Author Spotlight: Kiri Callaghan

Who can believe that this year is almost over. Holidays are upon us and winter is coming. Who knows with the year we have had when that ball drops time timer will just keep going instead of starting the new year…

Reading is an escape and we love finding new authors that have spun a fantastic tale. I was extremely excited when Kiri said she would answer our questions for our author spotlight. I first found her on Tiktok and she always brought a smile to my face with her personality. After finding out that had written Alys I had to pick it up, it is a must read and you can see my review here.

Onto the fun stuff.

Q: What got you into writing? My parents, I think. My father would read Shakespeare to me on Sunday mornings when I was very small and my mother had a love for mystery stories. Even wrote a mystery book, but I don’t think she ever tried to get it published except through one publisher only. She also probably was the one who really fostered my love of storytelling. And my older sister, Jessica. Jess always seemed to be writing and I looked up to her so much when I was little. I think the first thing I remember writing was mouse poetry? I think I was in 1st grade, and my sister and I really loved the Redwall books. I’d read some and she’d read me some. I remember drawing little mice doodles along with the poems. One was about two mice getting married and Father mole giving them a house. And then my teacher at the time, who meant well, bless her, made me read it to the class and while part of me remembers feeling VERY self-conscious… there was something about the entire class being interested in what I was reading where it really hit home that stories were meant to be shared.

Q: Why Alice In Wonderland? The books–In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass–meant a lot to me growing up. I found a lot of comfort in them, like it was a letter to children that it was alright if to them the grown up world was a bit confusing, foolish, and didn’t make a lot of sense–because it was in fact confusing, foolish, and didn’t make a lot of sense. The word play, especially, I love. I’m honestly not very fond of a lot of the adaptations–the Disney film especially never sat well with me. The art style mostly, but the portrayal of the Cheshire cat especially. He didn’t strike me as clever–he struck me as dangerous. Maybe it was the voice acting, I’m not so sure. But I never got the impression that Alice wasn’t safe with him in the book. Sorry, I’m getting off topic. I do that. Ultimately, these books with their word play, their satiric play on society, their unconventional pieces of advice–they meant a lot to me. They still do. So when I set about writing Alys as an adaptation of those books, it wasn’t to really adapt the plot–firstly because Alice in Wonderland HAS no plot. It doesn’t. Love it to pieces, but if you’re going to adapt it, you need to give it a story because the source material isn’t going to help you there. Alice has no motivation–she’s not even like Dorothy trying to get home, she’s literally just wandering about meeting people–she doesn’t want to get anywhere in particular, she just wants to go somewhere, she’s literally quite aimless because she’s not really meant to be a hero. She’s our eyes into this world Lewis Carroll created for the Liddle children. So she doesn’t really have a character arc–well no one does–because that’s not what she was created for. She’s not meant to go on a journey, she’s the vehicle for OUR journey. And I’ve gone off the rails again. My point being, when making an adaptation, loose as it is, I wanted to create the same sort of assurance in someway for young adults and the young at heart that Alice in Wonderland had given me as a child–but updated for the sort of things you start to encounter as a young adult… such as depression, anxiety, and, unfortunately, suicidal ideation. It’s a delicate topic, but I don’t think we talk about it enough with younger people. My brother, may he rest in peace, had been contemplating since he was 17… and I wish he’d had more resources and support–or more importantly, I wish he’d felt he had the permission to ask for them.

Q: How did you come up with the characters from your book? Almost all of the characters have a vague allusion to a character in the original. Some are more obvious than others. Others pull a little from my life. Charlie is a mix of people I’ve known–oddly most of which is not my brother.

Alys, I will admit is pulling a lot from my mindset in 2013 when my brother passed away because this book was also a cathartic way to work through that trauma, growing up in a small town, as well as a few friends I grew up with in Aberdeen–and she’s certainly deeply flawed and in some ways problematic for that–which is off topic, but I feel weirdly important to talk about because sometimes we want to put characters up on a pedestal free from criticism? And gods, should Alys’ behavior be up for criticism and not at all be a model for behavior. She’s barely 18, she’s got a very narrow world view of experience so far, especially since she’s from a small town that is very obviously stuck in some bigoted mindsets, from an abusive home, and going through the trauma of losing her best friend to suicide. She has so much room to grow… but isn’t that what makes us root for characters? When we see those improvements and growth?

Q: Who is your favorite character from your book? I don’t think it will come as a shock to anyone who has read any of Alys so far that Smoke is probably my favorite to write. At least during this story. He’s a fun little peppering of sass. I could never write an entire book from his perspective, I don’t think, for that reason–maybe I could but I don’t think it would be the same, you know?

Q: What is the most difficult thing about writing? Fight scenes. Especially big battles. I’ve gotten better, but gods, it’s… hard for me. Describing them is a struggle for me. I don’t ever want to get bored while reading my own writing and that’s always a worry for me. I think also something that’s a big struggle is the really emotionally charged scenes. My wife has come into the room and seen me in tears after writing a scene. I’ve needed after care. And I think letting yourself be that vulnerable can be very hard–especially if you’re not in a mental place where you want to allow that. Being that vulnerable to write during quarantine was… impossible feeling.

Any recommendations for someone looking into writing? Read all the things. Watch all the things. I look at it like calories. You have to consume a certain amount of art and story in order to create it. Also, a big tip for dialogue, say it aloud. I mean it, read all of your stuff aloud. If you trip on saying it, it’s probable your readers will trip while reading it. And talking dialogue out can really help you get a feel for what feels natural, what feels stilted.

What is your favorite writing spot? I’m cliche, I LOVED sitting in a coffee shop and just tuning out the white noise. It’s a weirdly wonderful way to focus for me. I’ve been using Nois as a substitute, but it’s not the same. It will be a ways til I get back to that, though. Right now I write by the window and that’s pretty wonderful. When I lived in Seattle there is this coffee and creperie with a fireplace called The Jewel Box Cafe that was my favorite place to write. You could hear the rain on the windows, and the crackling fire, and the espresso machine… it was perfect. I haven’t quite found my equivalent here in California yet.

What is your favorite vacation spot? The UK. I can’t wait until we can go on our honeymoon, there are so many things I want to show Angelique.

What is your favorite food? Spicy tuna on crispy rice. And a good cheese board. Though I’m lactose-intolerant so I shouldn’t love that second one so much. But I do.

What is your favorite book/series? I don’t really have a favorite book… but I have some favorite word smiths. Gaiman and Pratchett being among them. I love how Tamora Pierce weaves a world together–and The Song of the Lioness was incredibly formative to me as a pre-teen.

What is coming next from you? Changeling is the next book in the Terra Mirum Series that’s coming out in 2021. I have a greenlight from my publisher. I wish I’d had it finished sooner, but I realized that meant dealing with my fear regarding memory loss and my relationship with my dad and coming to terms with his mortality and man… I was apparently not emotionally prepared to face that head on until this year.

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