Thursday, December 31, 2015

North Melbourne Books January Newsletter - featuring Katrina Nannestad

In the January edition of the North Melbourne Books newsletter we talk to Australian children's writer Katrina Nannestad about her new novel Olive of Groves.

It's a funny, exciting story about friendship, courage and determination. The first in a series of three novels, Olive of Groves delights with its sense of fun and inventiveness.

To view our latest January newsletter, featuring new releases and book reviews, click here. Or to subscribe to our newsletter, click here

North Melbourne Books talks to Katrina Nannestad. 

 Katrina Nannestad pictured with her beloved whippet "Olive"

North Melbourne Books: Olive of Groves tells the story of “simple, ordinary, everyday” Olive’s attempts to fit in at Mrs Groves' Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers. Along the way she finds herself entangled in many scrapes and adventures. She also meets a great number of weird and wonderful characters. Where did you get the idea to write the story?

Katrina Nannestad: "How about a boarding school story?" A simple suggestion from my publisher and my imagination was off and running! I had been experimenting with talking animals in my writing for years. This seemed a great time to let them loose. If they went to boarding school, together with naughty boys and circus performers, my pages could be filled with hilarity, drama, disaster, charm and whimsy. One would not wish to reign in such a vibrant cohort of students, so Mrs Groves bumbled forth as my kind but bonkers headmistress.

Pig McKenzie, the villain of the piece, has been trying to squeeze his slimy snout into one of my books since I created him 15 years ago. Here, in Olive of Groves, he has won his moment in the spotlight as head boy and school bully. It’s just bad luck for him that he has been thrown into an adventure with such a sterling heroine as Olive!

I really can’t say where or when Olive appeared in this creative process. But when she slipped into my mind, it was love at first imagining. She is the perfect heroine - clever, courageous, loyal and a little bit quirky. If Olive were real, I’d want her to be my best friend.

From there, the world of Groves seemed to take on a life of its own. The story just sort of happened and I went along for the ride, occasionally sticking my narrator’s nose in with a pithy comment or an emotional outburst! 

NMB: The headmistress, Mrs Groves, is a hilarious creation. She is befuddled by all that she sees going on around her and completely unable to take control, hiding behind her velvet curtains when things get too much. Was she based on any teachers you knew?

KN: Goodness gracious me no! Although, I suspect that one or two of my teachers might have longed to hide behind the curtains or dash behind a potted palm rather than teach Year 8 algebra or accompany a wild and woolly group of Grade 4 students on an excursion to the Warrumbungles.

No, Mrs Groves is definitely a figment of my imagination. She does, however, possess two very important qualities that all great teachers possess - she adores her students and sees great worth in each and every one of them.

NMB: Olive’s main aim is to be accepted at Groves, to be happy and make friends. What does the novel mean to you?

KN: Olive is not cool, sporty or sophisticated. She would not belong to the ‘in’ crowd at a regular school. No. My heroine has so much more to offer! She is brave, clever, practical, determined and the truest friend one could ever hope for. It is these stellar qualities that ultimately win her the loyalty and love of her fellow students.

Acceptance is something we all crave, isn’t it? But it must not come at the cost of integrity or authenticity.  In Olive, I have tried to create a heroine that encourages children to be kind and caring and to stand by friends when they are in need, even when it means facing up to a bully like Pig McKenzie. I hope too, that Olive’s character declares that it’s okay to be the real you. The real you is the best you … even if the real you is a clumsy girl who likes tartan skirts, cardigans and rabbit-shaped slippers!

NMB: Was the book as much fun to write as it is to read?

KN: Absolutely! I live in the fantasy world of my story while I’m writing and Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers was a fabulous place to be. Wild and jolly happenings. Literary rats. Toffee-apples and hot buttered crumpets. Delightful! In fact, I found it rather disappointing when I finally staggered out of the pages after eighteen months and three books. (Yes, Olive of Groves is a series.) The real world can be so terribly dull … and none of the animals talk! Except for my whippet Olive, of course. She prattles on all day long - but mostly about her crippling fear of bicycles and how desperately she needs a chewy treat.

NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?

KN: I have just read The Doldrums (for children) but I have not let it go because I keep flicking back through to gaze at the delightful pictures. Summer at Mount Hope by Rosalie Ham is my latest ‘Loved it!’ novel for grownups. It’s beautifully written with many laugh-out-loud moments and daggers of social observation. Now I am reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I am only a quarter of the way through, but long to curl up on the lounge with a pot of strong black coffee and read it through to the end. I am bracing myself for tears. I am also wondering how hard it would be to make a model of my own town, complete with tiny puzzle-box buildings in which I can hide chocolates and titbits of camembert!