Special Guest Interview with Carmen Radtke, Author of Walking in the Shadow
I'm pleased to welcome author Carmen Radtke to The Writing Desk:
Tell us about your latest book
That idea kept me awake at night, and in true journalist manner (I’m a trained newspaper reporter) I started to dig into the past. When I read that one of the leprosy sufferers had been cured and still, he returned to the camp, I knew I had to write about them. What would make a man who’d experienced something like a miracle in an age without antibiotics, give up his freedom again?
I wrote on the first draft during the scariest period of my life, when Christchurch was rocked by the earthquakes the killed 185 people and destroyed much of the city centre. I hunkered under the dining table, typing away between aftershocks, desperate to tell this story and keep the memory of these men alive. (Last year, an excellent non-fiction book about the subject, written by historian Benjamin Kingsbury, came out, eight years after I’d finished Walking in the Shadow.)
My draft was selected for the New Zealand Society of Authors’ mentor programme, and mentor Stephen Stratford loved it. The first agent I approached came back within two hours, asking for more. It was long-listed for the Mslexia competition and just missed out in being a finalist in the Be A Bestseller competition. Everyone loved it. And, for years, nobody wanted to publish it, until I decided to take the matter into my own hands, together with an Australian novelist and former publisher.
What is your preferred writing routine?
I admire writers who can write a novel in a month. I’m not one of them.
What advice do you have for new writers?
Ask for feedback when you’re ready, but choose your audience well. Friends and close family will tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to be told. If anybody’s words hurt you, take a step back (easier said than done). Critique should never be personal and always be constructive. And learn to ignore notes you don’t agree with, after thinking about why you don’t agree with them. Pouting and saying, well, it’s my book, and that’s how I want it, is tempting but not really helpful.
Another important thing: Find the courage to cut everything that doesn’t belong and file it away. Most writers use discarded scenes and lines in another book. Nothing is ever wasted, even if it’s only as a lesson learned.
What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?
Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research
One of the men, who was the original Will in my novel, was confined first to the camp on Quail Island and later to the colony on a Fijian island where the men were relocated. Altogether he spent 31 years in a lepers’ hut. Thirty-one years! He was the first patient on Quail Island, and he spent two years on his own, with only occasional visitors. Today, we struggle with social distancing and find that an almost intolerable hardship. Despite all this, Will was described as the most cheerful, happy patient. My heart broke when I read that.
What was the hardest scene you remember writing?
What are you planning to write next?
About the Author
carmenradtke.com and you can follow Carmen on Bookbub and Twitter: @carmenradtke1