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Author Talk: Newcastle writer Kelli Hawkins

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She was writing for a private investigator before she began turning her words into novels.  

Having translated hours of surveillance notes and footage during her time in the role, Newcastle writer Kellie Hawkins became the author of her own psychological thrillers. 

The mother-of-two has since published a total of five books; three adult and two children’s. 

Her titles include All She Wants, Other People’s Houses, Apartment 303, The School for Talking Pets and Birdbrain

She is also set to publish another psycho thriller in 2024. 

Her latest novel Apartment 303 was released in March and has been receiving rave reviews, including from Better Reading who wrote ‘Wound up, taut and filled with irresolution, I loved this new Kelli Hawkins thrill ride’. 

When she writes her children’s books, Kelli publishes under the name Kelli Anne Hawkins, allowing her to switch mindset. 

There are a few traits that she is finding work best for her. 

And, despite a few tough years of late, she is finding a voice in the literary world and support within the thriving Newcastle writer’s scene. 

Kelli Hawkins

So, who is Kelli Hawkins? 

She stems from Wingham, near Taree, but after marrying a boy from Dubbo, Kelli says Newcastle became middle ground for the pair. 

Although she’d studied journalism and graphic design, the duo’s wanderlust took them travelling overseas before settling down to start a family in NSW. 

Her resume lists dozens of temporary career moves, including staple removing and mystery shopping, which she did to help pay the bills. 

But when her children were toddlers, Kelli found their reading material terribly underwhelming. 

“I was reading the girls all these fairy books and they were terrible, and I thought I could do that.” 

How did the writing start? 

“It really started as a child I guess. I was a prolific reader as a kid. 

“The whole family was. I never would have thought writing books could be a job. That would have felt like a dream job to me.” 

But, just as she started putting pen to paper, Kelli’s life took an unexpected turn when her husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2018. 

She was warned he may only have months to live. 

Kelli says life for her, and her girls, became a blur as they dealt with what doctors would refer to as ‘a one in a million circumstance’. 

From a sore back and a plethora of tests to chemotherapy. 

Then, within nine months, Kelli’s 46-year-old husband had died. 

“That was a nightmare. It was really fast.  We didn’t expect it,” she admits. 

“After he died, I wanted to stay near the kids, so I took six months off work.   

“In that time, I sent the books off. I thought it was now or never.  

“If nothing happens,” she said to herself. “I’ll look for a job in the new year.” 

And so, she wrote. 

Her first writings, she admits, weren’t very good, so she scrapped them and started again.  

“It was terrible, my agent said that was normal for what I was going through at the time. The brain couldn’t really concentrate on other things, so I wrote badly. 

“But after that I got on a role.” 

books
Kelli Hawkins’ first book was published in March 2021 after a few tragic years

What is your writing process?  

When she writes Kelli says she breaks down her goals into ‘bite-sized chunks’ to make them achievable, for her that is about 2,000 words each day. 

Without a deadline, she says she struggles to keep on track. 

“That’s something every writer can attest to,” she says. 

If you had just one transcript in mind at a time that might be manageable, but the Newcastle author usually has more.  

“Sometimes it comes easy for me but then other times it’s really hard. I just have to try and not procrastinate or get distracted.  

“I can’t put the washing on or walk the dogs. 

“You just have to get it out and fix it up later. Sometimes when you come back to it it’s not as bad as you first thought.” 

There is a certain buzz you experience when you publish your first book, she admits.   

But, it doesn’t stop there.   

“Then you worry about how many have sold, what will you write about next, and you have to leave your comfort zone to do interviews and festivals.  

“I’m very introverted, so that part is tough.   

“I don’t think I realised that when it’s published it’s not the end.” 

What makes a good writer? 

“I’m a self-confessed people-watcher, I think most writers are.” 

What has changed? 

“Our minds are changing as readers. With phones we have a shorter attention span. 

“It’s not as easy to read as it used to be, you get distracted by too many things, like TV – you can watch whatever you want whenever you want, and social media. 

“We don’t concentrate for as long periods as we used to. 

“If a book doesn’t grab you straight away you don’t have time to battle through it. 

“We actually do have the same amount of time we’ve always have; we just have a lot more distractions.” 

Kelli Hawkins writes under the name Kelli Anne Hawkins when she writes children’s books

Do you worry whether a reader will like your book? 

“I’ve got an agent and I’m used to being given feedback on my writing. At first it can be a killer though. 

“I can’t read reviews. I still struggle with that. Some people are brutal.  

“But, then sometimes people have hated books that I have read and loved, so it’s just an opinion.” 

I just have to remember that this is my style. I don’t think I can write any other way. 

“I always try to write more thriller than I do, I’m more suspense moreso. It’s a bit lighter, I always try to add a bit of humour too. 

“Characters are important to me. Not so much plot. The characters have to lead the plot. You can’t just have people doing whatever they want.  

“The characters almost tell you what to do. They have to do things that are acceptable to them, or believable. So I start with the character. 

“And, sometimes an incident., like the woman visiting open houses. 

“In Apartment 303 it starts with something that happened to me years ago.  

“We lived in Sydney years ago and lived in The Domain and a homeless man was murdered across the road – that’s where this books starts.  

“You get an incident in your head, and you think that’s where it might start, and you wonder what might happen next or you think how would I work around it. 

“So, you might have a few thoughts about it and then they join up. 

“The ideas are the fun part, but it can also be the hardest because it has to join up with something. 

“I have to really know my characters, really get inside their heads.” 

“I’m curious by nature, it usually goes hand in hand with writers. You have to be one of those people that wants to understand human nature, want to understand why someone would do something like that. 

“Otherwise, the book doesn’t make sense.” 

Kelli Hawkins

Are you a dark person? 

“I wouldn’t describe myself as an optimistic person, especially in the past few years when Matt (husband) died.  

“That was a big blow. Probably up until that point I’d had a fairly charmed life, not much had gone wrong in my life until then. 

“I struggled with that. 

“Even the baddies in my books usually have a reason for doing what they do. They might be doing wrong but in their mind it’s for the right reason. There’s no real evil.” 

Kelli Hawkins do you have any advice for want-to-be writers? 

“I’ll never be as good a writer on paper as what I want to be in my head.  it just doesn’t quite get there. I’m a perfectionist. Eventually you’ve got to give it up.  

“It happens to a lot of writers. 

“That stats are that if you keep going, you’ll get there. But you’ve got to keep writing. It takes a long time. Not a lot of people can do it.  

“So many writers I know will get up at 4am and write for an hour or two. They’ve got to get that much written.  

“You’ve got to want it that much because there’s a lot of good writers out there. And you’ve got to not be afraid to be edited, to be scrutinised, to have your work ripped apart.” 

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