Monday, November 11, 2013

Interview with Kate Westerlund - “The Message of the Birds” Giveaway

We had a couple of interviews with some of our illustrators so it is about time to also get word out about the authors within our region. I am very happy to share a wonderful interview with Kate Westerlund today! So it is again time to grab your cup and enjoy your read! (Information about the giveaway can be found right after the interview ;-)!)

Kate, could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you discover your passion for writing stories? 

I was one of those kids who liked doing lots of things. I loved books and music. I liked dancing and theater. As I got older I had to start making choices, more dance lessons or more voice lessons. I always felt as one does standing in front of the ice cream shop with 57 different flavors; how is it possible to decide. I was the strongest in singing and so that took up most of my time. Writing was always a “someday dream”. Finally, I wised–up and realized that someday was already here. 

I noticed that you write under a pseudonym, why did you choose a different name for your writing and how did you choose this name? 

It was for a couple of reasons. I was still busy with other types of projects that were unrelated to writing. It was a way to compartmentalize these different aspects of my life. The other reason -- after a bit of research, I found there were other Kathryn Bishops in the writing world. I didn’t want to be confused with someone else. Kate was my nickname at university and Westerlund was my grandmother’s maiden name. It seemed like a good combination. 

You have published a number of books with a publishing house I very much admire for the books they do and the artists they work with. How did working with minedition come about and what makes it so special to work with them? 

I got lucky! I had a friend that was minedition author/translator. We were in the same critique group. Once when she was in a bind, I helped her out with a translation. I was curious to see if I could do it. I liked it. Later, she convinced Michael Neugebauer to give me a chance on a last-minute project. It worked out well and I started translating on a more regular basis. Once in a while I submitted a story myself. It took a while before one of my stories was accepted. In the meantime, I had the extraordinary good luck to learn a lot about stories, picture books, and publishing from Mr. Michael Neugebauer. I would never have had that chance in the US or anywhere else for that matter. 

"Sharing Christmas" – written by Kate Westerlund, illustrated by Eve Tharlet

The book we are talking about today has been published here in Germany and will now be published in the English speaking market, how exciting! Congratulations! Is there anything that comes with such a thing in promoting and what are the differences that you discovered in the two markets? (and were can the book be purchased?) 

The Message of the Birds was published in 2011 in German, French and English. The English version was for the tough UK market. In 2012, it was published in Dutch, and this year with minedition’s new affiliation with IPG, it was released in the US. The markets are all decidedly different. As an American, I am excited that it is now readily available in the US (in both brick and mortar bookstores and online). It has been well received thus far. To be honest, I don’t do enough promotion, but I’m learning. 

“The Message of the Birds” is a Christmas story, can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired you to write it?

An old owl tells the Christmas story to the community of birds as he has done so many times before, but when he tells of the special message from the Baby Jesus, a little bird questions why they no longer sing the message. “People no longer listen,” is the sad realization. The birds decide to share the message once more, but this time to the children of the world. And what unfolds is surely a Christmas wonder. (book blurb)

I have always enjoyed the story of the flea from Karl Heinrich Waggerl and the idea that things were actually happening in the stable. That started the thought process. I also wanted to add a universal message.

"The Message of the Birds" - written by Kate Westerlund, illustrated Feridun Oral

Who is the illustrator of “The Message of the Birds” and did you have a say in choosing the artist or did you get to work together a little?

Feridun Oral is a fabulous artist who lives in Turkey. We have never met, but I love not only his illustrations but his ceramic work and he loves drawing birds, great huh?

"The Message of the Birds" - written by Kate Westerlund, illustrated Feridun Oral

I saw that some of your other books were illustrated by the fantastic Eve Tharlet. How is it for you as a writer to see what an artist makes of your words and story?

It is fascinating to watch how an illustrator brings the story to life. Someone with Eve’s expertise adds phenomenal depth to the story. It is also interesting to watch how her style changed for the various books, gentle and sweet in one and more playful in one of the others. The movement of the snowman in Mr. Snow, for example, was amazing.

We had a chance to meet at the Bologna Book Fair a number of years ago and that makes it more fun. She is truly remarkable!

The Great Skate Race – written by Kate Westerlund, illustrated by Eve Tharlet

Do you have an illustrator you would love to work with in the future?

As long as the book is from minedition I know the illustrations will be exceptional. Michael Neugebauer has a background as a graphic artist. He has a talent for creating beautiful books and combining the right artist with the story.

There are so many wonderful artists whose work I admire. Jonas Lauströer and of course, Lizbeth Zwerger, though she doesn’t usually work with other authors. I am also fascinated by Rima Staines’ work; I love her clocks. 

While working on “The Message of the Birds” was there anything that was specifically a challenge or how do you approach your writing?

I always write long. I usually have to cut everything by about half—that is a challenge. But it has become part of my process –tightening, better word choice. Sometimes I have worked diligently to find just the right melody of the words and then find that the UK editor needed to make adjustments. I guess that is the nature of the beast.

Can you share with us your writing routine and what you do to overcome writer’s blocks or where you turn to for inspiration? 

As I was trained as a singer, I developed “a bit” of discipline that way. The best thing for me to do is plant myself in front of my computer every day and write, just like planting myself at the piano to practice. The more consistent I am, the more creative I feel. I also think setting a daily or weekly word count/goal is helpful.

I hurt my back this summer and was uncomfortable at the computer, but I had a stack of index cards by my bed. I filled them with thoughts, ideas, titles, first lines whatever came to mind and I have been busy lately transferring them to the computer lists. If I feel blocked, I review my lists. Then I keep writing no matter how appalling the result.
As to inspiration---I have a shelf full of classic writing books, Stephen King, Anne Lamott, and Sol Stein, they are tremendously inspiring. 

"Mr. Snowman" - written by Kate Westerlund, illustrated by Eve Tharlet

This month is PIBoIdMo. Do you ever participate in things like that to get inspired or create momentum?

I am doing a NANOWRIMO at the moment, not because I am anywhere near ready to write the novel I want, but it is a way to get all these scenes out of my head and onto paper. I need some kind of draft to work on later. If I wait, I’ll lose something. Ideas are so ephemeral, so fleeting, and they fly away never to return.

When you have been working creatively for a while, sometimes your first works and publications are not as you would do them today. In what respect has your writing and storytelling evolved over the last years and what is it that an experienced writer as you still has to struggle with and wants to improve?

Sometimes when I am doing a reading, I wince. “Did I really write that, why didn’t I say it differently.”
But that’s what growing, and evolving is all about. I’m a late bloomer. I’ll probably always think of myself as a writer “in-training”.

Sometimes when I get stuck, I realize it is because I never learned how to do that particular thing. So I dig around searching for answers. I think that is “technique” and technique can be learned and developed. 

What are your plans and projects for the near future?
  • 2 collections of stories 
  • A choral version of one of my books 
  • A ballet of one of my books 
  • More Christmas stories 
  • A novella

When you have a new project, how do you go about finding the right publisher?

There are so many new possibilities. I don’t know if this makes it easier. I just got an email from a submission service. That is something I might investigate for the future. Networking is also beneficial, conferences, workshops and book fairs.

The sad thing is even if you do EVERYTHING right; it has a lot to do with luck. So when lady luck knocks on your door, you’d better be ready.

"If youWish/ Das Wunschkarussell" – written by K. Westerlund, illustrated byRobert Ingpen

Now that you have published a few books is there any advice you would give yourself while still working on your first story?

Edit/rewrite one more time. Good enough is never enough!

Thanks so much, Kate,  for sharing all this wonderful information and insights with us! We cannot wait to see what other books you will be publishing soon! 

To win a copy of Kate's beautifully Christmas book "The Message of the Birds", which would make a great stocking filler or Christmas present for sure ;-),  you have to

1. leave a comment below this blog post and also

2. and please also tweet or share on Facebook the following to help spread the word:
'I just entered the giveaway of Kate Westerlund's book 
"The Message of the Birds" over at ! #SCBWI'

One winner will be randomly chosen and announced on the 25th November 2013.

This giveaway is now closed! Thanks to everyone who entered!


  1. "Ideas are so ephemeral, so fleeting, and they fly away never to return."

    That is so true. The other night I forgot to put more paper on my nightstand. I woke up with a great idea and nothing to write on. I thought I'd remember it by morning; how could I forget such a great idea, right? Wrong. I forgot. And now I am kicking myself for it.

    I love birds, so this book sounds lovely.

  2. Thanks so much for this lovely interview, Kate and Maria (?). It was nice to be intoduced to Kate's books and writing process. Lovely work!

  3. I'm in awe of the illustrations with all the books shown here! And I'm intrigued with Message of the Birds. Would love to read it. Thank you for the inspiring interview. (The concept of Message of the Birds is slightly, slightly reminiscent of The Conference of the Birds by the Persian poet, Farid ud-Din Attar - in which a group of birds also carry a spiritual message)l

  4. The Message of the Birds sounds lovely, I'm intrigued to know what the ending is :)

    Thankyou for sharing your writing process with us , Kate.

  5. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing your journey and for the encouragement along the way. Your books are also quite beautiful. I'd love to get the newest one, even if I don't win :)

  6. sounds wonderful! Would love to read the story and see the beautiful illustrations. Thank you for sharing.