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A Q&A with Katie Munnik, Author of The Heart Beats in Secret

Writing advice isn’t hard to find, but sometimes it’s hard to take—especially when it’s your own. Katie Munnik, a 2016 Humber School for Writers grad, knows this from experience. We spoke to her via email to learn what inspired her new book and how taking her own advice helped her gain confidence in her writing.

Tell us about your book/project? How did it come about?

The Heart Beats in Secret is the story of a young woman who inherits her grandmother’s house, the wild goose that stalks her kitchen, and the many ways it is possible to be a mother. Set between Scotland and Canada, my book explores the stories of three generations of women and the choices, secrets and bonds that have defined them.

It was sparked by a road sign I saw while driving in Scotland. The place name intrigued me and within a few days, I’d dreamed up a handful of stories that felt intertwined and worth more attention.

This wasn’t my first novel. It wasn’t even my second. I’d been working on novels for ages—always slowly and between other projects, and never quite finished or polished. During that time, I published other things—columns, articles and blogs, poetry in journals and anthologies—but novel-writing felt like it mattered, and I imagined that at some future stage, I’d find more time to devote to it. When I spoke with other early career writers, I heard myself giving advice. You’ll need to commit. Make the time. Find a mentor. All solid advice if you want a book written.

Then when Vincent Lam won the Giller Prize for Bloodletting and Miracle Cures in 2006, I paid attention. I’d been in high school with his sister and knew he’d done a Humber program. I started to advise other writers to consider a Humber mentorship. It seemed a good way to get a book finished in the midst of a busy life. Eventually, I listened to my own advice and applied.

In 2017, The Heart Beats in Secret won the Borough Press Open Submission Contest, and it was published this April in the U.K. It will be released on May 21 in Canada.

How did you find the experience of working with your writing mentor? What insight into your writing did you gain through the mentorship process?

Joan Barfoot was a fabulous mentor to me. Encouraging and warm, but blunt when I was waffling or wasn’t giving enough. Her confidence in my work, even when I thought it wasn’t going well, helped me develop momentum for the project. Through my relationship with her, I learned to really trust my reader and to aim for an intelligent balance between saying enough and leaving enough space for the reader to think things through. Even in that early draft, I was writing for a reader.

To learn more about Katie Munnik’s writing, visit her online at, follow her on Twitter @messy_table, or connect with her via Facebook. To listen to a passage from The Heart Beats in Secret, click here.

Katie Munnik

Photo Credit: Katie Munnik