quote
“Offering an apology, even when you are owed one, means that at least one of you leaves the room happy.”

The last line of your autobiography would be…
Don’t upset me. I’ll write about you and it won’t be pretty.

The title of your autobiography would be…
Last In the Foot Queue
Someone once said that when God was handing out Tact and Diplomacy in Heaven, I was still waiting for the last pair of feet and that’s stuck with me. I have neither tact nor diplomacy as character traits but I am reasonably pleased with my feet.

Links & other relevant details:
Twitter handle: @hanadurose
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