I discovered Kat Ellis’ debut novel a couple of years through a series of serendipitous events. Blackfin Sky quickly became a favorite of mine and since then I’ve been looking forward to reading Kat’s next book. Happily, Breaker is finally here and coincidentally Kat is also here on the blog to talk a bit more about it.
Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Breaker?
KE: It started with a documentary I was watching about serial killers on death row. The interviewer talked with the inmates, but also with their friends and family — and the relatives of the victims as well. It got me thinking about those who get caught in the crossfire when someone commits a violent crime, and how it ripples outward to affect more people than you ever read about in news articles. I thought it would be interesting to write a story about two teens growing up in the aftermath of a brutal murder — one connected to the victim, and the other to the killer; Breaker spiralled outward from that.
MP: This book alternates first person point of view between Naomi and Kyle throughout. Did you always know that you wanted the book to follow both characters? How did having two narrators influence your writing process?
KE: I always knew it would have two narrators, but Kyle’s voice came to me first. I knew he would be southern, and that the move to a private school in Killdeer, Pennsylvania, would be jarring for him even though he’s aching for a fresh start. Naomi took a little longer to figure out, but when I did, I knew she’d be resilient and feisty and funny — exactly the kind of person who would reach out to someone who seemed overwhelmed in their new school, and the chemistry and the connection between her and Kyle just grew from there.
Writing dual narratives is actually my go-to writing structure, although my debut, Blackfin Sky, had only one. For Breaker, having two perspectives let me explore both sides of the story, and really get to know both main characters.
MP: You live in North Wales. Breaker is set in Pennsylvania. Did you always know that this book would be set there? What kind of research was involved in bringing Killdeer to life?
KE: As I’m not exactly local, I had to do some pretty intensive research before I found the right spot to locate Killdeer. I needed somewhere with a real historic vibe, somewhere I could create the creepy, gothic school building, the isolated setting, the woodland crowding in on all sides. I also had to check on things like native trees and wildlife, and how the weather would change over the course of the novel (I had a sense that it would get colder and colder as the story progressed). Much Googling later, Killdeer sprang to life at the edge of Pennypack Park in Northeast Philadelphia.
MP: Working off the last question, did any real life locations inspire you while writing Breaker? Did any real locations inspire Killdeer Academy specifically?
KE: Well, since you ask…. There is actually a building near me that I used as a (very loose) basis for Killdeer Academy [see photo below]. It was a mental hospital until it closed in the 1980s, and the gothic architecture and fairly isolated setting was just perfect for Killdeer Academy. Getting to transplant bits of Wales into Pennsylvania is an author’s prerogative, right? ;-)
MP: Killdeer Academy is an eerie and dilapidated boarding school filled with taxidermied animals that reside on shelves throughout the school. Animal you would least want around as a taxidermy statue?
KE: I’m actually really squeamish about real taxidermied animals! I’m a cat lover, so I’d have to say having a stuffed cat around the house would absolutely make my skin crawl.
MP: Breaker is a fast-paced thriller. There are murders, there’s suspense, there’s mystery. I was definitely reading as fast as I could to get to the finish. How did you lay out the pacing of this story? How did you decide when to reveal key details to the reader?
KE: Well, first of all, thank you! I am a linear writer, so I wrote a full dirty draft before paring it down to make the pacing as tight as possible. And my editor was amazing at pointing out where tension was lacking, or when what I thought was a subtle clue was actually just a glaringly obvious reveal. While I wanted readers to be able to figure out the who part of the mystery (I kind of think it’s cheating if an author makes it impossible to guess), I kept the why hidden until the climax so there is hopefully a ‘Whoa!’ moment, whether the reader guessed the Big Bad’s identity or not.
MP: A big part of this book is Naomi’s efforts to recreate photos from her grandfather’s damaged scrapbooks. And also walking on roofs. Can you talk about your own photography and your effort to recreate a scene from the book (seen here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BEyOBPwN6i4/)?
KE: I’m a visual person (you should see my spectacular colour-coded revision notes from high school) so having images to sit alongside a story feels natural for me. Sometimes I’ll take a photo and get writing inspiration from it, or sometimes the writing comes first, and I’ll try to find or create an image to go with it — like the rooftop scene. That photo was one I took during the book trailer shoot for Breaker (https://youtu.be/76LHXOP4mec) which was filmed by my friend Dawn Kurtagich, author of The Dead House. It was also a great excuse to send my younger brother and sister up onto a slate roof.
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
KE: I can! My next book is coming out this September. It’s a sci-fi thriller called PURGE, set on a flooded Earth where the last survivors live in sealed, floating communities. Mason is 17, and already has a rap sheet too long to remember. So he isn’t exactly high on the list to be allowed into any community — which is how he ends up at Alteria, living among a cult-like group who purge negative behaviour through a mind-altering virtual reality programme. Mason knows he has to stay out of trouble, but that’s not easy when he falls for a girl who has a few bad habits of her own. When she’s caught with drugs and thrown into the programme, Mason risks everything to go in after her, not knowing if either of them will ever be the same.
Thanks so much for the great questions!
Thanks again to Kat for another fun interview.
You can also read my review of Breaker here on the blog.