Author Interview – Kath Engebretson


Let’s start with hearing more about you…

Author, Kath Engebretson. Photo Credit: The Photo Studio Fitzroy.

Author, Kath Engebretson. Photo Credit: The Photo Studio Fitzroy.

Well, I wanted to write fiction from the time I was a teenager. I remember my friend and I talking about what we’d do after we left school, and I told her I wanted to be a writer. I began my professional career as a teacher, and after I finished my PhD I moved into university education and in a way I did become a writer – but not immediately of fiction. I worked in the Education Faculty of Australian Catholic University for 17 years, specialising in Religious Studies, and that capacity I wrote four academic books, nineteen textbooks, and numerous journal articles. They’re all still on my CV, but as soon as I retired two years ago I put all that aside and began to write fiction. Red Dirt Odyssey is the result.


What is Red Dirt Odyssey about?

I would say that it is adventure fiction – my publisher describes it as ‘boomer-lit’ as it is a story about change, retirement, loss and discovery. It taps into the every day reality of Australian life for the over sixties.

After being widowed, Alice is determined to make a meaningful life for herself; taking to her camper van she heads into the Australian outback and finds a job as a shearer’s cook at two different sheep stations. Through Alice’s eyes, the dramatic landscapes of Western Australia are all brought to life. The novel taps into a vein of Australian life, assembling a diverse cast of characters, each of whom interacts with the landscape and the issues affecting the outback to find healing and a sense of hope. Red Dirt Odyssey draws on loss and loneliness, friendship and renewal, questions of faith and racial tension, risk and adventure.

What motivated you to write this story?

I’d always wanted to write fiction, so when I retired I enrolled in a Creative Writing course at the Council of Adult Education in Melbourne. The course was taught by Dr Amanda Apthorpe who became a friend and mentor. This was the first time I began to firm up ideas for stories. My husband and I had planned to spend most of the following year travelling outback Australia, and I knew that this could be the basis of a great story. The characters emerged from people we saw and met as we travelled, and also from my interest in social issues that affect the outback.

I began writing this story in late 2014, and wrote it across 2015 when we travelled in the Kimberley and lived in Kununurra for several months. With Amanda’s help I started to shape the story, and I wrote it as we travelled, finally finishing it in a caravan in Kununurra. When I felt the manuscript was ready I submitted it to The Manuscript Agency, they appraised it in early 2016 and after some further rewrites I submitted it to Atlas Productions, who then took it on for publication (thanks to Helen Goltz!).

Would you suggest seeking professional manuscript development
(ie an appraisal) to other budding authors prior to seeking publication? 

Working with The MAA was fantastic, especially for a first novel. It needed a lot of editing and further development. The extensive report I received from The MAA picked up the strengths of the manuscript but also gave very practical ideas for making the story more compelling. The main advice in the report related to plot. I was given many directions for strengthening the plot, playing up dramatic scenes, and cutting out uninteresting sections. The process was extremely helpful and yes I would recommend it to any writer.

How did your manuscript develop, both in your initial thinking about
it and in the revision process? Do you plan what you are going to write?

When I began I really had no idea how the story would develop. I resolved to just write and see what happened. I handwrite in a notebook in a stream of consciousness style, just writing to get the ideas down. I write in that way until the ideas are exhausted.

Then, when I came to an impasse and didn’t know how to proceed, I stopped writing and sketched out the story on a large piece of paper, and that got me going again. I plan in a general way, sticking generally to the plot, and I write the story in a linear way, I don’t jump from scene to scene. But there’s a lot of room for movement. I am often surprised at how a particular chapter turns out, the elements that suddenly come in without me expecting it.

Then I type what I’ve written, editing as I go. I use a Thesaurus when I need to. When the first draft is down I go over it again and again, finding a better word, polishing, cutting some parts out, and adding more. I might do this seven or eight times until I’m satisfied. I keep one file, which consists of the full manuscript as it builds up, and separate files as back up for the separate chapters.

When it was ‘ready’ Helen, at Atlas, pruned the story with her sharp editor’s secateurs. Under her editorship I lost screeds of text, but the novel is better for it.

What happened in writing that you
didn’t expect would happen?

I didn’t expect the ways in which the characters would develop almost in spite of me. They became real people, people who were part of my world but independent of me. That was amazing.

What do you hope people will take away
from reading Red Dirt Odyssey?

First, a sense of the deep, good humanity of people, and their desire for justice; perhaps a deeper understanding of the issues that face indigenous Australians; a renewed love of our magnificent country and a desire to protect its delicate environment; a desire to escape the everyday and have an adventure.

Red Dirt Odyssey

Red Dirt Odyssey


What are the reasons you decided
to pursue publishing?

I just wanted the story out there. It’s the kind of story I like to read and I thought others would enjoy it too. It’s not as much fun writing stories that only you read.

What did you find easy, difficult, surprising
about the publishing process?

I was fortunate that after a few rejections Helen Goltz of Atlas Productions took up the manuscript. It wasn’t easy. Helen is a stringent editor and I had to let go of some of my cherished text, but I decided to follow her advice and trust her experience. Helen came at the text from a different angle than me, concentrating more on the story itself and cutting out what she thought wouldn’t interest readers. The result is a much tighter book.

Did you pursue traditional publishing
or trying to find an agent?

Yes I approached four or five publishers and two agents with no success, but I was determined I wouldn’t give up. It can be soul destroying, but I think the strategy is to put it out to as many people as possible. I got a manuscript review from MAA and another from Dr Amanda Apthorpe. These reviews give you ammunition to take to a publisher.


Do you usually read ebooks or traditional format?
Where do you mostly buy your books from?

I buy books from Amazon, downloading them onto my tablet. I read so many that this is the cheapest way to do it. Occasionally I’ll buy a book at a bookstore, but any book I want I can download from Amazon, unless it’s a rare book, then I order it by mail from Amazon or another online bookseller.

Are there any writing forums, blogs, groups that you follow
or belong to that you have found to be invaluable?

I belong to Writers’ Victoria, and through that forum I am aware of opportunities for writers across the state and beyond. I am member of the Melbourne Writers’ Group. We meet once a fortnight and review and critique each other’s writing. It’s a fantastic group and I’ve learned a lot. I relish the feedback I get on my own writing and I try to give detailed, helpful feedback to the others in the group. I really advise any writer to find themselves a group like that.

Tell us what’s next for you?

I’m working on another novel, which is very different from Red Dirt Odyssey. There is a brief introduction to it on my website. On the website I also list books I’m reading and any events coming up that may be of interest. Next year I’m walking the 800 kilometre Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, another adventure. I hope a book will come out of that.

Where can we buy your book?

Red Dirt Odyssey is available now by pre-order from Amazon. It is released on December 1st 2016, and then will be available on Amazon and in bookstores. If it’s not on the shelf any bookstore will order it in.



About Kit Carstairs

Kit Carstairs has background in book and magazine publishing, academic research, marketing and broadcasting. She has almost a decade of experience working with a wide variety of content including: fiction (adult and children’s), general non-fiction (craft, gardening, home improvement, general DIY, food titles, natural history, general reference, photography) as well as working with corporate (marketing and sales material, business reviews and papers) and academic content (research publications and thesis). Having worked both as a freelance editor and as an in-house editor and project manager in publishing, Kit has a comprehensive understanding of the importance of content development and the need for authors to be proactive in developing manuscripts that represent their full potential. As well as providing manuscript assessments Kit is also able to offer her editing and proofing services (POA) as well as fast and accurate transcribing services (POA). Contact Kit to discuss these services in more detail. Kit lives and works in the inspirational surroundings of the Blue Mountains, in Australia's New South Wales.


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