Q & A
Author of 'Kiki Kallira Conquers a Curse' discusses how she writes about how creativity can overcome anxiety and OCD.
My review of the book is here.
1. Kiki Kallira is more a worrier than a warrior. How much did you draw upon personal experiences to bring Kiki's anxiety and OCD so sensitively and authentically to life?
Anxiety and OCD are conditions that I’ve struggled with since I was about ten years old, though it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I was able to name them and I was thirty before I really understood my relationship with them. At one point, Kiki talks about how she can’t go on the Underground without worrying that the tunnels will collapse on her and that’s absolutely a (very unwelcome) thought that’s popped into my head more than once! Similarly, Kiki’s inability to let something go if it’s scratching and clawing away at her mind is drawn directly from my own experiences with intrusive, obsessive thoughts. Honestly, I don’t think the learning process ever stops, but I do think that starting the process early would have made such a big difference to me, which is largely why it was so important to me to let Kiki go on that journey. And I hope that, in turn, helps young readers go on the same journey.
2. Obviously, the books explore how creativity can help children through their anxieties, how do you see the connection between the two and how can children embrace their vulnerabilities through the power of their imagination best?
I’m hugely passionate about the power of creativity. I don’t exaggerate when I say that the act of creating saved me during the years when my mental health was at its worst. In my case, my creativity took the shape of writing and art, but I believe any kind of creative outlet is valid and can have an enormously positive influence on a child. The imagination is a wonderful, magical thing and children are lucky to have it in spades, so I do wholeheartedly believe that it’s an essential coping mechanism. As for how a child could embrace their imagination or use it to cope with their struggles, I believe that any activity that brings them joy is valid. Experimenting with new activities and feeling free to create in whatever way they’re most comfortable is enormously important. There’s no right or wrong way to be creative. Creativity in the form of making a Pokémon graphic novel is just as valid as writing a story, painting landscapes, embroidering a throw pillow, or creating your own roleplaying game.
3. I have several Hindu girls in my Year 4 class who have absolutely loved Kiki's adventures. Why might Hindu mythology be another effective, dynamic 'lens' in which to explore or contextualize experiences of mental health?
I’m so happy to hear that! In Kiki’s story, I chose to delve into the lore and mythology I grew up with, specifically the South Indian stories passed down through generation after generation. But I do think that all mythology works very well as a lens to explore the contemporary world. Mythological monsters, in particular, are excellent metaphors for just about any big, scary, complicated thing we’re struggling with in the present day!
4. Was it a challenge to write about a character with anxiety while still needing them to have enough agency and courage to go on an adventure?
I did worry about that to start with because the typical hero of fantasy fiction isn’t an anxious one, but once Kiki’s voice made itself heard, I knew she couldn’t be anything other than exactly what she was: anxious, afraid, kind, creative and incredibly brave. Kiki does have the agency needed to go on an adventure and that agency comes in spite of and often because of her internal struggles. Balancing the exploration of Kiki’s mental illness with the action and pace required of a fantasy adventure was absolutely a challenge at times, and I have no doubt it would have been easier for the plot to have Kiki’s struggles manifest only at convenient moments, but that’s not how things work in real life and I wanted her character to resonate with real readers.
5. What contemporary children's authors have most inspired you in your writing?
Oh, goodness, there have been too many to name, but if I had to pick just a few off the top of my head: Patrice Lawrence, Jessica Townsend, Sayantani Dasgupta and the admittedly obvious but still awesome Rick Riordan.