I first met Kathryn Lefroy at the 2019 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards last year. Her debut book, Alex and the Alpacas Save the World was shortlisted for the awards. Kathryn is one of the busiest writers I know juggling many balls from business copy writing and strategic analysis to screenwriting. I’m secretly jealous because she has the best parents in the world (they are both judges of the Tim Winton Young Writers’ Award and I love catching up with them every year). Kathryn has some great advice about getting started on your creative journey. Hope you find this advice valuable.
NLK: Can you please tell us a little about your writing journey? Both your parents are children’s authors, how has this impacted your writing?
KL: Like most writers, my first love was reading. I would devour books as a kid, day in and day out. I think that’s why I gravitate toward writing stories for kids now, because that was the golden age of reading for me. Now if I sit down to read a book during the day I feel guilty that I’m not working or exercising or whatever (although, saying that, I did lie on the couch and read a novel for 6 WHOLE HOURS the other weekend and it was THE BEST!)
My first foray into writing a book was at the age of 12 when my cousin Rosa and I wrote a Mills and Boon novel called, ‘Passion on the Slopes’. It was a work of utter genius and I don’t understand why it never got published.
In highschool and college, writing wasn’t a priority for me. After my undergrad at Melbourne Uni in Art History I started an MBA because I wanted to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. But I soon transferred to a PhD because I loved the research and writing aspects. That’s when I started writing fiction again, too. I wrote a weekly fiction series called ‘Ravenous: Tales of Food, Sex, and Friedship’ for a couple of years, which is basically a cheesy soap opera in blog format. It was enormous amounts of fun. I think completing a PhD and starting Ravenous gave me the courage to try writing a book. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Yes, my folks have both published picture books. They’re huge supporters of my career, as well as great people to bounce ideas off. I don’t ever consciously remember thinking that I wanted to follow in their footsteps, but I guess they rubbed off on me! You know, as I’m writing this, something else springs to mind: Writers and musicians and artists were revered in our household. I’m pretty average at music and art, so I guess I went with the other one because I wanted to be as cool as all the writers! Ha ha ha. I’m sure the therapists out there would have some things to say about that…!
NLK: Do you consider yourself more of a screenwriter rather than a novelist? What are the differences between writing for screen and the page?
KL: Some days I’m like, “Screenwriting is the best!” and other days, “I love writing novels the most!” I’m sure it’s to do with how frustrated I am with various projects as to which medium I most closely align myself with.
There are a ton of differences between screenwriting and novel writing — format, length, structure, etc. But probably the biggest difference I’ve found is this: a screenplay is a roadmap for a director, and it’s ultimately their vision that shapes the final product; a novel is the finished product, so the writer gets to define the vision from start to finish (obviously with input from editors, publishers, etc).
Screenwriting is also a lot more collaborative. Drafts will go to producers, directors, financiers, distributors, cast, etc etc etc. And all those stakeholders have input and changes. It’s a (mostly) fun process, and a very good lesson in humility! Novel writing is a solo sport for the most part, and gets a bit lonely sometimes. But I do love getting lost in the words when I’m writing a novel — this doesn’t happen as much with screenplays.
NLK: What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your creative journey? What advice would you share from your experience with emerging creatives?
KL: Oooh, I have SO MUCH to say on this. But in the interests of brevity, my top three pieces of advice are as follows:
1) If you want to create, then just do it: Don’t wait for the right time or circumstances or day of the week — if you don’t prioritise your creative projects, then you won’t ever do them. So, if you’ve ever said, “I want to write a book” then my challenge to you is this: Sit down today and start. Maybe you just come up with one character. Or write the opening line. Or the closing line! Then do some more tomorrow. And the next day. And the next… you get the picture. Being a creative is much more about brute force and perseverance than it is about waiting for the muse to whisper in your ear.
2) Get good at receiving and giving feedback: Getting bad feedback hurts. You might want to cry. That’s okay. But at some point you need to pick yourself back up and think about it objectively — likely there are some nuggets of truth in there that will help make your work better. Providing good feedback is also a great and often overlooked skill. Trust me that people notice when you’re able to add value! They’ll want to work with you and help you in your career. Also, being able to see what’s working (and what’s not) in others’ work will help you critically assess your own stuff and improve it.
3) Get out and meet people: Start networking and putting yourself out there. This can be tricky, especially for a lot of writers who are natural introverts. But if you’re keen to make a career out of your creativity, then find a way to reconcile your love of alone time with being out in the world. Social media is a good place to start, as are conferences or networking events. But don’t be smarmy or pushy or OTT — it’s not about pitching yourself or your book idea to everyone you meet. That’s a big turn off. Have real conversations about things you care about, and you will find the people that want to hear what you say (spoiler alert: it won’t be everyone!).
NLK: In your background you have worked in costume design, technology, business strategy, and you have a PhD around NGOs, how do you think these vast array of experiences have impacted your creative process?
KL: I like to try out a lot of different stuff! I’ve learned how to juggle different types of projects and switch between them — and I always have multiple things on the go. I’ve become very good at time management, setting boundaries, and just sitting my butt down and getting it done.
Working across so many different fields has also really cemented for me that I adore telling stories — in all kinds of formats and styles. I’m always on the lookout for new ways of engaging audiences with story!
NLK: Alex and the Alpacas Save the World, which was shortlisted for the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, is your first book. Can you please tell us about the inspiration for this book and the journey to publication? Also, have you written a sequel and when is it due for publication?
KL: Ooof, the story behind this book could fill a book…. But here’s the gist: I got the idea when I was staying on an alpaca hobby farm in Tasmania back in 2010. I wrote the first draft during NANOWRIMO 2011. Then, I gave myself a big pat on the back. I’d written a book! I was pretty pleased with myself, let me tell you! Fast forward 8 years, dozens of writing conferences, 3 writers groups, a million rewrites, 60+ rejections, and finally, finally, the book was published!
I just finished writing the sequel a couple of months ago (only took 1.5 years this time!) and it’s slated for publication in May 2022. This business moves slow, so buckle up if you want to be a novelist—you’re in for a long haul…!
NLK: Can you tell us about any of your other fiction writing projects?
KL: My next middle grade book, ‘The Trouble With Superpowers’, is currently out to market with my agent in the US. Fingers crossed it sells! If it doesn’t, I’ll likely be doing a rewrite of that sometime! Then, there’s the alpaca sequel coming out next year. I’m also working on a graphic novel for junior readers with my husband (he’s a multi-talented human—film director, computer programmer, storyboard artist, illustrator!). I am on the hunt for a new novel idea and while I have a few things bubbling away, nothing is solid yet. So, hey, if anyone out there has a great book idea, hit me up!!!
For films, I’m working on a family film set up in Exmouth called ‘Whale Shark Jack’ that we’re aiming to shoot early/mid next year. There’s another feature I’ve written, which is based on the short film ‘Tango Underpants’ — it’s set in Uruguay and we’ll shoot it once we can all do that travel thing again…! I’m also working on a dance movie with a wonderful LA-based producer and a thriller/drama with another writer based here in WA.
NLK: COVID has thrown a spanner in the works for so many of us, and it has meant a return to Perth, WA for you. Do you ultimately want to return to the US? How has moving back to Perth impacted your career? What are the biggest differences in being a creative in the US and being a creative in Perth?
KL: Ha! Yes! I came back here in March 2019 for a 3 week vacation… and haven’t left! I love the US and would like to return one day, but at the moment I’m taking everything day by day. Planning anything for the future feels so 2019, ammiright? (And, let’s face it, this is a pretty great place to be!)
Most of the work I do is with the US, so I was a bit worried that being in Perth would negatively impact my career — but I couldn’t have been more wrong! People all over the world are used to working via zoom now, so location isn’t the roadblock it used to be. I do have some meetings at funky times due to time zones, but that’s just the cost of doing business. The writing community here is phenomenal and I have made some truly wonderful friends through it. There’s also a ton of really exciting stuff happening in the film space, so there’s more opportunity here than ever.
I’d say the biggest difference between being a creative between the two places is lifestyle. Here, people are much better at setting boundaries and taking time off. In the US there’s this feeling like you have to work 24/7 to keep up with everyone else. I definitely have a tendency toward the latter, but I’m really trying to find a bit more balance in my life….! I’ll let you know how that goes….
NLK: What are you most looking forward to in the future?
KL: Wow, that’s a big question. Hm. World peace?
I’m excited to see what happens with all the projects I’m working on, of course. But really, I’m just taking things day by day at the moment. Live in the present, and all that jazz. I think it’s as important to enjoy the process of creating something as it is to enjoy the rewards.
(I’m serious about the world peace thing, though).
Kathryn writes novels, screenplays, and articles about technology. She’s lived in San Francisco, LA, London, Dublin and Melbourne, and has recently returned to Western Australia. She has an honours degree in Art History, a PhD in marketing, and an eclectic background working across academia, costume design, technology journalism, and business strategy. She not-so-secretly wishes she lived in a dance movie.