Kate Gordon Whalesong

Whalesong by Kate Gordon (published by Riveted Press)

Author interview with Kate Gordon

“Threads. All the way through the ages. Binding us together. Threads made of blood and history and bearing hearts. And hope. That is what we are, Aberdeen. We are hope. Young people, young women, like you and me. We are hope. You are hope.” (Whalesong by Kate Gordon)

Kate Gordon is the acclaimed author of the CBCA winning children’s novel Aster’s Good, Right Things and its sequel Xavier in the Meantime (Yellow Brick Books) and the Direleafe Hall trilogy, beginning with The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn (UQP).

Her new novel, Whalesong is a feminist, environmentally aware historical timeslip in the vein of Playing Beatie Bow. It is set in Tasmania.

Thank you for speaking with Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords, Kate.

Your title Whalesong is expressive and apt. How important is this title to you? Why?

The title came to me very early on. I loved the idea of the song of the whales juxtaposed with the songs of the humans, both echoing through time, linking the past to the present. The sea shanties of the whalers almost doing battle with the song of the whales. And the idea that nature has its own creative force that’s just as important as ours.

Why have you shared songs/song lyrics in the book?

I really just adore old sea shanties and wanted to share them with a new generation!

Your protagonist Aberdeen has an aching heart. How does she represent what so many children and young people are feeling?

It’s really just a sad and frightening time we live in, especially for kids. I remember being in my early teens and being terrified of the hole in the ozone layer; being aghast at the nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll; feeling such deep sadness for animals in testing facilities. It felt like the world was such a cruel, scary place. A quarter of a century on, this has only magnified. I wanted to write a book that gave kids hope that the world can be better, and small changes can make a big difference.

For whom do you hope this book be a solace?

For everyone! It feels like everything is so overwhelming and huge but we’ve all got within us the power to change things and I truly believe this generation will. They shouldn’t have to – previous generations messed up their world and are continuing to do so. But all isn’t lost. We can fix things and change history.

What about your timeslip are you particularly pleased with?

I grew up completely obsessed with the book Playing Beatie Bow and always wanted to write a timeslip of my own. I love that I was able to use the genre to start a conversation about reparations for the wrongs of history – for telling female stories and dismantling outdated power structures. And I love the scenes where Betty comes to now. I can see her in my mind – her white-clad form like a messenger angel from the past. I think that worked well!

Aberdeen doesn’t like her school, Kelly Grammar. Do you think that it is ever possible to find the right school for a sensitive child? Please explain.

I absolutely do because we found one for my daughter! After some horrible bullying in the state system, we regretfully (because I really believe in public education, having grown up in a family of teachers), moved her to a little alternative school. We never looked back. The school prioritises nurturing the children, building them up and supporting their mental health. I wish the public system gave kids this (I’m sure many schools do). There seems to be such a focus on building strength and “resilience” without an understanding that resilience comes through feeling safe and supported. The school in this story is modelled on my daughter’s school.

What is the importance of books and the library in this tale?

Books provide a place of comfort and escape for so many kids who feel like they don’t have a place anywhere else. The school library is a haven for “outsider” kids everywhere. I lived in mine! There’s a reason why so many kids who felt on the outside become writers and readers. Outsiders are observers of people on the “inside”. They also often have a keen imagination, born out of needing a place to retreat to. I’m not saying that tough school experiences are a good thing – far from it. But hopefully writing and reading can be a way to work through them and come out the other side.

I love that you mention the shop Red Parka and the Hobart Bookshop. Please tell us a little about them.

Red Parka is one of my favourite shops in Hobart. Jennifer Cossins is the owner, as well as being a multi-award-winning author. The shop is a love song to the environment and to equality. It’s a place where the queer hippies of Hobart can feel welcome and celebrated! It’s also a treasure trove of fun art, jewellery and books. Jennifer’s wife, Tracy, is an incredibly talented artist too, and makes beautiful pottery, books and jewellery. If you’re ever in Hobart, you have to visit!

The Hobart Bookshop is a Salamanca institution. I first fell in love with it under its former owners, Janet and Chris (they are both so missed!), and am loving seeing it grow and develop under its new ownership. I wish I’d been able to talk about my lovely Hobart Dymocks in this book too, but Aberdeen doesn’t go into the city (in the now times, anyway!). They’ll have to be in the next book!

How important is hope to your story?

Hope is everything. I once told a lady who asked whether I’d ever write “proper” books for “grown-ups” (grr!), that I prefer writing for kids because books for kids are all about hope. There’s magic in childhood, with everything still ahead of you, the whole world your oyster and full of possibility. I try and infuse all my stories with this hope and magic. Even when times are tough, hope is the thing that pulls us out of the darkness and gives us wings to fly.

Kate Gordon

Whalesong at Riveted Press/ Yellow Brick Books

Kate Gordon’s website

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