I was born in 1981. I am not dead yet.
I was born in Whangarei, New Zealand, the oldest of four siblings. Even though I am shorter and less fit than the others (two brothers, one sister) I can forever lord over them the indisputable fact that I got here first. I did the usual childhood things of climbing trees, falling out of trees, reading about how babies were made in the middle of the bookshop and asking my mother for clarification, and stamping my name all over everything with the little pink stamp my parents gave me for my sixth birthday and doubtless regretted immediately after. I miss that stamp. It read “KAREN”, with little hearts above and below.
At that stage I wanted to be an astronaut, or possibly a dinosaur-hunting cowgirl, and not a writer. (I was a bit vague on the concept of extinction.) But around then then we moved to Otematata, a small town in the South Island, where I was bullied a lot, and made up many fascinating adventures that all revolved around me being awesome. That was my first brush with being an author! One day I wrote a terrible two-sentence description of something for homework and showed it to my parents, who said, “Karen. You can do much better than that.” I WILL SHOW YOU PARENTS, I thought, and wrote a page-and-a-half FANTASTIC description of something. That was my first brush with being an edited author!
After three years, we moved to Oamaru, where my mother’s family has lived for five generations (this is pretty good for white people in New Zealand, although it is pretty ridiculous in comparison to one’s family being there for a thousand years or so) and I attended, in chronological order, St Joseph’s Primary School (where my mother later taught), Oamaru Intermediate School (where my father taught, and now my mother is the principal) and Waitaki Girls’ High School (where I was surrounded by people that my parents had taught). I was never taught by either of my parents. That is, in a classroom setting. They taught me a lot of stuff in their free time, like how to do the ironing.
I went to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch for no particular reason. Mostly, I liked the buildings, which just goes to show how people often make poor decisions at 18, because Canterbury is a high point of Brutalist architecture. I had this vague idea of becoming a lawyer (which is an undergraduate degree in New Zealand), probably because of Tessa Duder’s Alex books, but law lectures were at like 10 a.m. and it turned out being a lawyer is not a lot of fun arguing with people and shouting OBJECTION but a lot of boring and distressing paperwork and memorizing precedent. The law itself is fascinating! Practicing law not so much, at least not for me.
So I did a double major in English and Classics, and got involved in a lot of student theatre, and I liked all of that so much that I stayed on for an honours year, and then did an M.A. Then I figured out that money could buy things, and that working in a bookshop, while delightful, wasn’t altogether conducive to this goal. And like many New Zealanders of my age, I was getting itchy to leave the country and see some other parts of the world. So I applied to the JET Programme (even though I had failed second-year Japanese) and went to Japan to teach English for two years.
I thoroughly recommend this. The JET Programme isn’t for everyone, but it was super for me. I loved my students and my colleagues and I made some fantastic friends, and I even got better at Japanese, forever wiping that shame from my heart (although sadly not from my GPA). I also helped found a feminist comics website and wrote/co-wrote three books in my spare time, one of which became Guardian of the Dead.
Eventually I started missing things like English-language libraries and theatre and the academic life, so I applied for various universities’ Ph.D. programmes, and my top choice, Melbourne, picked me back. This was exciting! So I moved to Australia, where everything is poisonous and the trees have evolved the useful ability of exploding into flame, and started writing a dissertation about superhero comics.
It turns out it was very difficult to be a fulltime PhD student and keep up a fledgling career as a pro novelist. I also realised that, though I still wanted to teach, I would prefer to have more hands-on teaching time than the life of a university academic allows.
I moved back to New Zealand, where I’m currently training to be a high school teacher of English, Classics and Media Studies at the New Zealand Graduate School of Education, and, of course, being a novelist. It’s pretty darn great.
I am not dead yet.