Posted on December 14, 2018 at 8:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
If you like escaping through reading, you can definitely rely on author Kirsty McManus to whisk you away.
Her debut novel was based on her experiences teaching English in Japan, and while her next few novels mostly stuck around her native land of Australia, the most recent two went to someplace extremely difficult to visit: the 1990s.
Yep, McManus sent one of her characters back to her high school days in 1996 and 1997 — which also serve as the titles for those books — adding a great splash of nostalgia to the chick-lit genre.
Fresh off those two novels’ release, McManus took some time to tell us how a web and graphics designer went from code and pixels to fiction.
SADYE: What gave you the idea to first write a novel about teaching English abroad and then to publish it?
KIRSTY: I started a blog for friends and family while we were in Japan, and I got some really positive feedback from it.
One friend even said his journalist girlfriend regularly followed my adventures.
At the time, I was also reading a lot of chick lit, and I thought it would be fun to try and incorporate the quirkier parts of my blog into a fictional story.
I wrote an eighty-thousand-word draft in three weeks, but then took six years to turn it into something readable!
SADYE: You’ve also lived in Canada, which was likely less of a culture shock than Japan but still not exactly your stomping grounds. How has your time as an expat influenced your writing or interest in writing?
KIRSTY: I think living in other countries has given me a lot of great material to use in books (I worked a bit of Canada into MultiDate!).
When I first started writing, there weren’t many Australian writers getting published internationally, and if they were, they were writing about rural towns, not urban settings.
And because I didn’t know a lot about outback Australia, I thought I’d focus on my characters visiting other countries.
A web design contract I took in a Bangkok perfumery led to Perfume Therapy, and an amazing road trip down the US West Coast inspired part of Saved by the Celebutante.
I’ve only recently started using local urban or coastal settings, and readers seem be enjoying them, but I still love the escapism of somewhere different.
SADYE: Do you have a favorite story from your time in Japan that didn’t make the novel Zen Queen?
KIRSTY: I tried to include most of the great experiences I had in Japan in the book, like the bike ride from Osaka to Kyoto, the themed love hotels, and regular karaoke with all the teachers.
One thing I did find surprising when I lived there was how many people I met who had connections to back home in Australia.
I met a woman who only lived about twenty minutes away from my hometown, a woman who dated a friend of mine in high school, and an old work colleague of one of my best friends.
Plus, a guy I ended up meeting over there (who went on to become a good friend of mine) had a very similar life to me before moving to Japan.
We grew up in the same area, went to the same university, moved to Brisbane around the same time and then obviously went overseas at the same time!
SADYE: On the flip side, if you could follow in your time-traveling character Anna’s shoes instead of having your characters mimic you, would you do it?
KIRSTY: Haha, I don’t know! If I knew it was safe, maybe!
1996 was one of my favorite teenage years, so it would be fun to go back and see if it lived up to the memories, although I’d probably be too scared to explore properly.
I already have some of Anna’s insight, because I’ve kept a diary every day since I was twelve. It’s funny to read back and see how much I’ve changed, but also how little.
(Plus, having a written record is good for settling arguments about the past!)
SADYE: What has been the most rewarding part of being an author?
KIRSTY: Seeing a review where it’s clear the reader completely understands what I set out to do (or finds additional depth I didn’t even consider!).
With 1996, I was worried it might not translate to a wider audience, because I set it in a small Australian coastal town in the nineties — but I think the music and pop culture were pretty similar, and some experiences are universal.
Also, I think everyone gets a bit nostalgic at times, so they would love the chance to go back and relive particular events.
SADYE: How about the most challenging?
KIRSTY: Probably the time between finishing one book and starting the next.
I’m so exhausted by the end of the editing process, but also excited to do something new that I can’t focus properly for a few weeks.
I’ll sometimes write the start of several different projects until I settle down again and just write the one.
Also, this year was the first time I tried to write a series. I think I chose the most difficult way to do it, having the same main character with a continuing story AND with a time travel element!
One other challenging thing I have recently discovered is reading back on my earlier work. I feel like I was so much more careful back then.
And while I chose my words and phrasing well, I took forever to get to the point! It was like I was afraid to get too deep and messy!
SADYE: And finally, how about the most surprising part?
KIRSTY: How great the writing community is—although that’s not saying I expected it to be hostile!
I’m part of a few different writing groups, and 99% of the people I meet are really supportive and lovely.
The other day, I joined an Instagram Live chat hosted by an author I didn’t really know, but everyone treated me like an old friend.
It’s awesome getting to know people from all over the world.
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Categories: Author Interview