Today, I am virtually meeting and chatting with author Kath Engebretson. So welcome Kath, so pleased that you could join us today to answer some questions about your writing life and your new book Nineteen Days.
Nineteen Days: Synopsis:
Genevieve hates cruises. All that lounging around quaffing cocktails and too much food. But Peter, her husband, bought this one for her after the worst year of her life, and she couldn’t tell him she didn’t want to go.They are both still traumatised from an unimaginable family tragedy, and each of them has gone into hiding behind small talk and silence. A cruise is also the last place Genevieve could imagine making a friend, but in Thomas, a morbidly obese man who inhabits a patch of shade on the deck, she meets someone she can talk to. She tells him her story. Thomas himself has an odd past. He is a refugee from an oppressive cult, an experience that poisoned the only relationship he
cared about. In the gentle relationship, a kind of healing takes place, until Peter drops a bombshell. By the end of the cruise, all their lives have changed.
A story about strange and unexpected friendships; about the facades that people wear, and about what happens when they break; about how
We will talk about you and your writing, but first, some getting to know you questions.
Late nights or early mornings? Early mornings, I’m hopeless with late nights, I start to fall asleep in company and its’s embarrassing.
What’s for breakfast? Usually coffee with toast spread with marmalade or vegemite.
Night out or night in-with or without Netflix? Night in with Netflix. There’s no other choice with the lockdown. I’ve just finished watching the first series of Undercover, a Dutch series, which really hooked me in. I loved series 1 of Succession and am waiting for series 2 to come out on DVD. The Sinner also, the main character, the detective, is a deep, complex, lonely and very humane man.
G&T or Tea/coffee? G and T with ice and lemon and really good coffee.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Strangely enough, a writer, but I had to wait for a long time. I became a teacher, then an academic, while having and raising a family. Now that I’m only working part-time, I can write my stories without being distracted by the need to keep up my academic writing.
What brings you joy? Lifts your spirits, chases away a down mood. My grandchildren, all seven of them, and my Jack Russell terrier Matey. We are a mutual adoration society.
Your hero? Barack Obama. If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? Nancy Pelosi, because of her unflinching commitment to restoring some decency and dignity to the leadership of the United States. I love that she’s a grandmother and still tireless in her political contribution.
Paul Keating because in my view he was the best Prime Minister we ever had, he’s witty and blunt and analytical in his conversation, and he had a vision for the country. Then Archie Roach, because through his music he’s told the story of disadvantage and prejudice against First Nation people. He and Paul could talk about the Redfern speech. I wish you’d given me more than three, as there are many people in public and private life I admire for their contribution to humanity.
What is the origin of your unusual surname? Engebretson is my late husband’s family name. His parents were Irish who came to Australia after the Second World War. Like many people in Ireland, their name is of Scandinavian origin, perhaps going back to the Vikings. There are many variations of the name in England and Ireland.
What inspired your new book? Being on a cruise and feeling lonely, as if I didn’t fit in. Looking at the other passengers and wondering about their stories. On one cruise I saw a man with Thomas’s physical characteristics and I wanted to get to know him. He was with a younger man, very different from him, and I wondered about their connection. I decided to weave a story around them.
Older characters especially main characters seem to be under-represented in books. Do you find that reader respond to this? It’s natural that we all want to read about our own generation. I prefer books and movies about people my age, I can relate to their history and they tend to be more complex and interesting characters. They’ve done things, made mistakes, and learned something along the way.
A cruise is a perfect trapped environment, with people you’d love to know better and also those you’d love to avoid! Absolutely. As one of the characters in the book notes, there are the interesting, the weird, the sad, the boorish, the finicky, the complainers, those determined to have a good time no matter what, the seasoned travellers and those on their first cruise. You meet a lot of people but don’t strike up a relationship with many of them.
Does being both an academic and an author cause any conflicts? No, they are separate worlds in my life, I learned to compartmentalise the different aspects of my life during my teaching and academic life when I had to come home to children and family life.
What time of the day do you usually write? It varies a lot, depending on what other things I have to do. I do the creative part in fits and starts, maybe a page at a time handwriting, just let it roll out. Then I take a long time typing it and editing as I go.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you? Getting the voice of each character right, they have to sound like themselves. I try to put myself in their shoes, think about the kind of vernacular they’d use.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing? I don’t really have a schedule. After a day of marking students’ essays, for example, I may reward myself with an hour of writing.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? It’s not a quirk, but I scribble in a notebook lines of dialogue I hear, plot twists, I may be cooking or walking and an idea will come, then I’ll stop and write it down. I don’t always use these ideas.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? Yes, Simon O’Brien in my first novel Red Dirt Odyssey. Physically he is a dwarf, but a man you can’t help liking and respecting. He’s a gifted artist and photographer, a thinker and a doer, and he knows what compassion means.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions? Personally, I couldn’t, but of course, there is Camus whose response to what he saw as the absurdity of life was to withdraw from emotion.
Best writing advice/ Worst writing advice you ever received? Best writing advice. Stop mucking around and just do it. Worst writing advice, plan the story out before you start. I never do that, I let it unfold.
Best money you have spent as a writer? Getting my website professionally developed.
Do you have a favourite author and why? Tim Winton. He is so essentially Australian the way his books are so grounded in the landscape, the bush and the beach. I love every word he writes. I didn’t want The Shepherd’s Hut to end.
What are you reading now? What books or authors have most influenced your writing? That’s a big question. I’ve been moved and influenced by numerous books over a long life. The classics such as the Brontes, Dickens, but I really love Australian writing, Tom Kenneally, Kate Grenville, Ruth Park, Peter Goldsworthy, and great murder mysteries such as those by P.D. James and Elizabeth George. Stephen King “On Writing” is the best writing advice ever. It makes you want to sit down and write.
Favourite quote: Christopher Brennan, Australian poet, The Wanderer
and saying this to myself as a simple thing
I feel a peace fall in the heart of the winds
and a clear dusk settle, somewhere, far in me.
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult? Recently Damascus by Cristos Tsiolkas, and The Kingdom, by Emmanuel Carrere, a book with older characters, The Weekend by Charlotte Wood.
Favourite book/story you have read as a child? Gone with the Wind was my first grown-up book.
And then I sneakily added a couple of bonus questions.
As self-described ‘reluctant’ cruise taker- which was the best or most memorable cruise you took and why? The cruise we took around the Greek islands in 2006 was wonderful. We had a few days in Athens, then boarded in Piraeus. The ship called in at Marseilles and Naples, then cruised around the Greek islands. It’s hard to say exactly why it was so enjoyable. All the ports were fabulous, it was quite a short cruise, with a new port almost every day, and it was a small ship. . We seemed to be the only English speakers on board, most were Italian or Greek, so we often took a table for two at lunch or dinner. It meant that my husband and I had lots of time together without having to make conversation with others. That sounds unsociable, but at that time in our lives, it was just what we needed. However, on the last evening there was a formal dinner, and we were at a table with four Italian couples, one a grandmother with her grandson, and we managed to communicate with each other quite well. They were nice people and we had an enjoyable evening with them. I still have fond memories of that cruise.
Do you think the covid 19 will have much impact on cruising?
There will always be people who love cruising and will want to continue after the virus is eradicated, but I think the cruise lines will take a long time to recover, because of fears of a flare up. Viruses breed on cruise ships, because you have people from many different countries mingling together, and once a virus is inadvertently left on a handrail or in a bathroom, it spreads like wildfire. On every cruise my husband and I did together, except the one around the Greek islands I’ve described, one of us became ill on board or brought an illness home with us. After Covid 19, I think people will be more wary, but hopefully the cruise lines will have updated protocols for cleaning and disinfecting. Personally, I won’t do another cruise, as my husband died very soon after the last cruise we did, and he was my best travelling companion.
Thank you so much Kath and best wishes for the success of your new book.
About the author:
Dr Kath Engebretson is a Melbourne-based teacher and academic. In her
field of religious studies, she is the author and editor of several academic
books and many student textbooks. Her PhD focused on teacher education,
and she taught in the Education Faculty at Australian Catholic University
for 17 years, mentoring several doctoral students. Kath loves the Australian
landscape and has travelled to many of Australia’ remote places. She also
loves reading and photography. Kath is the mother of four adult children
and grandmother to seven boys and girls. Her first novel, Red Dirt
Odyssey was published in 2016.
ISBN: Paperback ISBN 978-0-6488360-0-1, RRP$29, eBk 978-0-6488360-1-8, RRP$4.99
Category: Fiction, contemporary fiction, women’s fiction. Available: From Booktopia and Amazon.