Writing about handfish - with Katherine Richardson

May 1, 2020

We caught up with Katherine Richardson, a local Tasmanian writer, who is putting together a children's book on Red handfish.

Katherine – tell us a bit about yourself!

I grew up in Campania, which is a little country town just past Richmond. I went to the local primary school and I had some really fantastic teachers, who really encouraged me to create. I think it was then that my love my writing and drawing really began.

Being in a rural town meant that I was surrounded by a lot of animals, both farm and native, and they were always my muse. Drawing people was something that I really had to force myself to learn, but I’ve always loved drawing animals.

I’m currently studying a Bachelor of Communications at Charles Sturt University which I’ll hopefully graduate from in a couple of weeks, but funnily enough I also did one semester of Marine and Antarctic Science at the University of Tasmania! I’ve always loved marine animals (I think seals or orcas are my favourite) and I really enjoyed learning about them, but I just don’t have quite the right brain for science. Being able to work on this book about the handfish is so amazing because it’s allowing me to explore both sides of my personality, without having to give up on something.

How did you find out about handfish, and have you always been interested in wildlife?

I actually found out about the handfish through my mum. She and my dad went up north for a trip and ended up visiting Seahorse World, where they got to see the red handfish that are being looked after there. She was so enamoured by this fish and it started to peak my interest too. I went to a handfish open day down at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies with her last year and I was sold. I just think they’re such awesome creatures and I really wanted to be able to use my skills to help them.

As I mentioned, I’ve always loved animals and wildlife and especially had a soft spot for marine animals. One of my biggest dreams in life is to be able to visit Antarctica one day. I don’t really want to go as a tourist though, it’s important to me that if I was to go, I would be contributing something or helping in some way. Also I think if I saw an orca in real life I might just die of happiness.

What made you decide to write a children’s book on handfish?

I’d recently attended the Hobart Writers Festival and I went to a talk there on environmental children’s books. The subject was super interesting to me, again – bringing together two of my biggest passions, and I started to think about what kind of animal I’d like to write about. This was just before going to the IMAS open day so it all sort of fell in place perfectly.

Can you give us a brief run-down of the plot and the message you hope to get across

Yes! Okay, well I’m not sure if it’s actually been mentioned anywhere yet, but the book will be called ‘Diary of a Red Handfish’. It’s going to be in the form of diary entries from one of the babies that IMAS is currently raising. It’s basically a retelling of that project from the handfish’s perspective! It’s been really interesting to write, because obviously the project is still going, so I’m having to fill in the blanks here and there. I have the ending written, but anything could happen this far out, so I think in that way it’s a bit different to a ‘normal’ children’s book.

I really just want to be able to help bring awareness to these animals using everything that I can, it’s so important to me that we don’t lose them, and I think one of the best ways to make sure that doesn’t happen is to ensure that as many people know their story as possible.

And the big one – when do you hope to finish?! And (perhaps it’s too early) but do you have other book ideas planned afterwards?

The current plan is for the book to be released at about the same time as IMAS releases the handfish back into the wild. We thought this would be a really good opportunity to once again show art and science working alongside one another and also to bring awareness to both sides of the project.

As far as another book goes, I always have ideas swimming around in my head (pun intended), but there’s no concrete plan for another children’s book at the moment. I’m currently working on my first novel as well, so I’m hoping to spend some time focusing on getting that ready for 2021.

Follow Katherine: | @KatherineRichardsonWriter |

Images: Katherine at work, and some of the art work that she has produced in generating awareness about handfish through her upcoming book


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