Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Author Kate O'Connell.........interview by Joyce Oroz

Kate O'Connell is a Cozy Catter mystery writer who lives in South Africa. She leads a very exciting life with her family on the other side of the globe. I can almost hear her wonderful English accent as she answers my questions. Here is Kate:

Kate, please tell us who or what influenced your decision to be a writer, and in particular, a cozy mystery writer?

I was one of those kids always reading a book.  I grew up in London, so my first loves were English authors. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series were particular favourites. My mother then introduced me to American authors and I devoured Madeleine L’Engle, Judy Bloom and Lois Duncan.

All that reading lead me to do well in school, particularly English and History but my real passion was for theatre and dance. My first university degree was a dual major in theatre and history and I then went on to a Masters in dance history and criticism. By the time I began working on a PhD in dance studies I was tired of studying but I loved the research and writing in the field of dance. The decision to stop working on my PhD and write a novel instead was instantaneous and natural. I’d fallen pregnant and with that came a desire to concentrate on something more creative than I was able to in academia. For several years I continued to teach dance classes and lecture in dance history while I tried to figure out what I wanted to write.

I have that proverbial book in the bottom drawer that I wrote that first year. In fact, I received some good feedback regarding the writing but was told that I had three partial novels masquerading as one. That agent was right and I spent the better part of three years tearing the book apart, trying to come up with something I felt passionate about.

Feeling a need for a break from that novel, I decided to start a new project and I have to admit, I went to those two old adages that keep popping up ‘write what you know’ and ‘write what you love’. Well I knew dance, particularly Argentine Tango, (I had been teaching Argentine Tango in London for about six years at that time), and I loved reading mysteries. I tried to fight the idea of combining them because at that point I wasn’t familiar with cozy mysteries. But then I went on to Amazon and downloaded about ten cozies onto my Kindle, as many as I could find with dance or theatre in the theme, and then others that took my fancy. After reading them, it all fell in to place.

How long have you been writing? Are there things you like to write other than mysteries?

My daughter was born in 2001 and after I finished the academic work I had committed to, I began writing fiction. That first attempt at a novel took the better part of a year to write. I still have it and periodically take it out to tinker around with it. What had started as one mystery has turned out to be three. One is a young adult novel that I’m excited to sink my teeth into. The other two are adult, though not so cozy. One features a police detective, 60 year-old widow Amanda Rostham, who finally gets a clue to help her solve a serial killer case that went cold for 20 years.

I also toss ideas around with my daughter and have a couple of other young adult novel ideas set in a dance world I would like to explore. And finally, I have a novel started, set in London. The idea of writing it actually frightens me a bit and I feel that I’m going to need to go away on a writer’s sabbatical to tackle it.

What is your style or method of writing, and what is your typical day like?

At the moment my day revolves around getting my daughter to and from school and to dance classes. I wake up before 6am and have a cup of tea before anyone else gets up, then it’s a military operation to get out of the house. I swim in the ocean three days a week, walk a 10k route another three and have a Pilates class on the seventh. I find I’m more able to focus on my writing when I’ve exercised well in the morning. I’m usually home and working by 10am and then write for three hours.

I’m not a plotter and would rather write a skeleton outline for six chapters or so, then start writing. I like to get stuck into a scene and see how my characters react to the situation. They often surprise me. My husband has overheard me moaning things like ‘I can’t believe she did that’ and ‘oh, no, I didn’t want him to die’ at my computer screen. I usually aim for a first draft that is about 65,000 words, then work through several drafts where the number goes up to 85,000 or 90,000 and then I get it back down to a more manageable 75,000.

Please tell us where you live and why?

I live in a small village on the Atlantic Ocean in South Africa. My husband and I met in London at an Argentine Tango salon (also know as a Milonga) while I was studying. He’s Irish by birth but his family immigrated to South Africa back in the 70s. During the first couple of years we were together we would visit his Mum in Cape Town and during one of those visits we bought a piece of land. After 10 years together in London, my husband decided he wanted to get back to his surfing roots and asked if I would consider trying South Africa out. Um .. duh? It’s one of the most visually stunning places on the planet. It’s politically hopeful, culturally vibrant and there’s virtually no humidity.

Kate, what activities, hobbies, etc. do you do when you are not writing?

I love keeping fit. Swimming is my sport of choice and I’m one of those crazy swimmers who stick it out all through the winter. I also love walking and hiking. We’re blessed to live between the ocean and two nature reserves so opportunities are literally at my doorstep. I still read an awful lot. In fiction, I like mysteries and historical novels. In non-fiction I like books on the environment, education, nutrition, health and science. I also love making quilts and am looking forward to a fabric-shopping spree with my mother this summer when I visit Vermont.

How can we find your work? Website, blog Amazon?

The first book in the Maddie Fitzpatrick Dance Mystery series, DYING TO DANCE is available at Amazon, both print and on Kindle. I’ve started a website on Wordpress and am slowly feeling my way around that. You can find it at www.dyingtodance.com. I’m working on the second Maddie Fitzpatrick book, DEAD MAN DANCING and look forward to it coming out in 2015.

Thank you, Kate for giving us a fascinating picture of your life in South Africa. You are a remarkably talented lady. Thank you for spending time with us today.

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