Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Question and Answer with Katherine Webb

I was fortunate enough recently to be invited by Nudge Books to interview Katherine Webb, best selling author of The Legacy and whose recent book The Hiding Places was published in paperback in September. I thought the interview deserved a further airing on my blog.

GC: The Hiding Places was the first of your books that I read and I loved it. I delighted in the twist at the end and that made me wonder whether it’s the ‘twist’ that comes first when you’re plotting and structuring a novel? Or whether it evolved from the body of the story?
KW: Thank you! I’m very pleased you enjoyed it. As a general rule, I know the beginning and ending of a novel before I start. I’m not a planner, and I will then navigate the story between those two points in a very freeform way, but I don’t think I’d be able to start at all without an idea of the ending in mind. This was especially the case with The Hiding Places, since the whole novel was geared towards misdirecting the reader, right the way through, so that the twist at the end would come as a big surprise.
After the more exotic locations of The Night Falling and The English GirlThe Hiding Placessees a return to the rural landscapes of England again. Was that a strong desire, to return to ‘Blighty’ for this novel?
I think I was ready to return, yes. I generally find that the settings of my books choose themselves — the idea for a story appears in my head, and usually the setting is already a given at that point. But it was a pleasure to write another book set in the English countryside — the By Brook Valley is not far from where I live, and it’s one of my favourite places. I feel very at home in this landscape, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of writing about it.
There seems to be a need today to compartmentalise everything including fiction. Your work is often described as historical fiction. Are you comfortable with that? Do you consider The Hiding Places to be a work of historical fiction? Have you ever considered writing in a different genre?
Truthfully, I’m not a big fan of that label — or labels in general! I think of my books as mystery dramas that are sometimes set in the past. I think labels can put as many people off as they attract. The story is what’s important, and even if you had no interest in history in the slightest, I like to think you could still get wrapped up and carried away by one of my stories.
My first three books contained contemporary storylines as well as historical, and I wouldn’t rule out doing that again, or indeed writing something set wholly in the present. But again, I am sure the story and characters would be what was really important.
Do you do your research before you start writing or is it an ongoing processes as the need arises?
I do most of it before I start — it helps the story to develop, and I think I’d find it impossible to start writing without a clear idea of what life would have been like for my characters at the time I’m writing them. This includes any research trips I might need to go on. But research does carry on alongside the writing, too — it helps to keep me immersed in the period; there are often small facts that need checking, and I’m always finding interesting little snippets to put into the book, to help give it historical authenticity.
Your books often depict a friendship between two women of differing backgrounds who are brought together through circumstance and a desire for a common goal. It’s often a fascinating juxtaposition. The Hiding Places offers us Pudding and Irene. I was wondering what the motivation is for your exploration of these relationships.
One of the things we seem to be perennially fascinated by, when we study or recreate history, is class structure — the strict rules of social interaction people used to have to adhere to. Often, it can seem that the classes didn’t intermingle at all — that they existed in separate spheres, only occasionally touching. But I can’t imagine that was always the case! Life is messy, and I’m sure all sorts of different people came together — or were forced together — for all sorts of reasons.
It’s fascinating, as you say, and I find it a really interesting way to explore a character — their strengths and limitations. Can they make that leap out of their social comfort zone, and free themselves of prejudice, to help and be helped by people they see as fundamentally different to themselves? Are they kind, or strong, or clever, or brave enough?
Love, loss, secrets, betrayal – they are all recurring themes in your work. What is it that fascinates you about these topics?
Well, these are the stuff of life, aren’t they?? And more importantly, they’re they stuff of good stories. They happen to us all, and these times of heightened emotion, of stress and passion and anger, are what drive people to do extraordinary things. And I love to pose readers the question: can they sympathise with a character who’s done something drastic or terrible, if I can adequately present the pressures that led them to do it? Can I make the reader question what they would have done if they found themselves in that position?
I always find your novels very ‘reader -friendly’ books. You seem to strike a balance between making demands of your reader and caring for your reader. Is that a conscious desire or does it come naturally with your writing?
Well, that’s lovely to hear! I can’t make that kind of choice, truthfully — I’m not sure any writer could. I write the way I write, in my own voice; and I write the stories that come to me. And if they’re a good balance of engaging and readable, then I’m delighted with that — what more could an author hope for?
From that last question, are you an avid reader yourself? (Assuming you have the time that is!). And what was the first book that made you cry?
I am an insatiable reader. I don’t know many authors who aren’t — we were all readers before we were writers! There hasn’t been an hour I’ve not had a book on the go since I was about ten, I think, though there’s definitely less time for it now. I do try to make time — if I can, I’ll sit down late in the afternoon and read for half an hour or an hour, and I’ll always read before going to sleep. Several books I read in my teens brought a tear to my eye, but the first book that really made me sob my heart out was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. In several places! It’s a story made all the more powerful for being so plausible, and it really brought home to me the devastating human tragedies of the Second World War, the nature of loss and lost chances.
Where did the inspiration for The Hiding Places come from initially?
For this book, it really was a question of place. I started walking in the By Brook Valley about six years ago, when I moved down to live in the countryside near Bath. It’s such a beautiful spot, unchanged for centuries, and it’s full of evocative ruins — one of my favourite things! There are the ruins of Weavern Farm, once a huge, thriving place, now just a shell, sitting alone by the river; and there are the industrial ruins of the village of Slaughterford — its two mills, the larger of which still operated right up into the 1960s, which can be walked through and explored. Ruins cast a bit of a spell on me — they recall all the many lives that were lived there, all the secrets and stories that have vanished forever. A place like that was always going to spark my imagination!
September sees the publication of the paperback edition of The Hiding Places. Can you give us any clues as to when your next new novel will be published? 😉
My next book — as yet untitled — is due for publication next year. I think it will be in the spring although I’m not sure of the exact date. I’m still writing it at the moment — it’s nearly finished! It’s set during the bombing of Bath in 1942, but it isn’t really a ‘war story’. A bomb falling on one of Bath’s slum areas uncovers the remains of a little girl who went missing twenty-four years previously, and sends her best friend on a mission to find out what really happened to her.

No comments:

Post a Comment