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SPOTLIGHT: The story behind how I first got published

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Today (1 June 2017) marks twenty  years since my first novel was published!

The book was called DRAGONCLAW, and it was the first in the series of heroic fantasy novels called THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN.  


Here is the story of how THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN came to be published:

I’ve always wanted to be a writer – it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be.

A novel I wrote when I was 15

All through my childhood I wrote many poems and novels, and sent out my first manuscript when I was sixteen – it was handwritten, in my very childish handwriting, on loose foolscap pages. I didn’t know any better! Well, I didn’t have a typewriter and computers were barely invented. It was rejected, of course, but came back with a lovely letter saying that I clearly had talent and must keep writing.

So I did. I laboured over a magic realism novel all though my early 20s, while working as a journalist, and began to have poems and stories published. I sent out my novel a few times, and it was almost published three times, but fell through every time, much to my despair.

Me in my 20s

At the age of 25 I had a quarter-life crisis. I decided to give myself five years, to pour all my energy into getting a book published, but that I’d have to reassess my life if I couldn’t get published by the age of 30.

I quit my job as a journalist and began freelancing to support myself, and I applied to do my Masters of Arts in Writing, using the magic realism novel I had been working on as my thesis.

I began writing the first draft of Dragonclaw while I was studying for my first year exams, probably in reaction to the “fictive discourses” we were told to construct in our writing classes. About 50,000 words into the first draft, I sent off a few sample chapters to Gaby Naher at Hickson Associates.

She came back the next day, saying she loved it, and when could I get her a complete manuscript? I wrote madly for the next few months (practically ignoring my studies and work commitments).

I finished the first draft, she put it up for auction, and I signed with Random House by the end of the month. This made me particularly happy, since it was two days before my 30th birthday.  

I made my deadline by a whisker!

Dragonclaw has gone on to be sold in the US, Germany, Russia, and Japan, and I have been a full-time writer ever since.


 Dragonclaw changed my life forever!

LETTER FROM A FAN: How books can change a life

Friday, June 05, 2015


Sometimes, a writer can begin to lose heart. 

The literary industry is not always an easy one to work in. Terrible novels can become major blockbusters, while wonderful novels languish on bookshop shelves. One or two authors can win every award in the country, while others are passed over again and again. It’s hard at times to maintain faith in yourself and your work.

At times like this, it can really help for a writer to be reminded that what we do has value. Books can inspire, invigorate, comfort and console.

And so can letters from readers. 

This e-mail came at a time when I was overwhelmed by the difficulties of juggling work and family, weighed down by impossible deadlines, and disheartened by the struggle to have my voice being heard in the great clamour of the international publishing scene.

I’d like to share it with you.

Sent: Saturday, 1 September 2012 9:12 AM
Subject: About time I sent this

Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Mitchell, and I was born in Brisbane. I lived much of my young life in a small town called Coppa Bella, and later moved to yet another small town, Keppel Sands. I am now 23 years old, and I have been living in Rockhampton since I was 19. Because of the distance between my home and school life, I found myself very isolated from people my age. I didn't like the people I lived with, and I never had much chance to make a lasting connection with the people I went to school with. I was also in special education for high functioning Autism, so I felt even more isolated from everyone else.
Your books helped me through this time, and I'd like to thank you. I'm sorry for the length of this email, but I'd like to explain how 'The Witches of Eileanan' changed my life.
When I was 14, my teachers were concerned I was dyslectic. I still couldn't read or write. I could draw, and when I'd get frustrated in class, not being able to follow the page with everyone else, I'd draw dragons, monsters, winged heroes, horned demons. Sometimes I got so depressed with being 'stupid' that my drawings became horror stories instead of adventures. 
One day, my stepdad came home and dropped a book on my work desk while I was drawing. It was ‘Dragonclaw’. 


I didn't understand at the time, but now I see just how perceptive the guy had been, and I feel very silly for only just now realizing it. He put the dots together and realized that my 'learning disability' was just a lack of interest. Books for my age were boring to me, and class subjects were worse. All my teachers stumped and my stepdad the simple train driver had figured it out.
I still had trouble reading, since I hadn't done it much, but I learned pretty quick. A lot of the words escaped me for a few years, especially the Scottish stuff. I tried putting in placeholder words, like King instead of Righ, and plenty of times I put the wrong face to a person, and didn't realize it until years later when I reread them. Hell, Margrit of Arran ended up looking like one of the Yugioh villains, which was on after school at the time. And when Rhiannon's Ride came around, Lord Fettercaine somehow materialized as "John McCain in a sweater vest". 

Eventually, I was asking my stepdad for the second one. Then the third. And when they didn't arrive fast enough, I'd check the school library. And that was soon tapped out, so I was so excited to see a box in the back of the library labeled 'Fiction'. When they told me it wouldn't be on the shelves for a few days, I was restless. And when those were all read, my mum would take me along to the public library when she went to get her hair done, and just leave me there for an hour while she was across the street, so I could pick out a dozen or so books to take. She never minded paying. And while some of my teachers felt the books were too violent for a 14 year old, they would let me read in class if I finished my school work. It was the best way to get me working.

There was one problem though. I could never get The Heart of Stars. I was so excited when I found out there was a trilogy after the Witches of Eileanan, and I'd reread all 6 books every year or so. 

I was an adult at this point, and didn't see my mum or stepdad as often as I'd have liked. But one day I randomly ran into my mum in town, and we drifted about all day, wasting money, doing some menial shopping and almost getting in a car accident because of her horrid red jeep. Before we separated, she got ‘Rhiannon’s Ride’ out of her purse, just now remembering. I loved my mother so much, and I was closer to her that day then I'd ever been. 

Three days later, my stepfather picked me up, drove me to their home, and told me and my brother she had died of a heart attack. I had the book in my hands when I found out, and I didn't open it for a whole year afterwards. 

When I finally finished it and tracked down ‘The Shining City’, Lewen being turned against Rhiannon while she awaited trial hit me so hard I put the book away again, and tried 3 more times over the years to finish. Each time, I couldn't. It was too sad, but those books were so close to me, I just couldn't leave them unfinished. 

I took a 10 hour train ride to visit family and forced myself to finish the book, and I remember turning the last page and closing it just as the speakers announced my stop. I felt lighter then I had in years as I stepped out of the train. I had gotten on when it was dark and empty outside the station, and had spent the entirety of the trip alone, in an empty cart, without a single sign of life outside the dark window. When I arrived, it was to the very beginnings of a cloudless sunrise, with the train station workers and early passengers just now seeming to rouse. It had felt like a literal journey for me, finishing this book, and leaving that dark and silent train to call a taxi felt a lot like leaving behind all that ickiness that had kept me from reading for so long. I felt like Isabeau returning from The Spine of the World, stronger now for facing myself, but knowing my quest wasn't over. 
‘Heart of Stars’ would continue to allude me. It was the last book. I couldn't stop now. It was never in stock, even online, and when it was, it wouldn't ship here. I tried audio book stores online, e-books that I couldn't even use since I had no smart phone, and every garage sale and second hand store I came across would get raided. After a while, I gave up. 

Then, one day, I was walking down the street, after stashing my broken bike in some bushes, not caring what happened to it. I was broke, looking at a long walk home, the humidity was dragging me down and it was already starting to rain. It was everything you'd picture from one of those soul crushingly bad days, where absolutely everything that could go wrong did. I went into a random store to wait and see if the rain would stop and to hide in the air conditioning, and ended up talking to the clerk for about 20 minutes. 

It was a tiny second hand book store, and the entire time, I never noticed the copy of ‘Heart of Stars’ behind the woman, right in my sights. It was 15 dollars, and I felt my heart about to implode when I saw about 8 bucks worth of silver coins in my wallet. I felt like this was the last cruel joke that today would throw at me to end it's fun. The Coup De Grace. As if I weren't already so low, now fate dangles this just out of my reach, and if my luck held like this, it wouldn't be here when I get paid in a week. I was ready to just sulk off out into the rain, trudge into my place and collapse with the bottle of bourbon I keep in the pantry. 
I guess the nice woman who owned the store knew the feeling, because she bagged it for me and asked for 5 dollars. 

Kate, you're books introduced me to reading, and they helped make me the person I am today. Finally completing the series after all this time feels like a very deep, very important part of me has also been completed. Thank you so much for helping me grow up and discover myself Kate. You loaned me your Muse until I could make one for myself, and I'll always cherish the memories these wonderful books gave me. You are a wonderful writer, and I'm glad I had your works in my life.
Just a fan from Rockhampton

This was my answer:

Dear Mitchell
I had a big lump in my throat reading your message, and my eyes were stinging with tears. Thank you so much! I don’t know if you realise how much a message like yours means to a writer. We spend our time labouring in the dark, hoping to strike a spark, hoping we can kindle some kind of light for others … and your message shows me so clearly that for you, at least, I succeeded. I have printed your message out – I will treasure it always.
I wonder if you would allow me to post your message on my blog? It just seems so special, so beautiful, that I want to share it --- perhaps even boast about it  a little. I feel it’s so deeply heartfelt and personal that perhaps you will not wish to share it with others, and, if so, I perfectly understand. 
Either way, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time, and for reminding me why I keep struggling on, trying to write the stories I want to write. I hope you’ll go on and read more of my books – and many other books too.
Wishing you all the best, with all my heart

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