Working with Words: Kate van Hooft

Kate van Hooft is the author of We See the Stars. She spoke with us about Paul Jennings, working in education and finding musical themes for characters.

What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?

I still remember a short story by Paul Jennings that I read in primary school, called ‘The Busker’. It’s about a man who drops his dog down a well, and then is so guilty about it that he eventually gets the dog out – only to discover that its neck has bent backwards looking up and waiting for him. Eventually the dog dies of starvation.

I cried so hard when I got to the end, but I couldn’t explain to Dad why I was crying so hard because it felt silly being so upset over a book – so I told him I had a tummy ache and got to take the next day off school. Not all bad, considering.

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

I cried so hard when I got to the end, but I couldn’t explain to Dad why I was crying so hard because it felt silly being so upset over a book – so I told him I had a tummy ache and got to take the next day off school.

I did write when I was a kid. My first book was about a girl who is pulled from an underground ice cave by two boys who instantly fall in love with her. She had long blonde hair and was called ‘the Ice Maiden’. I was in Grade Three, and Mrs Kelly loved it.

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?

I’ve worked with young people for about ten years, in education. They are a great source of frustration and humour and bewilderment. If I ever capture even a glimmer of some of their extraordinary brightness in my writing I’ll be happy.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead? 

Going slightly mad (more so?), annoying my family with tall tales (more so).

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing? 

I think the best is the advice most writers have been given in their life – show don’t tell. Also just keep going, even if it’s rubbish.

Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?

I listened to the same three pieces of music over and over until the book was finished.

I used to keep a diary in high school, like all vaguely depressed emo teenagers. No idea where they are now, and that’s probably the best for all concerned.

I wouldn’t keep one now – although it might be good for a writing exercise, I prefer to save my writing time for the made-up stuff.

Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?

I like to listen to music when I write, and I have ‘themes’ for different characters or sections, that I’ll stick to until that part is finished. My protagonist in We See the Stars is an 11-year-old boy, who has some fairly interesting ways of relating to the world, and for him I listened to the same three pieces of music over and over until the book was finished. They just felt like ‘him’, and they helped me find his voice. One was only two minutes long, so I would have heard it about a million times over four years. 

Which artist, writer or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with?

I would very much like to discuss music with Jeff Buckley. And poetry. And I’d literally make him sing for his supper.

Portrait of Kate van Hooft

Kate van Hooft is the author of We See the Stars. She was born and raised in Melbourne to an Aussie mum and Dutch dad. She lives with her husband Paul D. Carter, also a writer.

Kate has a BA in Creative Writing from Melbourne Uni, a Master of Communications from Deakin, and is now completing a Master of Social Work. She has worked for more than ten years in student wellbeing and disability support in secondary and tertiary education.

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