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Kiersten Kelly, winner of the QuoScript NaNoWriMo Competition 2020

Kiersten is a newly qualified doctor who lives and works in the USA. She won the YA section of the competition with The Feather Cures: Ignis which is book one of a four-book fantasy novel series. She is interviewed by Linda Bennett, Editorial and Creative Director at QuoScript.

Linda: Congratulations on winning the YA section of the QuoScript NaNoWriMo competition with The Feather Cures. Tell us why you decided to enter the competition.

Kiersten: I finished the first draft of the novel in April of last year. While editing, I started looking for publishing options. I reached out to several agents, but none replied, so I decided to change direction and look for competitions especially geared towards new authors. The NaNoWriMo backdrop of the QuoScript competition appealed to me. I saw you were looking for new MSs with room for editing which would help the authors to grow. I also thought requesting “the best 10,000 words,” rather than the usual first 5,000, allowed me to shine. Much of the magic is in the latter half of the book, so it was helpful to be able to send excerpts from different chapters.

Linda: You’ve told me The Feather Cures is your debut novel in the sense that it’s the first book you’ll have published. How long have you been writing? Have you won other competitions or awards, at school or as a student, say?

Kiersten: I have always been a storyteller. I can look back and find scraps of paper containing very basic stories that I wrote at an early age. When I was in fifth grade, I won a nation-wide fantasy writing contest through Scholastic Books. I realised then that I could do it – I could be recognised as an author. When I was twenty-two, I had my first attempt at writing a full-length book – I started with the NaNoWriMo idea of trying to be consistent and disciplined with my writing.

Linda: I understand you have significant career ambitions aside from writing – you have just qualified as a doctor and you’re starting your first job – in a hospital – in June. Congratulations again! Can you tell me how this has influenced your writing?

Kiersten: When I tried to write the first book I just mentioned, I realised it didn’t have a lot of substance or ground to stand on. I knew that first novel wasn’t going anywhere, so I left it and started this one when I began my clinical rotations in the hospital. Medical training provides a unique life experience and unquestionably adds depth to my writing. One day you’re dealing with in-patients in Psychiatry, the next day you might be delivering a baby or removing someone’s gall bladder. It’s interesting now to look back at that first novel. There are a lot of similar themes between the two, but this one’s set in a different world.

Linda: How did you manage to fit writing in with your studies?

Kiersten: There are certain rotations in the medical student’s schedule that gave me more time – the pressure ebbs and flows throughout the year. We were pulled from hospital work completely for the first six weeks of the pandemic, so I treated that as dedicated writing time.

Linda: Tell me a bit more about how you came to write The Feather Cures. Why did you choose YA? And why fantasy?

Kiersten: I am very interested in YA fiction. The book that first sparked my interest was Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld – I thought, OK, this is how you should ideally write for young adults and it provided a succinct framework. I am fascinated by the whole coming-of-age process – figuring out how to become an adult in the world; and I think this is relatable to every reader, whatever age they are. I really like imagining a fantasy world and seeing how you might leap into it. Where is the portal? What is the trigger?

Linda: I agree that books about the rites of passage from youth to adulthood can resonate with everyone – in fact, at QuoScript we see The Feather Cures as a “crossover” novel, one that will appeal to all age groups. Something else I admire about the book is how well you have used your medical background, giving just enough detail without pushing too much gratuitous fact onto the reader. Did this come naturally to you or did you have to work on it? Did you seek advice from anyone while you were writing the book?

Kiersten: I gave it to my best friend, who is also a medical graduate, to read. There was a lot more medical jargon in it then, which she spotted. I tried to read it again with the mindset of a fourteen-year-old. Rather than bog the readers down, I wanted to intrigue them into the world of medicine.

Linda: You’re obviously very well-disciplined. What advice would you give to other young writers who are trying to combine study with writing?

Kiersten: I always try to allocate some time to writing and make it fit into my schedule. I promise myself a minimum of thirty minutes a day – then the characters are more present in my mind. If I skip a day or two it’s hard to get back again.

Linda: What are your ambitions for the future?

Kiersten: I would love to keep working as a physician – it adds a lot of meaning to my life and provides a strong foundation for my writing. I shall continue writing because of all things, it brings me the most joy.

Linda: You probably don’t have much time for hobbies. Do you manage to fit in a few things for relaxation?

Kiersten: I play volleyball and a lot of other sports, for social interaction. I grew up in the mountains and I love backpacking and hiking with my hundred-pound rottweiler. As much as I can, I try to keep a balance between the things in my life.

The Feather Cures: Ignis, by Kiersten Kelly, will be published by QuoScript in November 2021. As mentioned, Kiersten entered the YA section of our 2020 NaNoWriMo competition. Entrants were asked to send us up to 10,000 words – to be selected from any part of their work – and a synopsis of the whole book. Each entrant received an editorial critique of the work submitted. The winner in each category – YA and Crime – was subsequently invited to deliver the whole MS by an agreed deadline. We promised to publish if the novel met our standards. We are delighted and honoured to announce that The Feather Cures is our first competition winner.

The QuoScript NaNoWriMo competition will run again in the autumn of 2021.

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