Deb Fitzpatrick relates how her love for all things ‘kelpieness’ led to her new book Kelpie Chaos

Children’s publisher Cate Sutherland can’t resist a dog book – especially written by master storyteller Deb Fitzpatrick. She asked Deb to share all the waggily, woofy goodness of writing Deb’s entertaining new adventure Kelpie Chaos.

Tell us about your latest book and why you wrote it.

Kelpie Chaos is a novel for younger middle readers about a kelpie puppy called Zoom, and Eli, who helps to rescue him – on more than one occasion! A few things came together in writing this book, which on reflection is probably how most of my books get written. First, my own family brought home a kelpie puppy about five years ago, and fell in love with him, and the ‘kelpieness’ of him. Then, one day when I was walking him, I got talking to another dog-walker who told me an incredible story about her father’s kelpie, who accompanied him when he worked on construction sites in the country. One day his kelpie disappeared, for hours and hours. When he eventually returned, he had something with him – and that anecdote formed a crucial part of my story. Finally, I spent a wonderful three-week writing residency in the Pilbara with Minderoo Foundation at their working cattle station near Onslow. The station manager had a brilliant nickname and I plucked up the courage to ask him if I could use it in the book I was writing. He was a man of very few words and I didn’t want to embarrass him, but he was quite chuffed, I think, and agreed without hesitation!! 

You always write families who are relatable – tell us why that’s important to you.

Well, as I see it, families have such a big, deep influence on us, way beyond childhood. Our family plays an enormous role in our lives, in forming our sense of self, our values and beliefs, and even influences our outside relationships (for better or worse!). I am really committed in my writing to creating families and characters with depth, so that includes sharing characters’ loveable quirks as well as their vulnerabilities. A sense of humour helps us to get through the dips and peaks of life so I do love to incorporate humour into my depiction of family life, as well as the irritations and frustrations that can exist between, say, siblings and parents, and children and parents. I love writing about the tensions that exist in those relationships.

What do you think a dog brings to the family dynamic?

Mainly love. But love is so nuanced, that to me that can mean many different things, including comfort, affection, compassion, fun (dogs can really bring out the playful side of us). I also especially love how a dog takes me into nature. I love bushwalking with my dog, as well as taking him to local parks. So that’s another thing: dogs bring us into community, too. When we walk our dog we pass others, we might exchange a smile or our dogs might interact and there’s a lovely moment that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. In terms of the family dynamic, I love how the individuals in my family each have distinct relationships with our kelpie, and we have one family relationship with him. We all protect him and care for him, taking turns to walk and feed and play with him. Seeing our dog provide comfort to my children when they are low is particularly beautiful. We all instinctively go to him when we need furry unconditional love.

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when writing for the readership of books like Kelpie Chaos?

I think creating characters who my readers can immediately connect to is the main thing, followed by ensuring the pace is sufficient to keep them engaged and moving with the story.

What’s a day in the life of Deb Fitzpatrick, writer, look like?

It’s a good time to be asking me this, because I’m in the middle of a new writing project and definitely have a pattern that is working! I’m on a tight deadline (thanks Freo Press!!) so am trying to stay very focused and positive as well as productive. There is no time for wallowing, which is very good for me because I am the Queen of Procrastination! So, once my kids have left for school and work, I head to my writing space in Fremantle three days a week, where I aim to ‘smash out’ (as I currently like to refer to it) at least 600 words. I am very task-orientated, so if I can have three successful writing stints each week, I’m producing about 1800 new words, which really adds up quickly when you’re writing a book of about 15 to 20,000 words. It goes without saying that I need a coffee before I start. Then I get to work. This begins with re-reading the previous session’s writing and editing it, which repositions me in the story and allows me to tidy up my first draft of that section before moving on, picking up from where I last finished. Once I have a complete chapter, I send it off to my wonderful writing buddy, a wildly successful and talented writer who gives me loads of specific feedback, makes suggestions and tells me what she’s enjoying. I cannot tell you how encouraging this part of the process is, because there is nothing harder than writing a book in silence, with no feedback as you go. I reciprocate the favour, and try to do it even half as well as she does. Then, at my next writing session, I incorporate her feedback and suggestions, do my editing, and keep going with new writing. I was going to say keep ploughing on but that suggests it’s tedious and I’d hate to mess with people’s romantic ideas of a writer’s life!!! 

You spend a lot of time with young people. In your experience what do you think is the most effective way to help inspire them to read more?

I feel very grateful to enjoy so much time with young people. They make me laugh, think, and they break my heart in sweet and sad ways. I reckon if we respect young people by showing them that we care about what they care about, that is one big step in the right direction. In terms of inspiring them to read more, we owe it to young readers to write about things in the world that they experience, worry about, care about or want to understand better. The world is for the next generations, and we adults have to take that on board and put ourselves in young people’s shoes as much as we can. Also, be funny, be vulnerable, and have a big heart.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you!!! Thank you to my readers, old and new; thank you to the wonderful librarians, teachers and booksellers who share my books far and wide; thank you to Fremantle Press for loving my kelpie puppy story; and thank you to Louie, the original and the best kelpie puppy, the most handsome, smartest and fastest kelpie in the park.

Kelpie Chaos is available in all good bookstores and online.

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