UWAP interviews Kirsty Iltners, winner of the 2023 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.
Kirsty Iltners is a writer and freelance photographer. She has a degree in psychology and is currently studying law. She lives in Brisbane with her two daughters, her border collie, and four axolotls. Kirsty won the 2023 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript for Depth of Field. Kirsty's debut novel, Depth of Field, will be published by UWA Publishing in 2024.
What was it like to win the 2023 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript?
It was so unexpected! I know everyone says that, but I was honestly so thrilled to be shortlisted that I didn’t really allow myself to think of much beyond that. I cried when I first found out, and then just sat in shock for the rest of the night.
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and when I was a child, my dream was to get published before I turned 18. When I turned 18 and I shifted my goal to 21. At 21, I changed it to 25. Then 30. At some point, I decided I need to be more realistic, so even though I never stopped writing, I pushed it into the background and stopped talking to people about it. It became something just for me, and because I’m plagued by insecurity, I rarely shared my writing with anyone. When I finished my manuscript, only a handful of people read it, and all of them were incredibly biased, which makes it hard to gauge whether it was coming across the way I intended, so to have the judges see something in my work is beyond incredible.
How did you find out about the Dorothy Hewett Award?
I originally found out about it from Josephine Wilson’s book Extinctions, although unfortunately, I can’t comment on the book. I’d owned it for years and finally decided to read it a few months ago, but it was left on the coffee table and our puppy decided he was also interested in it… anyway, I’ve ordered another copy.
What was the inspiration behind your manuscript Depth of Field?
I came up with the ending first, so it’s a bit tricky to go into detail without spoiling it, but the initial inspiration came from the comments section of a news article I read. I’ve always been surprised by how people can be so absolute in their opinions on events that they only have a very small snapshot of. During my psychology degree, I was also particularly interested in cognitive biases, and how we can be so unaware of something that has so much influence on the way we see the world and others in it. I’ve restarted Depth of Field so many times, and almost everything about it has undergone changes with each rewrite, but the ending has always stayed the same.
Can you tell us about your writing process? When do you find the time to write?
My writing process is fairly chaotic, to be honest. I’m not the kind of person who can just sit down and write for an hour in between everything else, so I need to intentionally carve out huge chunks of time.
With Depth of Field I was really struggling with getting beyond the halfway mark— that seems to be the point where I get disillusioned— so after years of restarting over and over, I had to give myself a really firm deadline to actually finish it. I get distracted easily, so I also often write late at night— I’m talking until two, or three am— as late at night tends to be the only time it is quiet enough for me to focus. During the day, I would have to lock myself away in a room with nothing in it and get my partner to confiscate my phone and disconnect the internet from my laptop. Although I was diagnosed with ADHD midway through writing it, so getting support for that really helped.
Which writers have inspired you throughout your life?
A lot of kids are obsessed with bands or actors, but it was always writers for me. I had a box where I would keep interviews with authors, and book reviews. I used to write to some of my favourites and I distinctly remember Kate Forsyth and Anna Ciddor sending back lengthy emails full of encouragement. I’ve also done quite a few writing workshops, which are always inspiring. My first one was with Gary Crew when I was eight, as a prize for winning Book Week, and from twelve I was home-schooled, so I was lucky enough to have the flexibility to be able to do a lot of workshops with the Queensland Writers Centre.
More recently I’ve been inspired by Paige Clark, Emily O’Grady, Tony Birch, Victoria Hannan, Bri Lee and Avni Doshi (just off the top of my head).
What is one of your favourite books by an Australian author?
One of the recent books that I really loved was The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady. The message behind her book was so powerful, yet subtle at the same time. I’ve always bought all my books, but for a short time decided to try going to the library to save money. Of course, that just so happened to be one of the books I borrowed, so I’ve had to go and buy it now.
For non-fiction, I have really been enjoying Who Gets to be Smart by Bri Lee, although I’m not quite finished it yet. I always have dozens of books on the go at once.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I would love to say something like sketching or watercolour because that is what I always think of first, but in reality, these days if I’m not writing, I’m usually trying to catch up on something else in my life that I’ve neglected—my photography business, study, or family. My girls are both teenagers now, so we regularly sit around for hours talking about anything and everything. I also spend a lot of time at the dog park with our nine-month-old puppy. He is at that mischievous age, so requires a lot of attention and redirection at the moment.
What is your hope for the future?
Now that I’m getting the opportunity to realise my dream of publishing my novel, I hope I’ll be able to focus on writing more seriously, without the feeling of guilt in the background that I should be working on more sensible and realistic things. I’d like to be able to refine my process a little and get into a better routine with it; preferably one that doesn’t involve as many three am nights. I’d also love to dedicate a bit more time to reading. There were quite a few years where I was mainly reading children’s books (with the girls) and then textbooks, so it would be nice to immerse myself in fiction and poetry again.
Depth of Field by Kirsty Iltners will be published by UWA Publishing in 2024.