MEET THE AUTHOR
Meg McKinlay is an award-winning children’s writer and poet. She has published seventeen books for children, ranging from picture books through to young adult novels, and a collection of poetry for adults.
Meg lives with her family near the ocean in Fremantle and spends most of her time cooking up books. Her latest titles are Let Me Sleep, Sheep! (illustrated by Leila Rudge) and Catch a Falling Star, both published in 2019.
A bit about Catch a Falling Star:
It’s 1979 and the sky is falling. Skylab, that is. Somewhere high above Frankie Avery, one of the world’s first space stations is tumbling to Earth. And rushing back with it are old memories. Things twelve-year-old Frankie thought she’d forgotten. Things her mum won’t talk about, and which her little brother Newt never knew. Only … did he? Does he? Because as Skylab circles closer, Newt starts acting strangely. And while the world watches the sky, Frankie keeps her own eyes on Newt. Because if anyone’s going to keep him safe, it’s her. It always has been. But maybe this is something bigger than splinters and spiders and sleepwalking. Maybe a space station isn’t the only thing heading straight for calamity.
We’re very pleased to welcome Meg McKinlay to Alphabet Soup today.
Writing a book: Pen and paper? Or straight into the computer?
Pen and paper for fragments and scribblings, the little snatches of stuff that might eventually turn into something. These are all entered into the computer for ease of access and potential future fiddling. When I’m actively working on a story, computer always; I do far too much chopping and changing, back-stitching and cross-stitching and general gnashing of teeth, to work any other way. When it’s time for major editing and re-drafting, I’ll often print out sections and scribble across them. I find this very freeing, and having things on paper helps me sort things in my head; looking at the hard copy gives me a different sort of sense of chapters and pacing and balance.
Catch a Falling Star is historical fiction and you’ve talked about growing up in the time it was set. Does that mean you didn’t need to do any research for this book?
Hahahahaha. No. I rather foolishly thought the only research I’d need to do would be about Skylab – checking old newspaper accounts, getting the timeline right, that sort of thing. But I quickly realised that even though I have very vivid memories of this period, those memories are specific and personal and don’t necessarily generalise in the way I needed – for example, I grew up in country Victoria but Catch A Falling Star is set in country Western Australia. And it also became clear that there really is nothing reliable about memory; I had mis-remembered all kinds of things, and failed to notice gradual changes in things, such as language, which is hugely important if you want to capture a particular time period with any authenticity.
I ended up doing heaps of research and having so much interesting material I wanted to stuff into the book, which is also something you have to be careful about. I reflected on the research and remembering process in more detail here: https://megmckinlay.com/2019/02/20/sea-monkeys-sunny-boys-skylab-writing-the-1970s/
When you were writing Catch a Falling Star, did you do anything special to put yourself in the era before you sat down to a writing session? (e.g. listen to music, use a corkboard)
No, I know some writers gather all kinds of reference and ‘mood board’-type materials but I never do anything like this. I really just relied on tapping into my own childhood feelings from that time; this is something I find very natural and tends to bring sensory memories along with it. It’s not something I consciously do before a writing session in any case. I just sit down and drop into the voice of the character and the rest comes along with that.
Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to try writing a piece of historical fiction?
This is a little tricky for me as I don’t really think like this myself. I’m not a writer who would ever say, ‘I’d like to try writing historical fiction.’ I’m always led by the characters and story and if that takes me into the historical space then so be it. So that’s my first thought. Don’t approach things in that way; don’t sit down to write historical fiction for the sake of it.
With that said, if you find yourself writing historical fiction, I would say read read read as much incidental stuff as you can about the era you’re working in. You may have already zoomed in on your character and aspects of your story but it’s really important to zoom out and read widely about the time period, with no particular goal in mind. if your research consists only of looking for facts, you’ll have a very narrow view of things, and will miss out on discovering lots of little nuggets of information and anecdotes that will send your story in unexpected and interesting directions. On the flipside of that, you must resist the temptation to use every interesting nugget you find. It’s so important always to have a clear sense of what your story is about and keep the focus on that without getting too distracted by shiny things that have nothing to do with it.
Can you tell us something about what you’re working on next?
Yes! I find myself unexpectedly in sequel land. I’ve just finished a sequel to my chapter book Bella and the Wandering House. This has taken me much longer than it should have and there’s a good chance my publisher has forgotten about my existence, but if it ever gets published it will be a ton of fun. Next up is a sequel to my middle grade/young adult novel A Single Stone, which will no doubt also take me much longer than it should. And I have about half a dozen picture books in my mental queue which I hope to work on in the cracks of that longer project. And maybe some poems and and and … I think you can see why everything takes me longer than it should! 🙂
Catch a Falling Star is out now! Look for it at your nearest bookstore or library.