Clicking into place: Kirsty Iltners discusses her debut novel ‘Depth of Field’ with UWAP intern Samantha Hearn

Depth of Field DHA 2023 Interview Kirsty Iltners Samantha Hearn

Depth of Field is Kirsty Iltners debut novel that explores the authenticity of heartbreak, love and resilience. In this interview Iltners shares her writing journey and discusses the surrealness of becoming a published author.


Kirsty Iltners is a writer and freelance photographer and has worked for Brisbane Times and Broadsheet and runs her own photography business. She’s had an image shortlisted for the National Portrait Prize in 2021, which was displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. She has a degree in psychology and is currently studying law at QUT. Depth of Field is her first novel which won the 2023 Dorothy Hewett Award. She lives on Jagera and Turrbal Country, Meanjin (Brisbane). 


Depth of Field is your debut novel, how are feeling about being published?

Having a book published has been a dream of mine since I was a child, so it’s hard to put into words how exciting it is for that dream to become reality. At the same time, I’m an introvert and prefer to blend into the shadows, so it’s a bit overwhelming suddenly having all this attention on my book. It still doesn’t feel quite real.


What role has writing played in your life?

Writing has always been how I’ve processed and made sense of things around me. As a child, I kept a journal and religiously documented every mundane moment. I had a huge pile of diaries, but I threw most of them away, unfortunately; I’m sure they would be hilarious to read over now.

As for creative writing, it started with writing and illustrating little stapled-together books for my younger sister about our pets and toys. Then, when I was eight, my picture book (about a frog) won the Book Week competition, and that is when I decided I wanted to be a writer, so it’s always been a central focus in my life.



How do you build/create your characters? Is there a process?

Character development is a process of discovery for me, and as I write, I learn more about them. Everything they do, think and say needs to make sense to me, so I am constantly asking myself questions. Why would they think that way? Where did their values come from? What events shaped them? Most of this doesn’t make it into the book, but I need to understand their motivations and psychology completely.

I don’t necessarily set out to write a particular character, and I won’t bend them in directions that don’t fit; I only care that they are whole, realistic, and complex—that includes traits that might, at times, appear contradictory or hypocritical. I don’t mind contradictions as long as they can be explained; in fact, I feel like it makes them more realistic, as everyone is affected by cognitive biases, and we all have flaws and contradictions.

For Depth of Field, originally, Tom was the only protagonist, and his voice was present right from the beginning. Everything else about him changed from draft to draft—his name, his job, where he lived, his family—but that cynical tone of his was the starting point. From there, every thought and action of his needed to have an explanation.

Lottie was always a character in the book, but it wasn’t until the final draft that I decided to give her a viewpoint of her own. Her voice wasn’t quite as strong initially, and it took time—and lots of re-writes—to gain clarity.


Kirsty Iltners at the Avid Reader, QLD book launch. Photography credit: Steve MinOn
Kirsty Iltners at the Avid Reader, QLD book launch. Photography credit: Steve MinOn


Depth of Field has a strong photography focus. Was this always the direction you saw the book going? Or did your photography background/knowledge aid as inspiration?

Interestingly, the photography element was only added in fairly late in the process. When I started writing, I actively avoided including anything that could be linked back to me—I didn’t want people to see the connection and confuse fiction for my thoughts, but leaving out everything from my life eliminated quite a lot of potential directions. Photography just seemed to make sense, and once I added it, lots of things began clicking into place (no pun intended). I was already playing with the themes of perception and memory, and photography was able to draw a lot of interesting parallels. How reliable is memory? What about a photograph? Can a photograph accurately tell a story? Can we?


What were some of the challenges in writing the novel? And, how did you overcome these?

My biggest challenge was myself. Writing had always been present in my life but in quite a chaotic way. I’m not the kind of person who can just sit down for twenty minutes here and there; I need to focus without too many distractions. In order to get my manuscript finished, I had to be strict about carving out consistent writing time. I think it can be a problem a lot of creatives struggle with, especially in the days before they are making much (or any) money from their work. As a society, we value and therefore prioritise things based on their financial merit, and when I was writing Depth of Field, I wasn’t earning money as a writer, and there was no promise of publication, so it often felt selfish to put so much time aside. I had to learn to say no to people and let go of the guilt.


Kirsty Iltners in conversation with Jen Bowden for the Depth of Field book launch at Avid Reader, QLD
Kirsty Iltners in conversation with Jen Bowden for the Depth of Field book launch at Avid Reader, QLD. Image supplied by: Jen Bowden


What are some of your writing goals for 2024?

I am beginning to work on a new book, which is exciting. Over the years, I’ve played around with some other story ideas but never allowed myself to delve too deeply into them, so I’m looking forward to exploring some of those.


What is your new book about? Can you provide any details?

I feel reluctant to give too many details only because I know how significantly a novel can change from the initial plan to the final draft, and I would hate to lock myself into specifics, but it will centre on the suicide of a parent. I am particularly interested in the idea of blame and how easy it is to seek the simplest explanation for something so complex. My writing has grown around me as something I use to explore the nuances of people, their decisions and the perceptions (rightly or wrongly) of those around them. I am hoping this becomes clearer in this new project as I work on it.


Do you have any advice for emerging writers?

Generic advice is difficult because it’s so individual, but the one thing I would say is that something doesn’t need financial value to be valuable. Passion and creativity are valuable on their own. Of course, we all need money, and of course, creatives—whether they be artists, writers, musicians or photographers—are worthy of financial compensation for their work, but if you aren’t at that stage yet, don’t feel guilty about spending your time doing something you love.


 Depth of Field is out now from UWA Publishing and your local bookstore.



Samantha Hearn is a Curtin University student who is in her final semester of postgraduate studies, completing an MA of Arts, majoring in Professional Writing and Publishing. She has a love for reading, writing and literature (specifically in the fiction genres) and has a passion to work within the publishing industry. 

Samantha Hearn | LinkedIn



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