Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone – And ‘On Track’ With Kathryn Apel

Kathryn ApelMy dear writing friend, Kathryn Apel’s second verse novel for children, On Track has just been released by UQP.

On Track is the story of two brothers trying to find their place in the world and within their own family.

Toby struggles at school, has a stumbly, fumbly, bumbly body and thinks that Sports Day is the worst day of the year. No matter how hard he tries, he’s not good at anything … except running away from his ‘big, better brother’.

Shaun is top of his class in every subject and he can’t wait for Sports Day so he can beat the record in discus. But when his ‘joke of a brother’ is around, nobody notices the things Shaun can do.

Kathryn says it was important for her to write this book because kids are all different. She has found from her experiences in the classroom, as a mum, and in her own life, that kids are often misunderstood, that people don’t always ‘get’ that every kid has a backstory, they are the way they are for reasons that are often beyond their control.

Why a verse novel?

Although she says that writing verse novels makes her feel vulnerable, Kathryn says that they allow her to really step into characters, step into their shoes and be them.

The journey to publication

bullycoverI started my ‘verse novel about training’ (as it was called for many years!) 6yrs ago, but it was only 140 words when I put it aside the first time… and then had my epiphany with Bully on the Bus…

In April 2010 On Track grew to 650words… so of course I got a bit intimidated and had to walk away again. By September 2011 it was 5639words. And so you get the picture. (I write slowly…)

The way I write is to mull things over and polish, polish, polish as I go.

The shape of a story in verse lends itself to this, although I know many would say that you should write… and then edit… separately. (I’m curious to try this one day – if I can put my perfectionism aside.)

The finished book is more than 17,000words – with about 5000 of those words written in three months during the editorial process, as a result of restructure, and subsequent character development.

final-on-track-cover-smallWhat was the hardest thing about writing On Track?

The whole plot structure. There were things I knew I needed to put in there, but I didn’t always know where or how best to sequence them. My editor helped with restructure and that’s when the extra 5,000 words came in. It felt like they were big shifts at the time, but they weren’t really. Though they definitely improved the story.

The hardest thing was that point when it was all in pieces – when I knew my manuscript could never go back to the way it was, but I wondered if I would ever be able to pull it all together again!

What was the most rewarding thing about your writing journey with On Track?

When my editor read the final manuscript and was sobbing at the end. Even though she had worked on the manuscript for so long and knew it so well, she was still swept along, and moved by the ending.

When you start to hear the feedback and people have ‘got’ the story and are more into it than you thought they could be, that’s pretty amazing.

Initially a picture book writer, Kathryn says that at first, writing novels was extremely daunting.

She shares her experiences and tips for getting writers out of their comfort zone.


  1. Read a lot in the genre you plan to write. I immersed myself in verse novels. I loved reading them. It was such a rich experience. Reading verse novels really made me want to try writing one.
  2. Have a go. Pick up the pen and put something on paper.
  3. Actually play with the words.  Takes some risks with words and placement. Make them say more than what the word actually represents.
  4. It’s okay to freak out. Panic and walking away is okay. You still have those words to come back to. Sometimes when you pull it out again you surprise yourself with what you have done and you know it for what it is, not what you thought it was when you panicked.
  5. Share things. I tweet a lot when I’m writing. I find it helps a lot to share my word count, and how and when I have pushed through barriers and things are finally falling into place.

16 thoughts on “Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone – And ‘On Track’ With Kathryn Apel

  1. This is a great interview, thanks Dee and Kathryn. The dismantling of a story and the rebuilding would have been scary, but sounds like it’s been a wonderful process. Congratulations on your new book!

  2. I have a copy Bully On The Bus and it was a great read for myself and my children. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of On Track. Well done Kat! 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for hosting me, Dee, and for your continued support. And Ramona and Kaye for the comments. It’s been a busy couple of days with the launch and author visits – but such satisfying days, too, hearing kids interact with, and respond to, the book.

    Kaye, I learnt so much about my writing process – and also how to push myself further – through the dismantling/reconstruction of this book. And it’s so much better as a result.

    Ramona, I’m so glad your family enjoyed Leroy’s story – and are looking forward to On Track. Yay. 🙂

  4. Thanks, Heather. Wonderful to hear that you’re playing with a verse novel. They’re beautiful to read and write. Alas, I won’t be at the CYA this year – though I’m sure it will be a wonderful celebratory year. So hard to miss it… :\

  5. Good points. Love that it’s okay to freak out and walk away from time to time. I do that, too.


  6. Your blog and interviews are always interesting, Dee.
    Thank you, Kathryn for your insightful comments. Your tips for getting writers out of their comfort zone might be just what I need right now to get me going again 🙂

  7. Deb and Dee, I walk away so much, sometimes I wonder how I ever get anything written… but I do. Maybe I’ll bump into you sometime in the process. 😉

    Margaret, I’m glad you appreciated the tips. Play with the words, and you could be surprised what you have to say.

  8. Kat, I’d love to bump into you. I think walking away is as vital as sitting in front of the computer and typing. I often walk away to go bake, which is how I process. It’s all good.


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