Journalist Marina Kamenev has a long writing history behind her, one that spans continents and topics in equal measure. Launched on the week of her 40th birthday, her debut non-fiction book Kin: Family in the 21st century explores the ways in which we choose, or choose not, to have children today. She will be discussing Kin at the Storyfest Literary Lunch.

Even though she’s always loved reading and writing, Marina Kamenev didn’t start out to be a writer. At her parents’ suggestion, she studied architecture for three years, in an attempt to get what was considered a “proper career.”

However, life had other plans for her.

Marina got an internship with The Moscow Times, an independent English-language newspaper based in Moscow, in 2006. Having spent the first four years of her life in Russia, Marina spoke enough Russian to get by. Her internship coincided with British architect and designer Norman Foster’s visit to the city, a moment that Marina still remembers.

“Because of my background in architecture, I got to interview him. I wasn’t an amazing writer, but it was an amazing opportunity.”

She began working for The Moscow Times full-time a few months later.

The Moscow Times was fabulous, it was this fertile training ground for young journalists – all these expats and repats like me started their career there.”

Without a formal journalism background, she was able to soak up the writing wisdom of those around her, and she grew to be objective about her writing – which has always worked to her advantage.

“A colleague used to say: words are just words. I never felt possessive about them; I’ve always liked being edited.”

Over the three years she spent there, she became the deputy arts editor of the paper, all the while writing freelance pieces for other English-language publications. Often, these articles would centre around Russian politics, as speaking the language lent Marina the authority to access and report on local current affairs.

However, when it came time for her to move back to Australia, she found that she wasn’t as excited about politics here as she had been in Russia.

“Not that there isn’t a lot to cover here too. But after living in Moscow for years, I didn’t feel a drive to write about those topics in Australia.”

Instead, Marina decided to complete a Master of Creative Writing and, armed with the formal knowledge she had felt she was lacking during her time in Russia, she began writing longer form articles for national and international publications. Her pieces often centred on family, ethics, and assisted reproduction.

“I’ve always been drawn to topics where there is no easy answer, no right or wrong. I began to write about these topics that interested me, like sex after dementia, or medicine testing on pregnant women."

One topic stood out from the rest, and Marina found herself writing a long-form article for The Monthly about the sperm drought in Australia. The more research she did and the more people she interviewed, a thoroughly complex picture emerged about the circumstances of assisted reproduction in Australia, particularly about conceiving via sperm donation. A deeper interest took hold of her.

“There are so few times that we change our minds – people are often wedded to their opinions. As this story unfolded, I noticed that I flipped – at first I felt for the donors, but the more I found out about donor-conceived people like Narelle Grech, my opinion changed. The deeper I looked into it, the more complicated this issue seemed. There was no anonymous sperm donation anymore, and donors weren’t getting paid; on the other side, families wanting to conceive via sperm donation were also running into barriers and serious challenges.

“I felt like I had a book’s worth of questions. At the same time, I started to think that I wanted to get out of journalism – I was tired of pitching and constantly waiting for people to reply. So it was the perfect time to transition from shorter pieces to a book-length piece of work.”

Marina admits that writing a book was a lot harder than writing articles.

“I thought it’d be liberating to not be constrained by a word count, but it was a lot more stressful. Coming from journalism, I found it difficult to feel the boundaries of a book, and I struggled without an involved editor nearby.

“When you’re doing a journalistic piece, you usually have a very tight angle – I struggled with the looseness of my angle when it came to writing a book. It was also really hard to get people to trust me without them knowing if I was on their side or not. I wasn’t on anyone’s side. That was a big difference: in journalism, people usually trust you because they know upfront what angle your story will take. So it took longer for interviewees to warm up to me.”

When asked what she hopes people will take away from Kin, Marina is hopeful that her writing comes across as fair to both sides.

“The resonant message of this book is the idea that you can agree with two things at once – that you can hold two truths at the same time. I would interview donor-conceived people and really feel their pain, then I’d interview, say, a same-sex couple who really wanted to become parents, and I would feel really happy and excited alongside them. I thought I’d come out of the book advocating for one side over the other, but I didn’t. I hope that comes across.”

Marina will be speaking at Storyfest’s Literary Lunch on 26 March, where she will share more about the writing of Kin, the intricacies of writing long-form non-fiction, and the deeper differences between journalism and the making of a book.

As to whether she has any plans for another book…

“If I get through this first one unscathed, I might think about another book. For now though, I’m excited to be finished with the writing and to get to spend more time with my family.”

Book your tickets to the Literary Lunch and hear Marina Kamenev speak about the making of a 21st century family by clicking here.