I had ‘the call’ from my agent that all new writers dream of the night before I flew out to the Middle East with my children to start a new life. It was a fairytale ending - or beginning, depending on how you look at it! THE BEAUTY CHORUS was published in 2011 - after a lifetime of writing (and reading), it was really a dream come true. I don’t think much can beat the feeling of holding your book for the first time.
Which author has most influenced your work?
Maybe like a lot of RNA members, there are always too many books and not enough book shelves in our house! I read very widely, but the fiction authors I keep returning to are Anne Tyler, Barbara Trapido, Carol Shields and James Salter. The author who has most influenced me is William Boyd - I saw him interviewed once and he said to write what interests you, not what you know.
How would you describe your own books, and what would you say is the plus factor that makes them appealing to your readers?
Do you plan bios before you start writing, or allow your characters to emerge as you write?
I do a sheet for each character - to avoid pitfalls like eye colour suddenly changing from blue to green in chapter two! But one of the marvellous things with writing is the alchemy that takes place when the story and characters start taking on a life of their own. I think with bios and plots, it’s always good to leave yourself some room to be surprised.
Which do you find the most painful, writing the first draft, or editing, and how do you cope?
Editing, definitely. All those old maxims like: ‘writing is rewriting’ are absolutely true. The first draft is a free-wheeling zip through the story with all that enthusiasm and energy - but editing is absolutely vital. I’ve been lucky to work with some very good editors and copy-editors (all that red ink ...), and I just keep telling myself that all that matters is making the book the very best it can be.
Do you have any rejections lurking among your files, or do you recycle them?
Actually, I burnt them! When we lived in Valencia, in Spain (which is the setting for THE PERFUME GARDEN, I used all my early rejection letters for kindling to light the wood burning stove each night! There were a lot of fires, put it that way. I did keep a note of anything positive - shows promise, etc, and of any constructive criticism. Rejection is all par for the course and you just simply have to learn from it and persevere.
If your book were ever filmed who would you choose for the hero and why?
Writing THE PERFUME GARDEN, I had a picture of Javier Bardem pinned to the storyboard for Luca (I know, it’s tough work but someone has to do it). I think he combines Luca’s strength and vulnerability - he plays damaged characters so well.
The RNA is famous for its New Writer Scheme. Were you ever a part of it, and what advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
No, I wasn’t but I’d advise any aspiring writer to try and join the NWS. Failing that, join a writer’s group locally if you can. I belonged to a women’s writers group in London for years - we’d meet each week in a bookshop in Fulham, and it’s a great grounding in writing, and reading.
Are you ever driven to write by hand?
If you could know the future, what would you wish for?
There’s a great saying I saw at a temple in Japan: I learn only to be contented. After a rollercoaster few years, I’d wish for that - contentment. I hope that we’ll be able to come home to the UK, that my office assistants (Milo, the rescue Siamese X, who tends to sit on a notebook the moment it’s opened for work as if to say ‘why write, when you can look at ME’, and Oscar the pug, who has a fetish for eating pencils), will still be helping me write a book a year, and that everyone will be happy and healthy. Obviously, a bestseller or two would be lovely, too!
The Perfume Garden combines the gripping storytelling of Kate Morton with the evocative settings of Victoria Hislop to tell this sumptuous story of lost love and family secrets set between modern day Valencia and the Spanish Civil War.
High in the hills of Valencia, a forgotten house guards its secrets. Untouched since Franco’s forces tore through Spain in 1936, the whitewashed walls have crumbled, the garden, laden with orange blossom, grown wild. Emma Temple is the first to unlock its doors in seventy years. Guided by a series of letters and a key bequeathed in her mother’s will, she has left her job as London’s leading perfumier to restore this dilapidated villa to its former glory. It is the perfect retreat: a wilderness redolent with strange and exotic scents, heavy with the colours and sounds of a foreign time.
But for her grandmother, Freya, a British nurse who stayed here during Spain’s devastating civil war, Emma’s new home evokes terrible memories. As the house begins to give up its secrets, Emma is drawn deeper into Freya’s story: one of crushed idealism, lost love, and families ripped apart by war. She soon realises it is one thing letting go of the past, but another when it won’t let go of you.
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Thank you for sparing time to talk to us today, Kate.
We wish you every success with your books.
Best wishes, Freda
Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org