Guest Writers · On Writing

Kate Hargreaves – Poet, Designer, Roller Derby Skater

Kate Hargreaves’s abilities preceded her. I kept hearing about this talented young writer with mad design skills. When I finally met her and got to know her, it was clear that all the hullaballoo was real. *Love when that happens.*

It wasn’t just Kate’s long legs and smart short hair cut that made me smile, but the sort of smooth coolness that surrounds her. And this coolness transcends to the page. We both had books launch on the same day (through Black Moss Press), so I had the honour of sharing the floor with her to celebrate our achievements.

Her first book, Talking Derby: Stories from a Life on Eight Wheels, published in 2013 and continues to garner stellar reviews and commendable sales. I thought it high time that I request she share a bit about her writing life with me on my blog. Thank the heavens she said yes!

She’s got lots to talk about – including hype the fact that her second book, Leak, a book of poetry, will be published by BookThug, one of Canada’s leading poetry publishers. Did I mention that Kate is in her 20s? Yep. And that she rocks a rink like she rocks the page as a tough Roller Derby girl? Well, now you know.

Here it goes!

1) When did you start identifying yourself as a ‘writer’? How old were you and how did this ‘identification’ show in your life in terms of your writing?

I’m not sure I do identify as a writer except for maybe when I’m in the middle of writing something. It’s not that I actively identify as “not a writer;” however, I have generally had some trepidation about announcing myself with that title, possibly because I don’t write full-time but more accurately because I haven’t really thought through what that identification would entail for me. When people ask me what I do, I generally tell them I work in publishing, although when submitting my bio to magazines and literary journals I have described myself in varying combinations as a poet, freelance writer, editor, book designer, roller derby skater, hypochondriac, collector of nutritional deficiencies, and icer of bruises, so I suppose in some contexts the writer label does stick.

2) How did the publication of your first book, Talking Derby, come about? What was the publishing process like for you?

Talking Derby came out of conversations with Black Moss publisher Marty Gervais about why I was coming into the Windsor Review office (the literary journal at the University of Windsor, where I was working as a graduate assistant under Marty, the editor) with sprained ankles or heavily bruised forearms. I explained that I had taken up the sport of women’s flat-track roller derby, and this caught Marty’s interest, especially some of the stories I told him about unusual roller derby terminology and jargon, or our practices when it came to gear, setting up our track, misconceptions about the sport, etc. He encouraged me to start journalling about derby and to see if it turned into a viable project. Those journals ended up becoming the basis for the book, which I then heavily edited, fictionalized substantially, and re-worked into a series of short vignettes about the experience of being a roller derby skater. Marty thought the manuscript had some potential and decided to make it one of two manuscripts on which the editing and publishing practicum students at the University of Windsor worked in 2012/2013. These students took the manuscript from its earliest drafts, through the editing and publication process, and launched it with a big party at the Caboto Club in Windsor, alongside Whisky Sour City, in April 2013. Having taken these courses myself, and having acted as a graduate assistant for them when I was completing my MA, it was interesting to be on the authorial side of things, and while there were certainly nerve-wracking moments throughout, and it was often difficult to let go of control of the book to a team of students, I was pleased with the end result and couldn’t stop smiling at the launch.

3) Since your first book has been published, what types of things/events have you done to promote it/sell it? How are sales coming along?

On the literary side of things, I’ve done some readings at which I had the opportunity to sell copies, but my main sales have come through the roller derby community. I have a Twitter (@TalkingDerby) where I tweet about my life in roller derby and connect with skaters, fans, coaches, refs and officials around the world, and lots of these people have been very supportive of the book. I also had the chance to promote it at the annual RollerCon convention in Las Vegas last summer, thanks to Luludemon of Pivotstar apparel, who allowed me to distribute postcards for the book at her booth. The book is also available at every Border City Brawlers roller derby bout through our merch table, so sales to skaters in other leagues as well as derby fans have been positive as well, and of course my wonderfully supportive league, including our fresh meat (or brand new) skaters have been great about spreading the word about the book to their friends, family and derby contacts and I can’t thank them enough. My mum has also been instrumental in getting a book about roller derby into the hands of everyone she knows judging by the number of book sales she has encouraged. Sales seem to be going well and I hear rumours of a possible second print run, so that can only mean positive things!

4) At what point were you ready to share new work on a second book? When did you write it? How did you know where to send it?

The second book was actually written simultaneously, if not a bit before Talking Derby, on which I did the majority of writing during the end of my MA degree and the following summer. My forthcoming book, which is a book of poems called Leak, was my MA thesis in English and Creative Writing, so it was written over the course of my graduate studies working with Nicole Markotic at UWindsor, primarily in 2012. After I had recovered from the stress of finishing the manuscript, defending my thesis, and following up with all the necessary paperwork, I got to work submitting the manuscript to several independent publishers in Canada. I was familiar with the backlists of many of these publishers and I did my best to submit where I thought it would make sense, with suggestions from other poets and professors to assist me. BookThug was one of the first publishers to whom I sent the manuscript, and I was surprised and extremely happy when I received notice that they’d like to publish it.

5) What has changed in your writing life since your first publication – not just your book, but even your single pieces in various literary magazines?

I suppose that the first time I was published in a literary magazine, it gave me proof that despite the slew of rejections I was receiving, somebody was interested in what I was doing, which made it easier for me to continue sending out submissions of poems to magazines, and eventually my manuscript to publishers without fearing rejection so much. The rejections became quite routine and the acceptances were a nice surprise, so it helped me to take the emotions out of the process a little and recognize that sometimes a poem is not the right poem for a certain publication at a certain time, and move on. I don’t think rejections really faze me anymore.

6) Are you a full-time writer? If not, is this a goal or do you enjoy your ‘day job’? What is your day job?

Nope. I’m not a full-time writer by any means, but I do enjoy my job in the publishing industry. I work for the literary press Biblioasis doing a variety of tasks including designing book covers, typesetting books, administrative and bookkeeping work and some marketing. I’m not sure that I could write full-time, but I’ve never tried as I’ve always juggled school and at least one job, often several, with writing either on the side or as part of school. I’d like to think that I could focus myself enough, if I was a full-time writer, to be productive, but I’m so used to having a lot of different tasks on the go that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable working on writing alone. Currently, I think being surrounded by other people’s writing and having other creative outlets helps to keep writing at the front of my mind, even if I don’t necessarily have hours on end to sit down and do it.

7) How did you celebrate when you heard your second book would be published? Who is publishing it and when is it coming out?

I was at work when I got the email, so I let me co-workers know, texted my parents and my boyfriend, sent an email to Nicole Markotic (my thesis supervisor), and worked away the rest of the afternoon, likely in a pretty chipper mood. I seem to remember my boyfriend taking me out for dinner that night, so I suppose it was an understated but well-appreciated celebration. Leak is coming out this fall (2014) with Toronto press BookThug.

8) Does it matter to your who publishes your work? Why or why not?

I think it is always nice to have your work published alongside other writers you admire or writing that you find interesting, whether in a journal or in a publisher’s list; however that doesn’t mean I’ve always sought publication in high profile venues or anything like that. I’ve had work published in photocopied zines put together by women’s studies students at UWindsor, in publications from the Canadian Mental Health Association, on roller derby websites, in ad space on a bus, as well as in more traditional journals and anthologies. So yes, it matters to me, but as long as I support the direction of the publication and they support my work, I’m happy and honoured to be part of a project.

9) How has the granting system/award system factored into your writing life? Do you apply for grants/awards?

Grants and scholarships were invaluable to me as a student as my BA in English and Creative Writing was partially funded by UWindsor scholarships, and my MA was funded by scholarships from UWindsor as well as grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS). Without these, I would not have been able to focus nearly as much time on my writing and academics as I was able to, so despite all the complaining I did while trying to write the grant applications, I am extremely grateful for the support from these organizations. Outside of school, I was lucky enough to receive a Windsor Endowment for the Arts Emerging Literary Artist Award which allowed me to finish up Talking Derby and focus more time on its writing and editing. Lately, I am not in the habit of applying for grants as I don’t have the time at the moment to dedicate to getting really serious with grant writing, or with a writing project for that matter, but I certainly appreciate what the various arts granting bodies do for writers and publishing in Canada, and it’s something I will be looking into in the future.

10) I imagine your life is quite busy, when/where do you write? How often do you write?

Not nearly enough at the moment, I am a bit ashamed to admit. I tend to write in bursts and then have long dry spells. Lately, I haven’t been spending enough time not on the go to actually sit down and write something, but I have been telling myself I need to stop making excuses and get to it. I used to write in the middle of the night when I was a student and didn’t wake up early in the morning, so I’ve been trying to adjust myself to writing at more reasonable hours of the day. When I do get to write, I usually do it at home, on my laptop because my handwriting is really awful and I hate writing things out by hand, and I tend to do it when I get an evening alone (so no roller derby practice, games, crosstraining or other commitments), which doesn’t happen too often.

11) What genre do you find yourself writing the most? Why?

I tend to write poetry, although lately I’ve come up with a couple unexpected pieces of short fiction, which is a surprise to me as I never used to be interested in writing that genre. It might be because of the amount of interesting short fiction I’m exposed to at work that I’m channelling some of that into my writing. I used to joke that I don’t have the attention span to write fiction and that I’d rather write poems because I can get at least a draft of one out in one sitting before I get bored of it and move on to the next idea. In more honest terms, I think I gravitate more to poetry because the images feel more immediate to me. Even if a character or a voice isn’t fully fleshed out, and image can still grab you by the guts and pull in a poem, and its that physical reaction that appeals.

12) What is your ultimate dream goal for your writing career?

To be productive in a meaningful way. Of course I’d like to have things published and for people to enjoy my work and that sort of thing, but right now my dream is to be able to produce work on at least a semi-regular basis that I’m not afraid to let other people read. It may not sound like a lofty goal but it is something I’m trying to work toward.


I hope this guest post was as inspiring for you as it was for me! Feel free to connect with Kate via:



Twitter – @talkingderby

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s