Today I’m very excited to be joined by Katrina Nannestad, author of the enchanting new book, Olive of Groves. You can read my review of Olive of Groves here on the blog. I absolutely love this book and I wanted to ask Katrina a few questions about her book, her characters, and what we can expect next from Olive and the gang at Mrs Groves Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers. Thanks for joining me Katrina!
- What inspired you to write Olive of Groves?
‘How about a boarding school story?’ A simple suggestion from my publisher and the world of Groves came tumbling, rumbling, rollicking into my mind. The way a story takes shape can be a little mysterious, but I do remember starting with my students – talking animals for charm, naughty boys for action and circus performers for a touch of the exotic. The combination of all three was sure to lead to adventure, danger, disaster and hilarity. Mrs Groves, kind but bonkers, bumbled forth as the perfect headmistress – one who would not interfere too much with the students’ wild and woolly activities.
Somewhere in this creative process, Olive stepped forward – brave, clever, loyal and a little bit quirky. It was love at first imagining … despite the tartan skirts and long socks … or maybe because of …
Once I started writing, the story seemed to take on a life of its own. I just went along for the ride, recording events as they happened, throwing in a pithy comment or two along the way when the need (or urge) arose!
- You have a delightful cast of characters in Olive of Groves. Do you have a favourite character?
Such a difficult question! It’s a bit like asking a parent which child is their favourite.
Olive, of course, is my beloved heroine of whom I am very fond and proud. What a sweety-pie!
But I also adore Pig McKenzie, head boy and school bully. I have had an enormous amount of fun creating this Pig of Poor Character, developing his wicked schemes, fabricating his ridiculous tales of heroism. There is something thrilling about writing a truly despicable character, a villain who inspires us to boo and hiss and stamp our feet every time he sets his fat, pink trotter on the page. There is also something marvellous in knowing that his fate is in my hands!
- Which of your characters are you most like?
I hope that I am most like Olive. I always write something of myself into my heroines. Like Olive, I am a little bit clumsy, I can read and write big words like ‘conflagration’ and ‘arthritis’, I like choc-chip bickies and I strive to be brave, kind and loyal.
I fear, however, that I am more like Mrs Groves. I do bumble around the house muttering to myself, I am rather forgetful, I’d rather dive behind a potted palm or some heavy velvet curtains than confront troubling issues and I do cry, ‘Goodness gracious me!’ many times each day.
- Lucia Masciullo’s illustrations are wonderful. Are they just as you pictured your characters?
When I write a story, I develop a vivid mental picture of my characters and their world. To have someone else step in and present their own interpretation of that world could be rather troubling. Lucia, however, is a genius! When the roughs for Olive arrived, I thought, ‘Of course! That is just what my heroine would look like!’ From that point on, Lucia’s Olive was the picture in my mind as I was writing.
There is often a little bit of to-ing and fro-ing with roughs and the ideas around characters, but Lucia is incredibly perceptive and has embraced the craziness of Groves. Her illustrations have not changed the characters but have added to their personality and charm. I feel very privileged to be working with this wonderful artist.
- You have a word-loving rat in your story called Wordsworth and it’s clear that you love playing with words. Do you have a favourite word or words?
Yes! Don’t we all?
I love words that roll off my tongue, like ‘haberdashery’ and ‘brandish’.
I love words that are out-of-date and sound like something my granny might have said, like ‘evidently’ and ‘poppycock’.
I love ridiculous words, like ‘bowels’ and ‘squelch’.
I love words that contain an entire character description, like ‘prim’ and ‘unscrupulous’.
And I adore words that conjure up big pictures, like ‘flamboyant’ and ‘pandemonium’.
- Chester the rat loves to collect buttons. Do you collect anything?
I didn’t really set out to collect pigs, but I have quite a few hanging around. Perhaps people have seen a rusty metal pig in the garden and a wooden pig in the kitchen and they have thought, ‘Hey! I’d better buy Katrina a pig!’ … which is lovely … but also a little bit weird … As a result, I now have a large herd of pigs snuffling and snorting about the house.
There is also at least one pig in every book I have written!
- Do you have any naughty boys, talking animals or circus performers in your life?
I grew up in a neighbourhood stuffed full of naughty boys, all running around on the tail of my brother’s hare-brained schemes. There were rotten plum fights, parachute jumps, flying fox disasters, wrestling matches, slingshot wars, firecracker explosions, bike stunts … and that was just in our back yard! Now, I am the mother of two boys, so the naughtiness lives on.
I am surrounded by talking animals! My dog, Olive, talks incessantly when we are out walking: ‘Look at that dog over there! Can we go and play with him? Can we? Huh? Can we?’ or ‘Oh no! There’s a bicycle headed our way! A bicycle! You know how they terrify me! Aaaaah!’ The birds in my garden are constantly arguing over branch rights – who got there first and who should take a hike – and whether or not it’s okay to use the birdbath as a toilet. And the nanny goat in the neighbour’s paddock shouts some very rude things to Olive every time we walk past.
Sadly, there are no circus performers in my life. I am, however, currently building a cannon in the shed, from which I plan to fire my husband and then my two sons. I am expecting them to land somewhere on the South Island of New Zealand.
- Do you have more adventures planned for Olive?
Absolutely! Books 2 and 3 are already written. This very morning, I received Lucia Masciullo’s cover illustration for the second Olive of Groves. It’s magical! We are currently editing the third Olive of Groves. Books 2 and 3 are due for release next year in May and November, respectively. 2016 will be a busy time for Olive and her friends! The Pig of Evil Intent returns, too, so BEWARE!