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  • Cameron M

Book Chat: Kate Solly

Kate Solly is the author of one of 2023's most entertaining, moving and uplifting novels, Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance. Kate is also a prolific writer of articles, reviews and columns for a wide range of respected publications. On top of all this, Kate is a mum to six children! I'm very grateful to Kate for joining us.

Thanks so much for making time to Book Chat, Kate! Congratulations on the deservedly warm reception that Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance has received since its release earlier this year. It’s an incredibly impressive opus – funny, moving, hopeful and so brilliantly constructed and expressed.

First of all, I’d love to know a little more about your own journey towards publication. Do you feel that the publication of Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance was the culmination of your article writing and blogging, or did it feel like it had its own unique trajectory?

To begin with, I used a lot of my blog work as a security blanket. There were heaps of scenes in there that were just re-worked blog-posts. Claire, one of my main characters, is very much like the ‘Kate’ I am in my blog. As the novel evolved, almost all of these reworked blog scenes got taken out. I think the only one that remains is the opening scene, which is a re-working of the time I lost my handbag at Aldi!

Haha! I'm not surprised to hear that that scene was based on a real-life misadventure. It absolutely sings with authenticity!

Have there been any surprises in the way readers have responded to Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance? Or any particularly memorable responses that made you think, ‘Yes! That’s why I do this!’? (I’m sure there have been many!)

There have been so many! I think the response that went right to my heart was from a Muslim woman who enjoyed the book and thanked me for my depiction of Yasmin. Of course, this reader doesn’t represent all Muslim women, but when I read that, I finally exhaled. I think I had been holding my breath for a long time before I got that response!

I can’t understate how impressed I was with the intricate plotting of Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance. I’m very curious to know how you kept track of all the threads as you wrote. Given the intricacies of the plot and large cast of characters, I’m guessing it was very carefully planned out. If so, were you able to leave room for changes and surprises as you went along?

Oh boy! I think you will find that a lot of what I do is barely organised chaos. I start out with a rough idea of where things are going, and then I find the whole thing snowballs and picks up more along the way. In writing circles, we talk about people being ‘plotters’ (write a plan first, then write your book) or ‘pantsers’ (fly by the seat of your pants). I probably fall somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. Toni Jordan also talks of another continuum (so they form a quadrant): ‘knitters’ and ‘quilters’. Knitters start writing at ‘Once upon a time’ and continue writing in order through the chapters until they reach ‘and they lived happily ever after’. Quilters will write scenes for the book in whatever order they want, and then sort them out later. Unfortunately, I am a quilter. It’s a mess. I might be writing the climax one day and an introductory scene another.

Periodically, I will try to organise what I’ve got. Sometimes I use index cards or sticky notes. I have a double-page spread in a large scrapbook that I have been mapping things out on. I enjoy the ‘outline view’ feature on MS Word, because it allows me to collapse scenes and sections into headings and then move them up and down through the document (I give every scene a name). I put post-it notes all over the laundry wall for Tuesdays, with a different colour for each character. I couldn’t find purple post-its for Harper, so I had to buy off-brand notes for her. When I came into the laundry the next day, poor Harper was all over the floor. The kid was struggling, let me tell you!

Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance is a testament to the transformative possibilities of art, and its ability to shape and improve society in profound ways. As such, I really loved how you were able to use crochet as a vehicle for your characters to challenge injustice and bigotry. Do you think art and crafts are underestimated in their abilities to effect social change?

I definitely think so. There is something about art that captures the imagination and allows a message to reach us on more than just an intellectual level. When something is handmade, it tells us that a person cares enough about this cause to invest several hours of their time making something, and doing so with painstaking care.

I have vivid memories of some of the real events that clearly informed Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance, namely the actions of the Welcome to Eltham movement, which did so much to welcome refugees to the Eltham area after a xenophobic backlash from certain quarters in 2016. As a reader, I felt this added a real gravitas to the story. I’d be keen to know if this background was a part of your plot from the beginning of the drafting process, and how much latitude you allowed yourself in changing these events to fit the concept of your story.

The Welcome to Eltham movement is such an inspiration to me. I didn’t set out to write a story about them, but they became part of the book very early in the planning stages. My original plan was to write about a group of crocheters coming together and becoming friends. I needed them to work for a worthy cause - and there was Eltham. I was also inspired by events in Bendigo and the Believe in Bendigo movement that responded with creativity and welcome to anti-mosque protests in the area.

One of the many things that have stayed with me since reading Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance is the depth and authenticity of its diverse cast of characters (including a Catholic nun, a Muslim family, an ex-prisoner, and characters of a wide range of ages), all of whom defy stereotypes in interesting ways. I’m keen to know how you approach writing characters with backgrounds very different from your own.

I would say all of my main characters have elements at their core that come directly from me. They are all me in a way. When it came to a character like Yasmin, a Muslim woman who seems very different from me on the surface, I needed to look at what we had in common and use this as a starting point. Lots of research, and help from real-life Muslim friends and colleagues filled in the rest.

I’ve read interviews in which you share some of the process of writing Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance and especially loved hearing about your setup for writing in the car while doing school pickups and drop-offs! As a busy person with a very full life, what advice would you offer to time-poor authors?

The idea of writing a book can be very overwhelming. It’s overwhelming for every writer I think, even the ones who have written ten bestsellers. But you don’t need to do it all at once. It’s easy to think ‘I’ll have more time when…’ but it’s probably not true. Anyway, start now and you’ll already be in the middle of it when the magical ‘I’ll have more time’ time comes.

Don’t allow your inner perfectionist to boss you around. You don’t need a solid two hours to write. Just see what you can get down in this half-hour break. 200 words is great. It’s much better to do a tiny bit every day than a big chunk once a fortnight. And catch yourself when you say ‘I can only write under these specific conditions.’ Nope. I wrote in a tent in my backyard at one point. I didn’t like it at first, but I got used to it, and then I wrote some great scenes there. Insisting upon perfect conditions for yourself is just fear. You don’t need to be scared of this. PS. I’m currently writing this in Box Hill North McDonalds. I’ve dropped two of my kids at Scouts and am working here with a decaf coffee and apple pie until pick-up time. University libraries are also open late if you have a distaste for fast-food restaurants!

Such great advice - thank you (though I might struggle with decaf!)

So... What’s next for Kate Solly?

A new book! I’ve signed with Affirm Press for a new lovely novel. It’s not a sequel, but will have similar humour and domestic vibes. This one will be a cosy mystery. If you could imagine Miss Marple as a breastfeeding mother with three small children, you would be imagining something similar to the book I’m writing. It’s gonna be a whole lot of fun.

Congratulations! And what a fantastic premise. I'll be very excited to see it in print.

Finally... where are the best places for readers to find you online and get hold of Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance?

I’m on Facebook and Insta as Kate Solly Writer. I’m on there far too much! I also have a TikTok account, but I usually just cast frightened glances in its direction.

My books are available in print, audio and ebook formats. In December, the B-format (smaller, cheaper version) will be printed - just in time for Christmas and the Summer holidays.

Many thanks for your time, Kate! May the warm response to Tuesday Evenings with the Copeton Craft Resistance long continue. I’ll be very excited to keep following your incredible journey.

Thank you so much, Cam!

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