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Interview: Kara Douglas talks about The Air that we Breathe

Kara Douglas grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand and then moved to Wellington where she currently resides with her husband, dog and cat. The Air that we Breathe is inspired by her birth father’s story of living in Wittenoom, Western Australia.

For the past ten years Kara has immersed herself in researching the history of Wittenoom. She took a year out of fulltime employment to complete an advanced Diploma in Creative Writing. Kara ventured to the outback with her husband in 2018 to truly experience the essence and uniqueness for the Pilbara Region. You can find out more about Kara, her novel and Wittenoom at

Kara talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us about the Air that we Breathe

It is a fictional account of Abele and Maria Morreti who emigrate from Italy in 1961 to the Outback of Australia, as they have been promised a financially secure future working in the asbestos mine, which would lead to a better way of life. Thirty years later the unthinkable happens, with the family seeking justice. It’s a real family journey and feedback to date is the reader is invested in the characters early in the story.

What inspired you to write this book?

I had a great relationship with my birth father John and was with him when he died because of mesothelioma. Several years later, I started researching Wittenoom the town that he lived in. The more I unravelled and learnt about Wittenoom, and asbestos related diseases, the more determined I became to tell the story of one of Australia’s worst industrial disasters, where profit took priority over the safety of workers.

What research was involved?

I ventured to the outback in 2018 to experience the Pilbara Region, it is nothing like NZ, driving for hours on red dirt roads passing abandoned cars. It is desolate and every day it was over 45 degrees. I spent time in Perth meeting with the Wittenoom research group and medical experts as well as spending valuable time with the founders of the Asbestos Diseases Society Australia. I went to Canberra to the National Archives. In the last ten years I have read numerous articles, newspaper clippings, court cases, medical books, thesis, listened to interviews, and a lot more.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I wrote sporadically for seven years, then in 2018 took a year out of full-time employment to attend a Creative Writing course and to learn about the craft of writing, structure etc and dedicate the time this book needed. I then decided my manuscript was draft zero and I started again doing approximately 60 hours a week of writing during some periods. Looking back this was the best thing I could have done in a difficult decision at the time as had already written 50,000 words. On completion of the course, I refined and polished the story, cut out noise, went back for feedback and had two authors assess the manuscript for further feedback.

I had mind maps, well defined character personalities, folders or research and numerous timelines to incorporate history into fiction.

What do you hope people will take away after reading your novel?

The reader learns about this piece of Australia’s history that continues to be covered up by the Government. To make a difference to the reader in increasing their awareness of the dangers of asbestos, and to be a voice for those suffering from asbestos related diseases.

If a soundtrack was made…

Peter Garett - Midnight Oil blue sky mine – I emailed Peter Garett and their song writer Jim had read the Ben Hills, Blue Murder book that was published in 1989.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

Having the privilege of meeting the key players in Perth as part of my research and experiencing the Outback with the heat, isolation, snakes, bats, lizards, 60 metre road trains and meeting the locals.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Had a toast to my fathers with my husband, Mum and Aunty. Once the borders open again, I can book my well-earned trip to the islands to snorkel.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

The Nightingale Kristin Hannah – I love historical fiction. The sisters showed such strength and determination in such different ways.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Once the book is underway in NZ, plan to get it promoted and distributed through Western Australia. Once the borders open, travel back to Perth to catch up with those who were a key part of my research again and find out how I can help be a voice for mesothelioma research.


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