How did you come up with the idea for Save Me, Kurt Cobain?
I read a news article in 2012 in Victoria’s local daily newspaper mentioning this one, historic time Nirvana played the city. The band ended up playing in a dumpy pub to a very small crowd in March 1991. Just a few months later, the band took off like a supernova. That story got me thinking…what if?
When do you write?
I have a full-time job working in tourism, and I also have two school-aged children who insist that they need feeding and clean clothes, and so on. So, I do my writing in the evening, once the kids are in bed. When I was writing Save Me, Kurt Cobain, I would often stay up late, listening to Nirvana clips online on my headphones, or searching some fact about Kurt Cobain, such as what cigarettes he smoked. I became quite obsessed with Kurt, for a time, much like my main character, Nico.
Are you a Nirvana fan?
Yes, but I became more of a fan as I wrote this book and developed a fuller appreciation of Kurt Cobain’s contribution to music today and also of him as a person, a person who was funny, and loving, and lonely, and complicated, and imperfect.
What background research did you do for this book?
Quite a lot! I felt I had to know what the main character would know about as she researched Kurt Cobain, so I read dozens of articles, biographies, and listened to a lot of music from the time. The book I probably relied on the most was Heavier than Heaven by Charles R. Cross, who is certainly considered an expert on Cobain. I also made a special trip to Seattle to get a feel for the city, the Clipper ferry, and to see the Nirvana exhibit “Taking Punk to the Masses” at the Experience Music Project Museum which is one of the most fun museums ever!
Did you go to school to become a writer?
In short: yes. I remember my very first creative writing classes in elementary school in Toronto. I later went to university and earned a degree in English, and then I moved to Western Canada and went to the University of Victoria for Creative Writing. I took courses in fiction and poetry there, but I also learned to be a journalist. I was a reporter and an editor for many years. My first big story was a very nasty murder case involving a bunch of teens. As a cub reporter, I covered a lot of crime and a lot of jazz dancing. There are many differences between writing fiction and true stories, but I think in either case, it helps to be nosy and you must be a careful observer.
Do you think you have to go to school to be a writer?
Maybe not. But you do have to be curious about people, the world, why we act the way we do. You definitely have to read, and you have to listen to how people talk, what they say and also what they don’t say. Keep a notebook. Write down interesting character names, or make a note about the beautiful girl in the emerald green sari–she might appear in a scene one day.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
As suggested above, I would recommend reading widely, including genres that might be unfamiliar to you. I had never imagined I would write a YA book, but I started with a story and a character and a vision of a snow-bound cabin on Vancouver Island. I would also suggest writing 500 words a day, rain, or shine. If you do this, you run a serious risk of writing an entire book, or at least writing something that you can build on. That said, I also adhere to Agatha Christie’s notion that “the best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” If you want to write, you make the time–and that’s what makes you a writer.