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Interview with Karen Breen


Karen Breen is an author and publisher. She is a director of Eunoia Publishing, a new, independent company committed to producing books which are a work of art in every way. She is a former journalist, television producer and director.

Born and raised in Auckland, Karen has a BA, English major, from Auckland University, and a Diploma of Journalism from AIT (now AUT). She worked for the NBR and was later Editor at Trends Magazines. She lived for many years in London where she made programmes for Channel 4, the BBC and Channel 5, before returning to New Zealand with her family. In 2008 she completed the Master of Creative Writing degree (1st class Hons) at AUT.

She co-authored the genre-defying The Bitter Sweet Philosophies (published July 2014) in a collaboration between Russian artist Nick Fedaeff and a group of writers called KK Jart. Sleep Sister is her first novel.

What is a typical working day for you?

My working life is not broken into a daily structure because how I spend my time tends to depend on what stage I’m at in any project. There are times when it’s all about writing, or editing, or the business side of publishing. Some days I don’t appear to be doing anything remotely related to writing but it’s all still percolating away – and that’s an important stage of the process too. And all of that fits around a busy family life and an emotionally needy dog.

What are your three favourite books of all time? And why?

This is the sort of question that can lead to protracted arguments with myself. The full answer would have to include far more categories than these:

Children’s books - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – perfect, what more can you say?

19th Century (Vanity Fair) – the scale, the wit and the truth of it all

20th century (What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - by Raymond Carver) – changed the way I thought about writing

Which author do you admire most? And why?

See above - and that’s just for starters, the list goes on and on. But my writer of the moment is Willy Vlautin. I love the way he writes about ordinary people leading unremarkable lives in a way that is utterly compelling. He has such compassion for his characters without ever being sentimental.

What tips would you give aspiring writers?

It’s a tip I have to give myself over and over again, every time life threatens to swallow up precious writing time. Just get something down. Anything.

What’s your most memorable experience at a Literary Event?

I have only just published my first novel so all my ‘literary events’ are from the perspective of the person in the audience. I did have a funny experience at the last Ladies Litera-tea hosted by the wonderful Carole Beu from The Women’s Bookshop. My friend and I were late and had to enter the auditorium between speakers. We were taken to a side door and told when the first speaker ended we were to move quick-fast to the other side of the room to the only spare seats for the sold-out event. Only problem was – I was on crutches and in a moonboot. Quick-fast wasn’t really an option and when I was halfway across the room, the next speaker was already starting. I spied two seats, front row centre stage – perfect. We sat down and congratulated ourselves on scoring the best seats in the house... Until half-time when we stood up and saw the signs “Reserved for Author” and what do you know, there we were sitting amongst Eleanor Catton, Laurence Fearnley, Hinemoana Baker et al. In the meantime “our” seats had been taken too. We fretted that we’d be chucked out when the first-half speakers claimed their seats. Surely they wouldn’t eject a woman on crutches? They didn’t, and all went well until the end of a great event when Carole invited “all the authors in the front row to stand up.” Didn’t really seem appropriate to join in.

If a movie was made of your life, what three songs would you want on the soundtrack?

My favourite songs are usually the sad ones – so that doesn’t sound too promising for the movie of my life!

Highway 29 - Bruce Springsteen

F.E.A.R - Ian Brown

Peace Train – Cat Stevens

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be brave. It will all work out.

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