K.M. Steele

Sue Crawford talks to K.M. Steele upon the release of her second novel, Hunt for the Virgin Rainbow, Hawkeye Publishing, May 2021.

What “shelf” might a book-seller place your novels on? All of my work sits comfortably in Australian fiction, as all, or parts, of my novels use Australian settings. Return to Tamarlin suits the mystery shelf, and Hunt for the Virgin Rainbow suits comedy/ crime or romance. Hunt for the Virgin Rainbow is a true #pulpfictionmashup.

When reading Hunt for the Virgin Rainbow, I appreciated the changing perspectives of the protagonist who was new to Australia, let alone the outback. Do you see this as an important thread in your story? It’s important to her understanding of Sam, the other main character. I also wanted to explore the way a person may reconsider the way they view the world, when they see it through the eyes of another person.

Some say the second book is harder to write than the first! Is that your experience? I started Hunt for the Virgin Rainbow as a bit of a fun romp, and I think it shows – early readers have enjoyed the fun. It wasn’t super easy, but it wasn’t as hard as Return to Tamarlin.

We met you when you won best poem in the 2008 ZineWest competition. Do you still write poetry? Yes, I do write poetry, but I rarely publish. I find the distillation of an idea into an image is powerful. I also think it’s a great way to get a story down in a few lines.

We remember you visiting NWG Inc at the late, great, Mars Hill Café in Parramatta and telling us how one gets a non-fiction book review into the distinguished journal, ABR. Your answer was all about the hard work but talent must have been in the formula. Do you write any non-fiction these days, or reviews? I haven’t been reviewing for the past couple of years, because I’ve been working on Hunt for the Virgin Rainbow and another novel.

As a volunteer editor, I find new writers increasingly realistic about securing a publishing deal which covers all the printing and distribution costs. When would you say it’s smart to self-publish or share the costs? I think every author has to take it case by case. Return to Tamarlin received fantastic reviews, but I knew it was a hard sell to publishers, because it was considered niche. After many beta-readers and an editor, I decided to independently publish under my own imprint. I made the decision, because I wanted to draw a line under the novel, and move on to the next project. The move paid off, because I could concentrate on writing, and securing a publisher for, Hunt for the Virgin Rainbow.

I’ve noticed some established authors leaving publishers and going it alone, because they already have a large following. Others prefer to make less direct profit, because they don’t want to deal with distribution and marketing. It’s hard either way and remains a personal choice, but at least authors have choices now.

Do you have a long-term plan as a writer?  And have you changed your strategy over time? Definitely. I want to make enough money from my writing to be a full-time novelist. I know the goal isn’t easy to achieve, but it is not impossible. I’ve changed strategies around marketing more than once, but my main strategy – just keep writing and improving my skills – hasn’t changed.

Final question: What is your top recommendation on how a writer can benefit from reading other people’s books, including Australian works? Read widely, and read other contemporary Australian writers. Also, don’t be afraid to use real Australian settings. I notice that some Australian authors avoid using real places. I think it’s a shame because using a place you know well adds authenticity, and after living in Scotland for five years, I realised that overseas readers consider real Australian settings to be exotic. Reading great books definitely helps my writing – they inspire creative output, and help with solutions to technical and plot difficulties. I do love reading Australian authors as much as possible.

K. M. Steele is a dedicated word wrangler with a PhD in English Literature from Macquarie University. Her debut novel, Return to Tamarlin, was published in 2017, and she has articles, reviews, essays, poetry and short stories published in various journals, including Australian Book Review, Australian ejournal of Theology, Colloquy, Transnational Literature and Antipodes.

This Q&A is part of our Writing Parramatta 2021 series featuring ZineWest contributors and Parramatta locals – a project supported by a City of Parramatta Creative Economy Grant.