Saturday 3 February 2018

A Conversation With Katherine Clements

Katherine Clement's is editor of Historia, the online magazine of the Historical Writers’ Association, and is a member of the HWA committee. She is a member of the Society of Authors and authors’ collective the Prime Writers and is an occasional contributor to Northern Soul. She is currently Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Manchester University.

Katherine's critically acclaimed debut novel, The Crimson Ribbon, was published in 2014 and her second, The Silvered Heart, in 2015. Her work has been compared to the likes of Sarah Waters and Daphne du Maurier. Her third novel, The Coffin Path, is published on 8th February 2018.

Maybe you've heard tales about Scarcross Hall, the house on the old coffin path that winds from village to moor top. They say there's something up here, something evil.

Mercy Booth isn't afraid. The moors and Scarcross are her home and lifeblood. But, beneath her certainty, small things are beginning to trouble her. Three ancient coins missing from her father's study, the shadowy figure out by the gatepost, an unshakeable sense that someone is watching.

When a stranger appears seeking work, Mercy reluctantly takes him in. As their stories entwine, this man will change everything. She just can't see it yet.

'Spine-tingling... the scariest ghost story I have read in a long time' Barbara Erskine

Greenacre Writers is very pleased to be kicking off The Coffin Path, blog tour and welcome the extremely talented Katherine Clements to today's A Conversation With... An eerie and compelling ghost story set on the dark wilds of the Yorkshire moors. This gothic tale will weave its way into your imagination and chill you to the bone. We wish Katherine much writing success with her third published novel.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I used to write as a child, but life took over and it wasn’t until my early 30s that I picked up my pen again. I dabbled for a few years, taking evening classes and making false starts, struggling with confidence. Then, an insightful friend encouraged me to enter a short story competition. That story was shortlisted, which gave me the boost I needed to take my writing seriously. The real turning point came in 2008 when I attended an Arvon course. There I found the confidence and encouragement to make a start on the novel I’d been thinking about for years. I came home inspired and determined to give it my best shot. It took another four years, and about seven drafts, but that book became my debut novel, The Crimson Ribbon. Along the way I entered, and eventually won, a few writing competitions, and the manuscript of my novel was longlisted in the inaugural Mslexia Novel Competition in 2011. I got an agent in 2012 and after that things moved pretty quickly. In December 2012 I signed a three-book contract with Headline. The Coffin Path is the third book of that deal. After that – who knows?

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

Interesting question! I write historical fiction and I think a good historical novelist can entertain, educate and enlighten readers. There is something of the historian in me but I believe that novelists can go where historians cannot, making history accessible and relevant for a modern audience who might not pick up a non-fiction book. Hilary Mantel says it better than I ever could: “So what can historical fiction bring to the table? It doesn’t need to flatter. It can challenge and discomfort. If it's done honestly, it doesn't say, ‘believe this’ – it says ‘consider this.’ It can sit alongside the work of historians – not offering an alternative truth, or even a supplementary truth – but offering insight.”

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

Many of my characters are deeply flawed and have some very unappealing traits! Some readers absolutely hated Lizzie in The Crimson Ribbon. She’s a very selfish, manipulative character, but I recognised and understood her contradictory nature – there is good in her too and that’s what my protagonist, Ruth, clings to. Similarly, Kate, the main character in The Silvered Heart, is spoilt, snobbish, self-obsessed and judgemental, but I adore her! I have a soft spot for Sir Richard Willis in the same book. He’s a terrible cad, but was so much fun to write.

It’s all about understanding a character’s motives. I’ve tried to write a truly unpleasant character but it didn’t work for me: they seemed clichéd and one-dimensional. Of course, it can be done, but most people are a mixture of likeable and not-so-likeable traits; surely our job as novelists is to create realistic, multifaceted characters.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?
This is a tricky question because it depends on the definition of diversity. I think there is currently impetus to repopulate the past with the stories of people that are missing from the traditional narrative of western history written by ‘white middle-class men’. That can only be a good thing, but I think novelists, myself included, have been doing this for years.

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

Right now, New Orleans. I’m working on a project based on the early colonial history of that city and am longing to return. It’s like nowhere else.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I’m tempted to say Wolf Hall – it’s such a masterpiece – but I think Fingersmith by Sarah Waters is more my style.

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

Read. Write. Edit. Repeat. Read your work aloud. I spent many years too afraid to write anything at all because I was scared I wouldn’t be good enough. Don’t do that.

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

As mentioned above, I’m currently working on a novel (or possibly a trilogy) about New Orleans. It’s a big change for me, in terms of location, historical period and challenging history. I’m still researching and planning, so it’s early days – too early to say anything more!

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Jane Eyre. I was a precocious reader and devoured Charlotte Brontë’s classic quite young. Much of the nuance was lost on me at the time, but I cared deeply about Jane and, even at that young age, found much that resonated. She and the novel, have endured. Since I moved back up north a few years ago I’ve spent time in Haworth and have visited Brontë Country a lot while researching for The Coffin Path. It’s a romantic view of the moorland landscape, but all the Brontë characters (or perhaps Charlotte, Emily and Anne) are always in mind.

The Coffin Path is published by Headline.
Follow Katherine on Twitter: @KL_Clements

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