Thursday, 25 January 2018

CWD member interview: Catriona McKeown

Today’s interview: Catriona McKeown
Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from.
1. After reading who this interview is with, you may be wondering how to pronounce my first name. It is pronounced the same as Katrina - so yes, that ‘o’ is silent. When I went to uni, for simplicity sake, I became Cate - and it stuck. This has been quite handy, as I now go by Catriona as an author, which helps separate my ‘author’ life from my real one.
2. Some would call me a Queenslander, since I live on the Fraser Coast. But I am a Victorian at heart, evidenced by the fact I can’t quite bring myself to call ‘bathers’ ‘togs’. I’ve been living in Queensland for five years.
3. I am a secondary school teacher who has the privilege of working with students with disabilities, many of whom have autism. My current work-in-progress is based around the unique struggles autistic teenagers can have during this stage of life.
Question 2: Tell us about your writing. What do you write and why?
I write Contemporary YA fiction. My first novel, The Boy in the Hoodie, was published late last year by Rhiza Press. Some CWD members may know the novel’s name from when it won the Omega Writers CALEB (unpublished category) award in 2016.
I write YA because I have a heart for the plight of teenagers. It is such a pivotal time in a person’s life, and so difficult to navigate on your own. I hope that through my writing, young people will be encouraged to make decisions that are true to the type of person they want to be, chose friends who will support them and care for them in the journey, and to ultimately feel free to become the person they were created to be.
I also write Short Stories and have had a number published, including one in the Glimpses of Light anthology. A favourite short story I’ve written was inspired by my grandmother’s struggle with Dementia. If anyone is interested, you can read it here.
Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?
The Boy in the Hoodie is a Young Adult novel (so aimed at a teenage audience), but my readers include parents of teenagers and I’ve had a number of teachers tell me they’ve read and enjoyed it, despite how frustrating some of the teenage characters can be. I had some teenagers read the novel before I sent it out to publishers and was incredibly encouraged by their enthusiasm for the story.
The people I would most like to read my novel are teenagers who are finding the road to adulthood difficult, especially if they are struggling to find ‘their tribe’. I’d like them to see the hope offered between the pages, as well as realise the importance of finding friends who will really care about them, and accept them for who they are becoming.
Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?
I started off my writing journey as a ‘panster’ writer, meaning I would just sit and write and see where the story would take me. I still write like that when writing a short story. But I am now a strong advocate for heavily planning out a novel before writing, as it saves a bucketload of editing afterwards.
The main challenge I face as a writer is the inner-critic, who very easily convinces me my writing is pathetic and I may as well give up. I counteract it by rereading what I have written so far. It helps remind me that I love my characters, that my dialogue is pretty good, and that the story is workable. But it takes time to reread my work over and over – so time is my other big challenge.
I’ve written about my journey to being published on my blog, if anyone would like to see what some of my experiences and processes have been for The Boy in the Hoodie.
Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why?
KM Weiland has been such a God-send to me. I especially love two of her writing books, Structuring Your Novel and 5 Secrets of Story Structure. In my first manuscript assessment, I was told structure was the main problem in my writing. KM Weiland’s books have given me the tools and confidence to get the structure right in my writing. It really helped me to find out what my main weakness is in my writing, and to then have a clear process to help counteract it.
Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?
A number of CWD members have been influential on my writing journey. Iola Goulton taught me a lot about my own writing when she appraised my first (never published) manuscript a number of years ago. Also Jennette O’Hagan, Adam Collins and Linsey Painter, in particular, have been a great support through our online writing group.
Question 7: What are your writing goals for 2018? How will you achieve them?
My main goal is to finish (before March *insert white face with mouth open and eyes wide*) my current YA manuscript, so I can get it out to some beta readers. I’m aiming to complete my masters degree this year, which includes a 12,000 mini thesis, so I’ll include that in my writing goals. And I’m in the midst of writing a Novella; I’m keen to continue working on it during the times when Uni might be a little quieter.
I will achieve (she says with with an air of confidence believed by everyone except herself) my writing goals through sweating blood and crying tears. I have an incredibly supportive family, so as long as they can stand me sitting at my desk a whole heap, I may be in with a chance.
Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?
There is not an aspect of my writing that hasn’t been impacted by my faith. If I didn’t feel God was calling me to write for an audience (no matter how big or small that audience is), I wouldn’t. But writing from a Christian world view for the secular market has its challenges. It can be quite tricky writing YA and not having, for example, any swearing in their talk – especially the rougher characters, like Paige in The Boy in the Hoodie.
A few years go God gave me this verse from Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I wouldn’t be able to write, work, study, raise 3 daughters, and stay married, without His help.
I firmly believe it is the Spirit’s guiding hand that creates those moments where things all seem to come together and just ‘work’ in my writing. A recent example of this, is with my current WIP. I named my main character Graceland (yes, there is a bit of an Elvis theme running through it). The story is about a teenager who is determined to create a new legacy for herself, and not follow in her family’s footsteps of addiction, low social standing and never having any money. At about 40,000 words, I stopped to do some research about Elvis and in particular, his mansion, Graceland. I learned how for many Americans, the mansion is a symbol of rising out of the poverty cycle and ‘changing your stars’. The connection between the two Gracelands was perfect. It was a uh-ha moment for me - a confirmation God is with me even if I’m unaware He is in the midst of it.
Catriona McKeown lives on the Fraser Coast in Queensland, Australia, with her husband and three daughters. She is passionate about issues of social justice and often writes with such ideals in mind. She is also passionate about education that allows every child to reach their full potential and has a particular heart for children with autism. Catriona hails from country Victoria, lived a short stint in Western Australia, and has now settled on Queensland as her home state. Her first novel, The Boy in the Hoodie, is available in all good bookstores and online. ​Find out more at her website or connect with her on Facebook.


  1. Really enjoyed your author interview Cate. Amazed as to how you are able to do a Masters while teaching and writing stories. Sounds like you have 48 hours in a day. :) Well done! I love your title 'The Boy in the Hoodie' and I must read it. I have a son with Aspergers so it was good to hear you work with teenagers on the spectrum. Every blessing Cate on your thesis writing and other writing and may you continue to make a difference in our world.

    1. Thanks Anusha! I certainly wouldn’t be able to manage it all without my supportive husband. He’s the true hero in the story.

    2. Likewise, I have a son on the specturm, so I'll be keen to read your WIP when it comes out, to see if I can get any hints for when my boy hits teenagehood. (and I definitely believe we can learn from fiction)

  2. Well done, Cate! Your Graceland story gives me goosebumps - I loved The Boy in the Hoodie, and I'll look forward to your next book.

  3. Your "uh-ha" moment made me smile. Like He's saying, 'Yeah, I'm here.' 😊 Look forward to your next work.

  4. Hi Cate, great to learn a bit more about you and your journey in writing and who inspires you! Yay for your work in progress. It will be amazing. It sounds as if you've got a busy year. You'll rock it :)

  5. Great interview, thanks Cate. I enjoyed Boy in a Hoodie and am looking forward to reading more of your stories :)

  6. Hi Cate, I look forward to reading your book some day and sharing it with my teenagers. Thanks for sharing your story 😊