The Guardian called The Girl in the Red Coat ‘a gripping debut about separation and grief.’ It’s certainly been one of this year’s runaway successes.
After Nyne’s Daniel David Gothard was thrilled to meet the novel’s author, Kate Hamer, to find out more about her creative method, her influences and the concept of suffering for your art.
Do you have a writing routine? Graham Greene – one of my favourite authors – famously wrote 500 words a day before 1 pm.
Mornings are definitely best! If I haven’t got a solid word count going by lunch time I start feeling a little despairing. There’s something about that morning energy that seems to suit writing. For me it’s not just about feeling fresher, I think it’s because the closer you are to sleep the closer you are to your subconscious.
As the day wears on day to day life and thoughts intrude. There’s a great book written in the 1920s by someone called Dorothea Brande called ‘Becoming a Writer.’ In it she advocates the writing of ‘morning pages’ – stream of consciousness stuff done straight on waking. I do this sometimes too – it’s a good way to throw off the shackles of the conscious mind.
Do you believe in writer’s block? Have you ever worried about running out of ideas?
I’m sure writer’s block exists in the same way that any emotional turbulence or phobia does. I think it’s best avoided by not overly forcing it. If the work really, really isn’t coming I find it best to go for a walk – doing boring housework is often a tonic for itching to get back to the writing. If it’s going particularly badly I might go shopping and spend hours walking round Tesco looking at stuff.
Don’t ask me why – but it works for me. So if you ever see me acting slightly suspiciously in a supermarket you’ll know I’m not having a great writing day. I used to worry about running out of ideas in the early days but I’ve realised that they aren’t a finite thing. New ideas or ways with dealing with an existing idea pop into your head all the time and often when you least expect it. I think the best advice on both these things is, don’t panic – it will come!
Do you work well with deadlines?
Pretty much. I used to work in television so I’m fairly used to working to deadlines as long as they’re reasonable. Sometimes I think they can even help you by concentrating the mind.
Who or what is your greatest influence and why?
I don’t think I could pinpoint one single thing and say, that’s it. It’s more like a patchwork. The houseful of books I grew up with – including dusty Victorian classics such as ‘The Waterbabies,’ and ‘Treasure Island’ as well as books of nursery rhymes and fairy tales.
Later, discovering writers such as Graham Greene, Maggie O’Farrell, Donna Tartt and Ian McEwan. Films are a huge influence and I love the work of David Lynch and Guillermo del Toro. Weirdly, I find film scores quite helpful. They can often expertly spell out a mood in a film and that’s something I take into my writing. I know it’s going well when I can hear the score in my head.
If you could only keep one book which one would it be and why?
Can I cheat and ask for the complete works of Shakespeare – because everything I would ever need to know would be in there.
You’ve been on many ‘Top Books for 2015’ lists, does this excite you; give you the motivation to write more or make you feel a heavy weight of expectation?
When it does happen of course it’s thrilling and everyone is so pleased for you as well which is lovely. But in terms of other writing I’m not sure how much impact it has. I have a feeling that with writing, each book or short story you are beginning all over again. That’s how I feel anyway.
How have you suffered for your art?
Oh, that’s a funny question! Writing is not always easy and it’s not always fun but I wouldn’t go so far as to label it ‘suffering.’ People in war zones suffer. The worst it gets for me is feeling a plot point isn’t working or a character refuses to live. Then, I’m afraid it’s my husband that’s more likely to suffer.
Various authors – particularly Joanne Harris – have recently been very outspoken about the low pay authors receive for their work, appearances etc. What are your feelings on the money-in-art issue?
I think people need to make livings and what writers get paid doesn’t always reflect that. Many, many writers hold down jobs, run businesses etc etc alongside their writing. But on the other end of the spectrum it’s also a wider issue, if the only people that can write prolifically are those that can afford to do it already we are not going to end up with a very varied world picture in literature.
What best advice would you give to someone starting out in writing?
Trust your gut instinct. That the writing you do that feels slightly exposing, or weird is the stuff that has a spark. One of the best pieces of advice I had was read contemporary fiction. Not only do you plug into the contemporary zeitgeist you support your fellow (living!) authors. Above all – and the hardest one sometimes – keep the faith. Keep the faith with the page.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m hopefully on the home straight of my second novel. It’s a coming of age tale with a healthy dose of the supernatural. Mostly I’ve loved writing it but there have been a few plunges into despair. Luckily my husband is around to remind me it was exactly the same with the first one. I’m beginning to realise it will always probably be the same.
The Girl in the Red Coat is out now.