Katherine Hetzel has been an egg-pickler, weigher-outer of pic ’n’mix sweets, bacon-and-cheese-slicer, a pharmaceutical microbiologist (the serious job choice), a mum, a learning assistant, and a volunteer librarian at a primary school. She’s a published author who writes fiction for children (StarMark and Kingstone with Dragonfeather Books, Granny Rainbow and More Granny Rainbow with Panda Eyes) and visits schools to share her love of creative writing. She also writes short stories for adults, and blogs about life and writing at Squidge’s Scribbles, http://squidgesscribbles.blogspot.co.uk
ED: Where did the idea for Kingstone start?
KH: It started with a challenge at our writer's group - find a picture you like, and write something inspired by it. I ended up with a picture of a woman whose skin was covered in square patterns. I had it in my head she was a priestess and wrote 'Puzzle Piece.' In that piece of flash, the priestess was going to 'read the destiny' of a girl deemed unworthy by her parents. That little nugget grew and filled out ... and I decided I wanted to write a novel that explored faith. I had wanted to write a novel that explored faith for some time, but had a couple of failed attempts before Katia jumped out at me and demanded for her story to be told! As a Christian, I try to live by a certain 'code,' but I'm all too aware that I often fall short and question what I believe. That sort of grew into an idea for a story where, if you were forced to do 'wrong' things for the sake of your faith, how would that turn out? What would happen if you had to lie or steal to protect something you really believed in? The Triple Gods and belief system of Katia's world in Kingstone became something which reflected some of my own beliefs and experiences.
ED: Where did the idea come from for the gods to be of sun, moon and mountain? Sun and moon are common deities, but 'mountain' less so.
KH: I needed three gods to reflect the Trinity with which I'm familiar. Sun and moon, like you say, seemed obvious ones to pick and didn't need too much thinking about! But I needed something to anchor them. My first attempt was sun, moon, earth, but as I played around with the earth bit, I had the idea of earth reaching towards the sun and moon, and bingo - mountain. It sounds good when you say it - as Katia would have had to in the temple. There's a rhythm to the words and the images lend themselves very well to both a recognisable faith symbol and hand gesture. I have great fun making it all up!
ED: How in-depth is the lore behind the story? Are there myths and procedures within the temple that didn't appear in the book?
KH: I tend to write character-driven stories, so write to infuse my books with enough detail to let the reader know the important things about the world the characters inhabit - in this case, Katia's home, her desires, and the impact they have on her. It's a fine balance, trying to make a fantasy world believable without overwhelming the reader with so much that's different to their experience, they get lost. Having said that, I'm sure there are lots more myths and procedures I could've written ... it's only really limited by my imagination! There are lots of scribbled ideas in my handwritten notes which play around with the temple procedures and outlines of myths, but not all of them made the cut, as they say.
ED: How long did it take you to write Kingstone?
KH: This is the only book I can tell you exactly! An author friend (the lovely Amanda Berriman) had begun a writing chart, where she challenged herself to write every day for a year. I'm not a very disciplined writer - I don't have set times to work - but I thought I'd give it a go. I set myself the target of 100 days. I didn't write every day, and not always on Kingstone, but I had a first handwritten draft after 74 days. It took another 65 to edit and type up before I showed it to anyone. Those writing days were spread over a good six month period, and after that, there was more work to do before I was happy enough to send it to Bedazzled Ink. I think I was relatively lucky in that the idea had been in my head for some time and when I started to write, it came fairly easily. Other novels have taken much, much longer.
ED: Both Kingstone and Starmark could be described as fantasy novels. What is it about fantasy that you enjoy writing?
KH: As a reader, I've always loved losing myself in different worlds (my favourite has got to be Discworld), so I suppose it was natural I'd end up writing fantasy myself. I like the fact that you can shape the world how you want it to be, and stretch the muscles of imagination of both myself as a writer and of the end readers. I've tried to write stories about 'the real world,' and somehow they never feel as real as what I create in my head. Perhaps I just have a desire to escape 'real' life and lose myself for a while.
ED: Is Kingstone inspired by any specific period in history?
KH: Not consciously. I suppose it might be that I tend to a more olde-worlde (definitely pre-tech) setting because it can help highlight the differences between what we experience nowadays and the life my characters live in my imagination. I do look to past history for inspiration for certain scenes and settings, but I don't replicate them exactly; I'd be worried about getting the details right!
ED: What age range is Kingstone directed at? And why that age range?
KH: It's aimed at middle grade readers, or 9-12 years according to the way the publishing industry likes to label books. I prefer to write for children because they are still able to let their imaginations fly and ready to believe the worlds you present them with, but my main motivation in writing for children is to try to encourage a love of reading from an early age. Having said that, I think adults also enjoy reading children's books because of the escapism they offer; so long as the books I write are read and enjoyed, I don't really mind how old the reader is.
ED: For a while, I didn't think we'd get to see the triple gods. Why did you decide to have them appear?
KH: I wasn't sure myself, until I reached that point in the novel! For many who believe in God or other deity, there is often a personal encounter which impacts on their faith, which serves to strengthen their belief. It felt right for Katia to have that kind of encounter for herself, at a point when she's at her lowest and believes that she isn't worthy of the gods she worships - and to see how that affected her. What was more fun was making them appear for others.
ED: And finally, have you got anything I can look forward to reading next?
KH: Well, I signed a contract earlier this month with Bedazzled Ink for publication of The Mage of Merjan, the first in what I hope will be a series of five fantasy adventure novels collectively called The Chronicles of Issraya. I don't have a publication date yet, but I would imagine it'll be out sometime next year. (It usually takes up to eighteen months from signing a contract to getting the book 'out there'). I'm writing up No 2 in the series at the moment, working title The Black Diamond. The stories focus on a young girl called Tilda as she learns to use the Power of Issraya and helps to protect it - and the people of Issraya who depend on it - from those who would steal it for their own dark ends. So fingers crossed, there's lots more for you to look forward to - providing I can get them written reasonably quickly.
About the interviewer
Evie Doyle is currently studying Psychology, Biology and Performing Arts at Charnwood College. She is an avid reader in her spare time as well as a scout and guide. She is also part of an amateur theatre group.