JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Katherine McCaughan, author of Natasha Lands Down Under
(High-Pitched Hum Publishing)
Natasha’s Russian family flees the Communist Revolution in China for a new beginning in Sydney, Australia. Unable to speak English, Natasha longs for her old life in Shanghai.
The problems of life under Japanese occupation and the following civil war seem tame compared to facing her new school with its inexplicable customs, different clothes and hairstyles. Having lost everything to communism, Natasha’s family, by virtue of being Russian, is now accused of being communist.
As Natasha begins to settle into Australia, a huge gap opens between the Russian ways at home and life in the outside community. Can she fit in at school and still be Russian at home with Mama, Papa and Babushka? Money is scarce and the family struggles with choices that have to be made.
Natasha clashes with her aunt and cousins and falls out with a popular girl at school. The first turbulent year in Australia strains even strong-willed Natasha’s confidence, but a catastrophic event makes her realize her own strength and her ability to make her new life a success.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write Natasha Lands Down Under?
Katherine McCaughan: Like my heroine, Natasha, I was born in Shanghai, China, to Russian parents. We left China and moved to Australia after the Communist takeover.
China had been occupied by the Japanese from 1937 right through the years of the Second World War, and this was followed by a civil war between the Nationalists under Chiang Kai Shek and the Communists under Mao Tse Tung. My family lived through all of this and, of course, there were several chilling events (my father was almost executed, an uncle was ‘displaced’) that my father talked about when I was small.
I wanted my own children to know what my family had endured, so I wrote down my family’s stories. I used this situation and these stories as the basis for the book about Natasha and her first year in Australia.
JP: What sets Natasha Lands Down Under apart from other books in the same genre?
KM: The setting of China and Australia in the 1940’s and 1950’s is unusual. Also, the family in the book is actually speaking Russian and living with Russian customs in the middle of, at that time, a very white, very Anglo-Saxon Australia. Even though there are many differences between Natasha and her life and the life of an American middle school child today, the common human problems of family and relationships shine through.
I think kids learn a lot about the world outside the U.S. from this book. Adults have really enjoyed it, too, as they are taken back to a time they might remember and they gain an insight into the migrant experience.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that led to Natasha Lands Down Under getting out to the public?
KM: Natasha Lands Down Under won a gold medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for Young Adult, Historical/Cultural Fiction. This was a great honor and a terrific validation. The gold sticker on the front helps sell the book for me.
I have made presentations at quite a few schools and several book groups as well as a Newcomer group. Of course, I also do book signings in local bookstores which I enjoy a great deal. Right now, I am using social media as much as I can to get the word out.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish Natasha Lands Down Under?
KM: I wrote the book while I was living in Hong Kong where I had a fabulous writers’ group. This group would critique a half chapter for me when we met every two weeks. I would do the same for the other members. This motivated me to get the rest of the chapter completed. I highly recommend a group of one’s peers to keep a writer on track and motivated.
As I did not work on the book fulltime, it took me five to six years to complete the writing. I could still be editing it if I had not finally said, “Enough!”
JP: What’s next for Katherine McCaughan?
KM: At the moment, I spend more time editing for friends than actually writing. As I have been asked many times for a sequel to Natasha Lands Down Under, I have a notebook in which I jot down ideas as they come to me. The marketing part that comes after the book is written has taken me by surprise. I really did not realize everything that was involved.
On my book page on amazon.com, there is a wonderful review from a woman I have never met. I hope people might take the time to read it. The award plus reviews like this one, make me feel that there is something in the book that speaks to people of all ages. It would be great to find a literary agent who could move the book up to the next level in terms of exposure.