Questions with Katrina Roe

Katrina Roe is an author and radio presenter.

She can be heard each weekday on Sydney’s Hope 103.2 radio, where she is the host of Hope Mornings.

Katrina’s books tackle real-life issues she has faced first-hand. Katrina’s first book, Marty’s Nut-Free Party, was shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award. Her second book, Emily Eases Her Wheezes, was listed as a Notable Book by CBCA in 2015. Her third children’s book, Same, is a true story about her brother, Charlie, who has cerebral palsy. It was shortlisted for the Caleb Prize, 2016.

In Gemma gets the Jitters (2017) Katrina addresses childhood anxiety with a tale about a nervous giraffe who overcomes her fear of heights. Her newest creation, Lily’s Balloon is a gentle, hopeful story about disappointment, loss and learning to let go.

Katrina lives in Sydney with her husband, Chris, a television news producer, and her three gorgeous girls.

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The first book I ever read by Katrina Roe was the beautiful Same. It had me in floods of tears – so much so that my daughter was deeply worried about me (for the record, she was also very affected by it, but not to the extent I was, and she adores it). I have since caught up with many of her other works, and I am so incredibly impressed by the depth of her talent and her compassionate soul. She is definitely a writer deserving of the accolades she has received – and I predict many more to come. I know you’ll enjoy her interview!

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Tell us a bit about your latest book.

 When Lily finds a big beautiful balloon she wants to keep it forever… But what if somebody else needs it more?

Lily’s Balloon is a gentle, hopeful story about disappointment, loss, and letting to let go. It’s about how we’re all connected and one person’s loss is often another person’s gain.

Lily’s Balloon features delightful illustrations by Helene Magisson and has been described by the One More Page podcast as ‘the perfect bedtime story’.

What was the inspiration for the story?

Initially the idea was to write a story about an object passing through the lives of a number of different children, linking them together, even if they didn’t realise it. It was an idea that wallowed in the back of my mind for two or three years without form.

It was a personal crisis that eventually prompted me to write it. By this time, the story had become both personal and deeply philosophical to me. It poured itself out onto the page.  Through the writing process, the story became much more about letting go of loss and disappointment, while recognising that one person’s loss is often another person’s gain … if only we could see the big picture.

Tell us about your main character.

While it’s not overt, I like to think of Lily as a kid with sensory processing issues. She’s always wanted to go to the fair, but when she gets there she finds the sights and sounds and smells overwhelming.  She can’t cope with it. She stands in for any of us who have ever felt we can’t cope with some aspect of our lives. But when she sees a balloon gently bobbing in the distance, she feels calm. So naturally she clings to what makes her feel better…until she no longer needs it, then she has to learn to let it go. I think Lily is seeking joy, but being held back by her own fears and anxiety. When Lily sees the balloon dancing on the wind, it’s a call to freedom and a reminder to look up and see the big picture.

Have you always written, or is writing something you’ve come to in adulthood?

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was five years old.  My mum used to send my poems and stories into the Beehive Club in The Land newspaper and they published everything I sent them. Maybe they were short on entries, but I loved seeing my poems in print.  I wrote poetry and short stories throughout my high school years, and was encouraged by my teachers to study journalism. In my early media career I wrote lots of scripts for radio interviews, ads, promotional videos and brochures, but didn’t write anything much for myself until I reached my mid 20s and started working on a novel.  My goal was to publish a book by the time I was 50 or 60 so I thought I had better start practising.  My novel was never published, but it was shortlisted for a NSW Writer’s Centre Genre Fiction award, so that was enough encouragement for me to keep trying.

What was your favourite book as a child?

It’s impossible to name just one. Like most kids of my time, I devoured Enid Blyton books, The Famous Five, The Enchanted Wood and The Wishing Chair.  I also loved Winnie the Pooh and the Muddle-Headed Wombat by Ruth Park.  But in late primary school I discovered a Canadian author called Gordon Korman and my absolute favourite book was I Want to Go Home, about a cool, rebellious kid called Rudy Miller who will do anything to get out of summer camp.  It was the smart-talking, nonchalant character of Rudy who captivated me.  In high school, Anne of Green Gables made me weep like I had never wept before!  Oh Mathew!  Oh Mathew!  Sob!

Can you recommend another female author we should read?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  Loved that book!

What was the last book you read and loved?

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton.

Blew. My. Mind.

I don’t know how he can write about such confronting things and still leave you feeling good about the world.

Insanely. Good. Book.

(He writes all the chapters in 3 word headlines in case you are wondering why I am talking like that.)

Dalton rocks world.

Do you have a favourite quote by a female author?

I just can’t go past Jane Eyre’s speech to Rochester.

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart!”

Haven’t we all wanted to say that to a bloke at some stage?

Tell us three fun facts about yourself, that other people might not know?

I was one of thousands of people who danced at the Opera House for the opening of Strictly Ballroom, the musical

I’ve seen an actual real Mummy (Indian Jones style) in a remote highland village in West Papua

I’m a little obsessive about my tea drinking.  (And no I don’t like Early Grey.)

Do you have a favourite illustrator of children’s books? Why?

I love the three illustrators of my own books because they brought my ideas to life.  Jemima Trappell, who did Same, Leigh Hedstrom, who illustrated the 3 books in my Marty series and Helene Magisson who did Lily’s Balloon.  But other than those, I was impressed by Aura Parker’s Cocoon.

What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?

The best piece of writing advice I got was on a writing camp I went on in Year 9.  They said ‘Write what you know’ and I still think that’s a really good starting point.

I don’t think I’ve ever been given bad writing advice!  Writers are usually pretty thoughtful people.

What is your favourite thing about being published by Wombat/Rhiza?

I love that the process is very collaborative and constructive.  We all work together to make the book the best it can be. Just being published at all is pretty great too!

Can you recommend another book by a Wombat/Rhiza author?

Wombat Books:  Jacaranda Snow by Catherine Greer, illustrated by Helene Magisson. It’s the perfect companion book to Lily’s Balloon because it shares a similar worldview about looking for the best in a situation.

Rhiza: Penny Jaye’s YA novel Out of the Cages is an insightful look into sex trafficking in India.

What is your favourite song by a female singer, and why?

Well it’s kinda cheating because it’s not really by a female artist, but there’s a Passenger song featuring Kate Miller-Heidke, called The One You Love.  It’s so haunting, it gets to me every time.

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Find out more about Katrina at her website.

And at Wombat Books.