Kim Slater is a full-time Nottingham author, writing in two genres.
Her first Young Adult book, Smart, won ten regional prizes and has been shortlisted for twenty-five regional and national awards, including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Prize and her first two novels, Smart and A Seven-Letter Word, have both been nominated/longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Her third YA novel, 928 Miles from Home has just been published in hardback by Macmillan Children’s Books (May 2017).
Writing also as KL Slater for digital imprint, Bookouture (Hachette), Kim’s first two adult psychological thrillers, Safe with Me and Blink, reached the top five in the Amazon UK chart and top ten in the Amazon US chart. Her third thriller, Liar, is published June 2017. To date, she has sold over 300,000 digital copies of her adult crime books.
Kim holds a first-class honours degree in English & Creative Writing and an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University. She lives in Nottingham with her husband. Her website is http://kimslater.com/.
Interview with Jonathan Taylor
JT: What originally drew you to the genre of Young Adult fiction?
KS: I chose Writing for Children and Young Adults as one of the modules on my MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University as I thought it would be interesting. Up until this point I never really fancied writing for younger readers as I thought it would feel limiting and ultimately be censured by gatekeepers. In actual fact, I found it to be quite the opposite. I wrote a short story called Smart for my assignment piece and fell in love with writing strong, young voices. And I have always found librarians, teachers and my publisher, to be embracing of the difficult and diverse subjects I often choose to tackle in my books.
JT: You write in two genres: crime fiction and YA fiction. In your YA novels, there is a kind of detective work, where the young narrators try to understand a complex and mysterious adult world. What do you feel are the differences and overlaps between the two genres?
KS: Adult crime was always my first love, it’s what I wrote (unpublished) almost exclusively up until embarking on my MA course in 2010. So, it felt natural for me to thread a bit of a mystery through my YA novels. It serves to keep the reader (both adult and young readers) turning the pages which is particularly important in writing successful adult commercial crime.
For me, the similarity between all genres, not just these two, is in writing complex, believable characters. My characters are often flawed and it’s a challenge to get the reader to empathise with them but I enjoy revealing all their different facets when writing both YA and adult crime. Young readers and commercial crime fans all like a good story, so crafting a compelling narrative is a definite similarity, too.
A difference I find when I’m writing is being able to explore interesting issues more thoroughly in my YA fiction whereas in commercial crime, I can’t afford to dwell too much on anything that slows down the pace. That might sound a bit prescriptive and it’s easy to be sniffy about it but I love writing in this genre. I feel I have a good handle on what my adult readers are looking for - in what they deem to be a good book - and I enjoy crafting the characters and stories.
JT: Both Smart and Seven Letter Word are written from the perspective of teenage boys. I found the voices both compelling and convincing. How do you inhabit a teenage boy’s voice and, indeed, psychology like this?
KS: …and now a third teenage boy’s perspective in my latest novel, 928 Miles from Home.
In the beginning, I never set out to ‘write boys’ but the character always comes first for me, even before I know what the full story will be and all the main character voices – in my YA fiction – have thus far been boys.
This has had an unexpected and welcome outcome in that schools inform me the books are very popular with their boys. I get asked by lots of girls in schools if I’ll write a YA female protagonist and my answer is that yes, of course I will . . . if she presents herself!
I inhabit a teenage boy’s voice in exactly the same way as I approach any voice I write: male, female, young, old . . . I put myself inside that person’s head. For some time before I start to write, actually. I get to know the character, listen to the little quirks and personality traits that make them the person they are. At the same time, I think about their world and the sorts of things that might happen.
I don’t like to put labels on people, psychologically or otherwise and this allows me to write characters on a human level, from the perspective of their own experiences and how it feels to be them . . . regardless of what the experts might say. Within reason. I call it ‘simmering’ and it’s a very important part of the process for me. When I get a feel for that character and the world he or she lives in, then the words begin to flow.
JT: What would you like younger readers to take from your novels? What’s your aim in writing for them?
KS: When they’ve read a Kim Slater novel, I would like young readers to feel that they have walked in someone else’s shoes for a short time. Often my main characters are young people who feel excluded and who feel different to their peers in some way. By the end of the book I’d like to think that the reader identifies with them, that despite apparent differences, people are essentially all the same.
I enjoy exploring issues when I’m writing YA and my aim is to get young people talking about difficult and often contentious subjects. I try and avoid being too political, I like to show both sides like a debate and for them to think about how they might form their own opinions. Happily, my books are popular in schools for this very reason.
JT: What do you enjoy most about writing, and being a writer? What do you enjoy least?
KS:The thing I enjoy the most is reminding myself that my passion is now also my career. Now I’m writing in two genres, the financial rewards are excellent but if I wasn’t a professional writer I’d be working a day job and writing for no money at all – indeed, as I did for many years!
The thing I enjoy the least is also, ironically, I believe the secret to success; getting so utterly wrapped up in a fictional world and its characters that one forgets real life and real people are just outside the door. Writing draws me in every day like a powerful magnet and it’s not until I physically get out into the fresh air it releases its insatiable grip!
JT: What are you working on at the moment?
KS: I’m currently ‘simmering’ my fourth YA novel for Macmillan Children’s Books which is again set in Nottingham and explores issues such as poverty and the affects that crime can have on a family. And I am working on my fourth adult psychological crime novel, writing as KL Slater.
About the interviewer
Jonathan Taylor is an author, editor, critic and lecturer. His books include the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015), and the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007). He directs the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. His website is www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk