Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us. This month Helen Victoria steps out with author K.L.Kettle, whose debut YA The Boy I Am is out now. 

Let’s begin our journey... 

There’s nothing like a good walk to fuel creative ideas and give us inspiration in our writing. Where are you taking us on our walk today? 

It’s early in the morning, light at 5 am, and London is just coming to life. Under the watchful eye of the Shard, we’re walking from the west of the South Bank, from the Dickensian warehouses of Shad Thames, along the river with its exposed beaches. Mudlarks are up with the dawn to look for pickings, runners swoop past, metallic street cleaners crawl like creatures to wash the slate, a clown passes on their way from some party, or to it. We pass the sepulchral St Saviours, the timeless sea-beasts of HMS Belfast then the Golden Hind. We dodge the creepy Clink, marvel at the glorious Globe and towering Tate and on as the world wakes up. Past TV-stations, the small and big business, coffee-stops, lovers kissing on benches, as we wave to Larry Olivier and floods of grey clad office-goers explode towards us from Waterloo. We watch the river and listen to the trundle and flight of skateboarders beneath Queen Elizabeth Hall, while marvel at the myriad faces, each one with a story, each one with a favourite book. We stop to buy a book under Waterloo Bridge, get a drink in view of Westminster and muse on power and society. The Shard spire still watches over us. I’ve travelled and written the The Boy I Am in some amazing places, including Amsterdam, India, America, Dubai, Morocco, but this was my daily walk for years when I lived in London. It’s a walk on which most of The Boy I Am was plotted! 

Describe the world you have built in your novel and your inspiration for it. 

The Boy I Am is about a young man called Jude, raised in a misandristic, female-dominated society long after our world has fallen into history. He’s an unlikely hero, and his power is that he questions this society he’s been brought up in, he asks why and wants to show he is more than the men and women around him say he is. Motivated to avenge the death of his best friend he becomes embroiled in a plot to kill the woman in charge, the Chancellor. The world in the book takes many gender norms from today, and from history, and ‘flips’ them in order to hopefully see more clearly some of the absurdities and tragedies about how we treat each other. It’s claustrophobic, structured, full of tiny rebellions, and recognisable microaggressions. There isn’t one singular moment I can put my finger on as inspiration but more of a mountain, and the question I keep coming back to - if I am to call myself a feminist, then what does that mean? It comes from years working as a woman in a STEM career, ‘me too’ moments included, to experiences in single-sex education, to the birth of my godson and wondering how I would talk to him about the world as he matured, and what books I would recommend. I wanted to write a story that would hopefully resonate with women, that would help men of all ages empathise and identify with some of the issues as we journey (slowly) towards equality, and also to challenge myself as a cis-woman and my thoughts on power and gender. 

Now we have got into our stride, can you tell us what you loved most about writing this book? 

The first months of writing was the best. The product was terrible, but I wasn’t questioning anything, I was just writing it for fun, getting a lot out and onto the page. I had just come out of a ten-year relationship with a book, and I wanted to move on fast and find my voice again after a year of not writing, so I threw a loose plan together and was just up all day and night writing. I’d write in lunch times at work, in my head as I walked to and from the office along the South Bank, on dates! It was sleepless. I’d often wake at 1 am to write ideas down. Ultimately only 10% of that original draft probably remains, in the characters, the main thrust of the stories and some of the descriptions, but it was a heady and magnificent time. 

We seem to be lost in the woods now. Can you describe your most difficult moments when you were writing …, and how you got back onto the right path? 

Funny, where did these woods come from in London, we must’ve taken a wrong turn. Well, it is a strange and magical place... There were some very dark times as I researched and added editorial depth to that early, heady draft. What was great about draft 1 was the skin was there, but there were no bones, no meat. It was all surface. I was working with an editor, and we both knew I needed to mine both my own experiences, and the world. I was unconsciously avoiding all the darkness the story needed me to go to. So, I went there, to the unforgiving places that are so much more commonly known about today than they were back in 2014; places where young men are groomed to hate women or feel inadequate; uncomfortable forums and online rabbit holes that suck in good people and spit out broken souls. They were sad places that made me question the actions of men I loved, but they brought a lot of realism to the misandry in the women of my book. I don’t regret the research, it has made me a better person and the book a deeper exploration, but I did have to step away for six months after to get some sunshine and to return to hope. 

How did you overcome rejections? 

By getting more! I think of rejections as a necessary leather on your feet as you walk up the stony ground to the top of the mountain. You’ll get more than you expect, and they come even after publication. A Booker-nominated writer I know once told me, when I complained about rejection, ‘One day you’ll be rejected by entire continents’, which gave me some much-needed perspective. So, I set out to get as many as possible to harden my soles for the final climb. I wrote lots of short stories and flash fiction and sent out religiously in an aim to get 100 rejections in a year. It was during this year I also submitted The Boy I Am to the 2018 SCBWI Undiscovered Voices, expecting it would be a nice big rejection for my pile and allow me to move on to my next book. If I hadn’t been on a mission to get rejections, I would not be published today. 

As we reach the summit, can you tell us how it feels to be a first-time author? 

We’re at the top of the Shard now, looking out over London. It’s a strange mix of elation, disbelief, self-doubt, and constant recalibration of expectations. I spent half of my life so far working towards publication, so I feel the need to go out and meet every reader and shake their hand and thank them for reading The Boy I Am. If only it were possible (both right now, and at all). The restraint not to read every review is really hard, especially as it’s had some wonderful praise from people I really respect, so I’m supremely proud, but I’m trying to put all my energy into the next book to make it as good if not better. There’s a lot of self-induced pressure to be always trying to promote your work as a debut, but in reality the best work I can do is craft the next book I want to read with as much love as the first, and a fifth of the time! 

We’ve finished our walk and now so I think we deserve to celebrate with tea in a cosy inn. As we warm our feet by the blazing fire, tell me where you think your writing will take you in the future? 

At some point on the journey we’ve turned back and are heading towards Bermondsey again, we’re curled up in my favourite pub, the Boot & Flogger, it’s where my crit group would meet and many hours have been whiled away here talking story. I’m hoping that there will be many books of all shapes and types, that I’ll be writing until I’m no longer able to type or hold a pen, and that as long as I write I’ll be able to find a publisher and an audience for my words. I’d like to adventure into different age-groups, genres and styles. I hope people will always find something thought-provoking in my work but that I can also write fun, escapist stories too. However, I think my writing will take me to places I could never predict, and stories that I couldn’t even imagine right now. 

Are you writing something new at the moment? Can you give us a sneaky sentence about it? 

I’m working on my second book for Little Tiger, which is YA. It’s not a follow on to The Boy I Am but does deal with similar themes of control and expectation. It’s a sort of cyber-fantasy, Aladdin meets Ex Machina, about the technology we use, how it uses us, its dangers, temptations and power. 

Finally, I have really enjoyed walking and talking with you today. Can you give us one take away tip for yet-to-be-published writers? 

Seek your tribe of writers to bear you up, support each other and make space to meet and work with voices who may otherwise not be heard because they will inspire new ideas and new ways of seeing the world.

Made in Birmingham, Kathryn now lives, works and writes in London. The opening of her debut YA novel, The Boy I am, was shortlisted for the Society of Childrens' Book Writers and Illustrator (SCBWI British Isles) Undiscovered Voices 2018. She has won competitions and been highly commended for her flash fiction, including being longlisted as part of the 2017 Bath Flash Fiction Award.


When not writing Kathryn can be found traveling and working around the world transforming business with technology. She is passionate about promoting the role of women as leaders, the value of creativity, and need for diversity at all levels in STEM and business-based careers.


Kathryn is also the creator of the ‘Book Chain Project’ , a video and podcast series where authors interview authors. 


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Helen Victoria
 is a writer of YA fiction, a full-time drama teacher and a reader of anything and everything. When she is not putting on shows, reading or writing, Helen loves to walk in wild places, or hang out with her family and friends in London, France and Cornwall.

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Imogen Foxell is an illustrator with a particular interest in creating intricate imaginary worlds. She illustrates English literature revision cards for, and interesting words for Her website is Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. 

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