2020 Snapshot: K H Canobi

K H Canobi writes fiction for children and young adults. Mindcull, her debut novel, is a futuristic thriller for young adults that came out with Ford Street Publishing in 2019 to great reviews including 4.5 stars from Books and Publishing. She has been active with school visits ever since, appearing at festivals, libraries, and bookshops and on radio, podcast, and blog interviews. Before writing Mindcull, she worked as a cognitive scientist and university lecturer, completing a PhD and postdoctoral fellowship in developmental psychology at The University of Melbourne, where she holds an honorary fellowship. She is currently working on The Glory Tree, an upper middle-grade magical realism novel set in contemporary Australia. Visit her online at khcanobi.com.

  1. Tell us about your recent publications/projects?

My debut novel, Mindcull was published in June 2019. It’s set in the not-too-distant future when people rely on virtual reality headsets in the same way that we rely on smartphones. The story is told from the point of view of Eila, a 16-year-old who posts VR clips of herself on a future version of social media. Her clips are so successful that she is shortlisted for an international competition by a global tech giant. This involves her travelling to a mansion in England to meet the other short-listees and trying out a cutting-edge new VR skin suit. But law enforcement officers coerce her into spying for them, underground activists reveal a murderous plot and Eila realises that her own mind is at risk. Surrounded by secrets and lies, she has to race to uncover the truth. And in the process, she must decide who to trust, and how far she’s willing to go to protect innocent lives.

My latest story, The Glory Tree is meant for slightly younger readers than Mindcull and is told from the point of view of Aleena, a contemporary Australian girl. It opens with a bushfire that destroys a famous old tree and evolves into a conflict between a group of friends in Year 6 and a shadow creature from another realm.

When I was young, my favourite books involved ordinary children who found themselves in fantastical situations. I was one of those kids who lost themselves in their imagination and it seemed to me that the magic from my books was hiding just around the corner. I kept thinking that if only I rubbed the right lamp or went into right wardrobe, I would find it. For me, there were giants hiding at the end of the hallway, fairies living inside the walls of our house and people could really fall through cracks in the concrete into another world. I remember believing that the pine trees just past the park at the end of my street were the start of an enchanted wood.

I loved walking along that line between the real world and the fantastic in my latest story, The Glory Tree. So, before the bushfire, my main character’s life had been pretty ordinary – she has the same kinds of friendship struggles and issues with her mum that lots of kids have. But the night Glory Tree burns down, magic and danger arrive, plunging Aleena and her friends into a full-on good-versus-evil battle. I also really enjoyed exploring the theme of how we treat difference, and how problems fitting in can be a clue to something really extraordinary.

  1. What has been the best publishing experience of your career so far?

The publication of my debut novel, Mindcull. It took a long time and a lot of work to get the manuscript to where it was when Ford Street Publishing offered me my book deal. As a newbie fiction writer, I arrived at a point a number of times where I felt like I had taken my manuscript as far as I could and would submit it to a publisher or agent who would then reject it. I got very little feedback but somehow, I kept finding ways to go back and improve on the manuscript. So I had quite a few rejections on earlier drafts before I got the deal.

I really enjoyed working with my editors, Abigail Cini and Robyn Donoghue.  After spending so long trying to get book-industry types interested in my book, to have two professionals going through it and advising me on how to make it better was a gift. And I loved the cover art by Kat Art Illustrations. Holding the Mindcull in my hands for the first time was magic and the book launch felt like a dream come true.

  1. Which recent Australian/NZ work would you recommend to international fans interested in expanding their Antipodean spec fic knowledge? 

There are many wonderful Oz and NZ spec fic writers but for young adults, the last book of Lynette Noni’s Medoran Chronicles came out in 2019. My whole family enjoyed that series. We also liked the Time Warper series by Cheree Peters. For younger readers, I recently had the honour of launching new editions of George Ivanoff’s Gamers trilogy which tackle profound ideas in a fun way.

Emily Rodda’s books are an obvious choice for middle-graders interested in Oz spec fic. Her latest, The Glimme is a gorgeous book with stunning illustrations by Marc McBride. She takes readers to that magical place – where a seemingly ‘ordinary’ person gets caught up in something extraordinary. I think that kind of journeying into the imagination is even more valuable when the real world seems bleak and confusing. A sense of wonder is a special part of childhood. And the great thing about being a reader (and writer) of spec fic is that you continue on that journey as an adult.

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