Sunday 5 March 2017

A Conversation with Kate Hamer

Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire and has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. Her bestselling novel The Girl in the Red Coat was a no 3. Sunday Times bestseller and shortlisted for the Costa First Book Award, the Bookseller Industry Awards Debut Fiction Book of the Year, the John Creasey New Blood Dagger and Wales Book of the Year. The Doll Funeral is her second novel. 

The dark and glittering new novel from The Sunday Times Bestselling author Kate Hamer is as gripping as it is gorgeously written - the perfect second book from the author of The Girl in the Red Coat.

My name is Ruby. I live with Barbara and Mick. They’re not my real parents, but they tell me what to do, and what to say. I’m supposed to say that the bruises on my arms and the black eye came from falling down the stairs. But there are things I won’t say. I won’t tell them I’m going to hunt for my real parents. I don’t say a word about Shadow, who sits on the stairs, or the Wasp Lady I saw on the way to bed.

When Ruby discovers she is adopted she is filled with joy, elated that the parents who have treated her so badly aren’t her blood relations. The hunt begins for her real mother and father but dark and disturbing secrets are unearthed along the way.

There is a magical dream-like quality to Kate Hamer's second novel, which reminded me of Kate Atkinson's early novels...The Doll Funeral is the story of a separated mother and daughter, and the last line is heart-stoppingly beautiful.’
            - Alice O’Keeffe, The Bookseller, Editor’s Choice *****

Soon Ruby finds herself with a ragged group of teenagers fending for themselves. Thinking she has found refuge, they gradually reveal secrets of their own and Ruby realizes that being with them is more dangerous than she could ever have imagined. 

We'd like to thank Kate for taking part in A Conversation With... and wish her huge success with her latest novel, a haunting and heartbreaking story of love, loss and family.

Tell us of your journey as a writer 

It started really young. I think from about aged seven I was writing stories and diligently illustrating them then stapling the papers together into home made books. I carried on writing through one form or another: diaries, short stories, ideas, fragments pretty much the whole time as I was growing up. But when it came to studying I had a bit of a blip – the ambition to be a writer just seemed too bizarre and otherworldly to countenance so instead of studying English Lit, which was my passion, for reasons I still can’t quite explain I did History of Art at uni. In the subsequent years working in radio and television I continued to write when I could and I realise now that working in the media is definitely a form of story telling so I was moving ever closer! Then about six years ago a few life changing things happened and I thought, it’s really now or never. I’d always, always wanted to tackle writing a novel – it just seemed as if it would be like going on the most exciting and incredible journey – so I began The Girl in the Red Coat.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it? 

Lord, that’s an interesting question. I’ve not been asked that before. It made me remember the line in Stephen King’s excellent book On Writing, where he exhorts the writer to ‘tell the truth,’ whatever version of the truth that may be – science fiction, romance, horror or mix of all those. That’s something I strive for – an emotional truth. Aside from the satisfaction and privilege of doing something creative with my days (which has its highs and lows) I think my favourite thing is the sense that I’m connecting with readers. I do loads of events and it’s partly because of that. I’ve had some hilarious/heartbreaking/moving/joyful conversations with readers because we all have the common ground of sharing a passion for words and stories, and that’s a strong bond.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with? 

Yes, that’s such an interesting one. I certainly enjoy creating characters that are all shades of grey rather than black and white, what’s the old adage, ‘every villain is a hero in their own story.’ Without giving too much away there’s a character called Lewis in The Doll Funeral that I ended up empathising with a great deal, despite his many flaws. Life is complex and I hope to reflect that in the characters that people my books.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters? 

Well, I write books that are centered around women because that’s just what comes naturally to me. Talking to young people I find they are still longing for fiction where women are seen as having their own stories; that women, like everyone else, have flawed and difficult life journeys and are neither victims nor warrior princesses.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why? 

That’s a difficult one, my instinct is to choose somewhere warm and fascinating with delicious food but that would be counter productive. My desk faces a blank wall rather than a window and really the plainer and more boring the surroundings the better I can concentrate on the writing. It may be a cliché but it allows me to concentrate on what’s going on inside rather than outside. So, reluctantly, I may have to pick some kind of tundra, or an estate where everything looks the same, somewhere that is not too warm or sunny, does not have a beach or tempting restaurants. Actually, just somewhere with a blank wall!

What is the one book you wish you had written? 

There are just so many. A few I’d pick out – Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. It seems to have everything – it’s important, has gripping subject matter, is beautifully written and all wrapped up in a perfect structure. Another one I would love to have written is Joanne Harris’ Chocolat – there’s just glory in those pages.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers? 

Write the story that you’re passionate about, the one that burns your heart up rather than the one you think people might want. Trust your instincts. Read, read, read. Read contemporary work as well as the classics. It’s good to get to know what’s around. Root for your fellow writers, they are an amazingly supportive and lovely bunch.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading? 

I’m writing another novel. It’s dark again (surprise, surprise!) about that time in life, when you’re about seventeen, when things can fly off kilter and go very badly wrong. It has three main characters in it and I’m already a little bit in love with them all.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why? 

The introduction for one of the most terrifying characters in fiction as far as I’m concerned is Tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. As a child I would read the beginning of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island over and over again compulsively. Actually I was waiting for the same thing every time I read, the moment in Chapter Three (entitled ‘The Black Spot’) when Blind Pew appeared, tapping his way through the fog to the Admiral Benbow inn. The narrator, young Jim Hawkins has been told out to look for the bearer of ‘the black spot.’ Rereading this piece in Chapter Three of the book I was amazed at how short it is. In my memory the action plays out for pages and pages like some slow motion nightmare. When Blind Pew thrusts the black spot into the hands of a sea captain, staying at the Benbow, he promptly dies. The character of Blind Pew seared himself on my consciousness and I think his invention is a kind of genius on Stevenson’s part.

Thank you to Faber & Faber for the review copy.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @Kate_Hamer

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