Kathryn Joyce Interview
Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
“Foodie, scribbler, reader, traveller, chocolate addict and author of literary fiction novel Thicker Than Soup, says my Twitter profile.” True, but the writing came later than the rest. Despite an early passion for reading and writing that had been inspired many years ago by an English teacher, the following chapters of my life left little time for anything literary other than a chapter or two before bed. Family and work were the priorities. And no regrets!
But then a change of direction took me and my husband to work abroad with Voluntary Service Overseas. Life in West Africa, then Pakistan, and then Vietnam, brought new and exciting experiences almost every day and the desire to record and share the new life with loved ones at home led to a new phase of writing.
On our return home a friend suggested, “Those newsletters were interesting, why not write a book?” And with inspiration to write re-ignited, the newsletters morphed into a new guise; they became meaningful resources for a novel.
Where do you like to write?
In a warm place where there are few distractions. Unfortunately, my lovely garden room isn’t the warmest place in the house, and it’s a thoroughfare to the garden. But it is beautiful and it’s my study.
Is there anything you must have in order to write? For example, silence, whiskey, and a close shave.
Other than time and inspiration, I must have my notepad to both record ideas and prod my dreadful memory. And I do need warmth. Sitting at the screen for hours (when the writing is going well) turns my feet and hands to ice and my hot water bottle is my best friend.
What books have influenced you most, both as a person and as an author?
Too many to mention! As a child, I adored Susan Coolidge’s Katy books, then Louisa M Alcott, Jane Austen, and The Brontes were my heroes (heroines?). Oooer, that gives my age away! Then Orwell, Greene, Henry James, Thomas Hardy. And more recently? Julian Barnes, Anne Enright, John Williams, Michael Ondatjii – and his wife, Linda Spalding (The Purchase is wonderful) – Rachel Joyce, Donna Tartt, Khaled Hosseini, Susan Fletcher, Jim Crace, the short stories of Margaret Attwood, Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver and Alice Munro are inspirational. Before writing Thicker Than Soup, Oswald Wynde impressed me hugely with his portrayal of Mary MacKenzie’s physical and emotional journey through China and Japan in The Ginger Tree.
But the greatest influence in my writing isn’t a book. It’s people. In Thicker Than Soup I wrote about Pakistan because I wanted to challenge some of the negative images that exist. Many people think Pakistan is a place of terrorism, extremism, and the suppression of women. And they’re right. To an extent. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a stunning country, with hospitable people who care deeply about their country. They have the same dreams and hopes we all do for a life well lived. People at home (in UK) are amazed when I tell them how I – a woman – joined the men in morning prayers at the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, and how warmly welcomed I was. It was Eid, and though I don’t follow a religion, it was a very moving experience.
What is the one thing that has helped you develop most as an author?
My ever supportive husband, who reads, re-reads, and reads again everything I write. Thicker Than Soup would not have existed without him. And of course, Google. Where else would I have discovered Mr. Tiddles, the fattest cat ever, who lived in the Ladies Loo at Paddington Station in the 1980’s. (Go on, Google it!).
What do you want to achieve most from your writing?
I’m endlessly fascinated and constantly amazed at the way people derive their truths. The literary fiction genre – my favourite – being concerned with the human condition, encourages exploration of perspectives and judgements from an omniscient viewpoint. People are an everlasting source of ideas and their dilemmas, trials, tribulations and humour offer the writer – and reader- an opportunity to step beyond their own lives into excitement. If I can make that happen with my writing, I’m happy.
Is there something specific you do to improve your writing?
I re-write. Everything. And then I re-write it again. I see a novel as a tapestry, with many coloured threads weaving in and out of a whole picture. If a new colour is introduced somewhere it must either complement or contrast. But it can’t be unaccountable.
What is the ideal relationship between editor and author?
An author weaves the tapestry, an editor tidies the loose threads.
If you had a direct line to someone who loves your writing, what would you say?
Tell me what you like about it.
If you had a direct line to someone who hates your writing, what would you say?
After I’d got over the shock (J), I’d ask what they hated about it.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Don’t give up the day job, write from the heart, and do your homework. (that’s only one sentence, not three things.) Above all, if you want to write, do it well.
What does your writing future hold for you?
Awards, prizes and recognition. Or not.
At the moment I’m writing short stories, which feels like an indulgence after the long stretch of a novel. But I love the density and licence a short story offers. And brevity is definitely a challenge.
How have you set about the task of creating enticing cover art?
For Thicker Than Soup I spent hours searching stock pictures until I found something that spoke to me. The question was, which picture spoke the loudest? A friend rated each of the pics according to; 1. Impact, 2. Involvement and 3. Relevance. It was a worthwhile exercise that I’d use again.
How often do you read? What genre?
I read about two or three books a month. More if I’m lucky, and more on holiday. Usually I read before I sleep, which isn’t a good time. And if I wake in the night, I read then. My book group widens my reading with books I might not otherwise read. We recently read Nabakov’s Pnin. It needed time, and as I was going on holiday, I had some. And I loved it.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Best of luck in the future, Kathryn.
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