Each month we shine our spotlight on a member of the Writing NSW community to learn more about their writing journey, achievements, and inspirations. This month we spoke with Kaneana May, author of the newly-released romance novel, The One.
Kaneana began her journey as a screenwriter and has worked on many major Australian television productions, such as Home and Away and All Saints. More recently, her short story ‘Living Rose’ was published in Underdog, an anthology celebrating the #LoveOZYA movement. Now she has returned to her regional roots to focus on her writing and her family.
Our Membership Intern, Geordie Timmins, spoke with Kaneana about the difference between writing for the screen and the novel, the power of television, and the importance of YA and Children’s literature.
Congratulations on the upcoming publication of your debut novel, The One, published by Harlequin. How will you be launching the book?
Thank you so much. I’m absolutely thrilled but I’m still pinching myself as it doesn’t feel real. I’ll be launching the book at Old Bar Surf Club in my hometown on the 6th July. There will definitely be some champagne to celebrate, along with friends and family to support me.
Care to share a little about the story?
On the wrong side of thirty, Bonnie Yates wants a happily ever after. Problem is, she keeps choosing the wrong guys. When an ex returns to town with a fiancée in tow, history and temptation collide. Unable to shake her inappropriate feelings Bonnie flees, becoming an unlikely contestant on popular dating show The One. Will she find what she’s looking for?
Working behind the scenes, Darcy Reed is a driven young producer, dealing with a tyrant of a boss. Despite being surrounded by love at work, her own love-life with long-term boyfriend Drew is floundering. Producing a flawless season is her best chance at a promotion. But with the unrelenting demands of the show, how will she save their relationship while making that shot?
Penelope Baker has relocated to a small seaside town to hide away with her secrets and nurse a broken heart. But with The One beaming across the nation’s televisions, she can’t seem to quite escape the life she left behind…
Before cameras roll on the final ceremony, all three women will discover just what they’re willing to do in pursuit of the one…
What was your inspiration behind the novel?
I’ve always been a fan of The Bachelor and watched the American seasons before the franchise came to Australia. I believe the inspiration for The One came from conversations with friends about their perceptions of how something like The Bachelor is made. With a background in television, I often forget that I have ‘insider’ knowledge about production techniques. I started thinking about what it would be like to work on such a show…
I think a common topic for people to discuss is why would you go on a show like that? And that made me think about the different ‘characters’ (or contestants) that are usually portrayed within a typical season of the show. Once again I started thinking storylines about why people might choose to go ‘looking for love’ on a reality show.
The plot of The One centres around a reality dating show of the same name. Did your background in screenwriting draw you to place the book within this setting?
Yes, most definitely. In the book, the television show is the thread that holds the whole story together. Writing about the television world was something I felt comfortable doing. I believe it’s a fun place to be – and I also find that most people are interested in knowing more about how the behind-the-scenes sides of things works.
Using the show as a setting also provided me with a general timeline of how I could run the story; pre-production, production and post-production. It also gave me opportunities to explore different aspects of television; scheduling, filming, editing, music, camera angles, costumes, props etc.
Using a reality dating show was also great fun because I could take characters on fun dates and to different locations. I hope all this adds colour to the story.
Do you think television can affect the way we as a society view ourselves, our experiences, and our lives?
Wow, what a question! I feel like that would have been an essay topic at university. But yes, in brief, I believe television is very powerful. Most people believe what they see and can easily compare themselves and their experiences to what they see on screen. I think many people take things on what they see at face value and don’t give much thought to the manipulations or production side of things.
How did you find the shift from writing scripts to writing a novel?
Scriptwriting has definitely influenced my foundations of storytelling. As I’m writing, I ‘see’ the story in scenes much like a television show. I’ve also been told by a few people that my book reads quite like watching television, so it’s clear that the way I learnt to develop story dominates my writing style.
I feel like dialogue comes more naturally to me than prose writing. I can often get down chunks of a conversation and then have to go back and think about the smaller details that need to be added in.
I’ve always been drawn to reading books that have interweaving storylines; much like how drama television is produced. I was able to work on this skill of storytelling when I worked on shows like Home and Away; cutting from one storyline to another and feel very grateful for the time I spent in a story room. I learnt how to lay down story beats and develop the plot from there. It was all very visual with plot points being written up onto a whiteboard. I still find that I need to draw visual diagrams for myself when I’m figuring out how best to service stories I’m working on.
Interweaving stories feel like the natural way to tackle storytelling because of my training but sometimes it’s very hard to balance three stories and have them weave together in a natural way. Some characters want to steal the show and have lots that needs to be covered, while other characters like to stand in the background and don’t have enough going on. I’m currently working on a second manuscript with another three women and have often thought to myself ‘next time why don’t I just stick to having one main character…’
Your short story ‘Living Rose’ was recently published in the Underdog Anthology by Black Inc. Books. Have you always been interested in YA and Children’s literature?
Yes, absolutely! I love reading YA and have done so for many years. Previous to The One I wrote a YA manuscript and then after I finished that, wrote a New Adult manuscript (both still on my computer). Teens are at such a vulnerable and pivotal point in their lives and there are many great themes to explore. I think some of the most talented authors are those who write in this genre.
I have three young children, so read many, many children’s books. My son has discovered the world of Harry Potter and is already proving to be a book worm – so I’m thrilled about that. I’ve been reading picture books for almost a decade – and love how much delight they can offer both parents and children. Reading with my children is definitely one of my most favourite things to do.
The literary movement, #LoveOzYA, has shone the spotlight on Australian YA and Children’s writers. What does this movement mean to you?
I’m in awe of those that were involved in starting off the #LoveOzYA movement. I believe it is so important to not only tell Australian stories, but to also support Australian writers. I have read the Begin, End, Middle: A #LoveOzYA anthology (edited by Danielle Binks) and it clearly showcases the extreme talent we have in our country. For me, the anthology made me read genres I wouldn’t normally, but I was happy to discover I enjoyed and therefore found more Australian authors to love.
Australia is a diverse country and I feel the literary movement is wholeheartedly supporting the need to give everyone a voice. Having my story Living Rose chosen for the Underdog anthology was so exciting as we were asked to depict ‘our Australia’. My contemporary story is about the relationship between two sisters and discovering what it means to live. The wide range of stories in the anthology is brilliant. It’s only been out since March but it’s been such a buzz seeing it in shops and hearing what people thought of it.
Juggling the kids, work, and general life, you must find it tough to find time for writing. Do you have any tips on how to keep a busy schedule and establish a regular writing routine?
My eldest has just turned nine (and my youngest is three), so I’ve definitely developed a routine that (mostly) works for me in terms of writing with kids. It’s been hard because there are very limited spaces to write when you have little people to look after.
Critical advice to me becoming a writer came when my son was a baby and started having two sleeps a day. Someone wise said to me that I needed to make one of those sleeps about the household chores, but to leave the other time for me. She wasn’t necessarily suggesting writing, but the emphasis was on needing to have ‘me’ time that mothers often forget to do. From this stage on, writing became part of everyday life. It became routine, it became something that I needed to do each day. It offered me an escape as spending time with a story is a great sense of satisfaction. Of course, my kids still don’t have a sleep at lunchtime – all three of them gave it up around two years of age. At this point I started writing when they would watch some television. I’ve often had Ninja Turtles, Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol or Barbie playing in the background while I get down some words.
Last year I was lucky enough to gain one writing day a week with no kids at home. I have to make sure that this time is as protected as it can be. Once the kids are dropped off, I sit in front of the computer for six hours, often only getting up for food/coffee/bathroom. My tip is to ignore the housework for these precious hours… it’ll still be there for you when your time is up!
Some days I try to write at night but often my brain is ready to switch off and either watch TV or read once the kids are in bed. I’m still trying to figure out how to fit more writing into my day. Sometimes I get less than half an hour but am learning to accept that this is just life. I’m definitely open to advice from others!
What advice do you have for the aspiring writer?
I think Rachel Johns’ advice of ‘give up if you can’ is really great because giving up is much easier than pursuing such a career. People that are destined to be writers won’t be able to give up! Stories will call to them… they won’t be able to resist putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).
For me, making a writing routine was a key. Try to get words down if you can – every little bit adds up. But don’t be hard on yourself if some days it doesn’t happen. I’ve had plenty of days that have been wiped off and I’m still trying to tell myself that ‘it’s okay’.
I live regionally, so often felt isolated in terms of a writing community. However, I did online courses, along with travelling to Sydney for courses and festivals whenever I could – I found this was always inspiring and also helped me build a community of likeminded friends who truly understand what it’s like to want to be published.
And as they always say, read, read, read!
And finally, who or what do you find the most inspiring…
- Writer: JK Rowling because I spend very large chunks of time talking to my son about the magic of Harry Potter and the world of Hogwarts. He is totally awed about that world and I love being able to share his love for it.
- Weather: I love warm sunshine on your skin. But there is something romantic about reading or writing when it’s pouring with rain outside.
- Time of day: I get up early most mornings to exercise. I have to sneak out before the kids wake up. Watching the sunrise is definitely inspiring. My Pa used to say that it was the best part of the day – and I think there’s something in that. I often think about stories I’m working on at this time of day. It makes the steps easier and I’m able to see everything a little clearer.
- Music: I’m a creature of habit – so usually put on the same things I’ve been listening to for the past decade – The Waifs or Adele but my children tend to dominate our Spotify requests these days. Their current favourite is The Greatest Showman.
Kaneana May studied television production at university, graduating with first-class honours in Screenwriting. She went on to work in television, including roles as a script assistant on All Saints, a storyliner on Headland, and a script writer on Home and Away. Since becoming a mother, Kaneana has turned her attention to fiction writing. Her debut novel The One will be published with Harlequin in July 2019. Writing, bootcamp, coffee, chocolate and champagne are just some of her favourite things. Kaneana lives on the Mid North Coast with her husband and three children. For more about Kaneana, check out www.kaneanamay.com or join her over on Facebook or Instagram where you’ll see her sharing loads of her life, loves, and writing.