Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending Huddersfield Literature Festival‘s ‘A Conversation with…’ Kate Atkinson. Author of Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and the Jackson Brodie series, she has a new book published, Life after Life, of which this appearance made up part of the book tour.
It was an interesting interview – with Kate only speaking briefly about herself, concentrating more on the book she had written. As a result, it was difficult to get a sense of the person, Kate Atkinson. Instead I came away with more information about the book: main characters and plot points rather than how it was written. She did confess to spending some hours in a reference library, commenting how such places no longer exist due to the instant gratification of google.
She also spoke a lot about the London Blitz, it being a significant aspect of the novel, whereupon her protagonist – who is born, then dies and is born again several times over – realises she holds in her hands the power to change the future. This is possibly where the intrigue factor appealed to me: apparently in the opening of the book the main character kills Hitler – and the story is a telling of how, and why, this event occurs.
Kate Atkinson admits that she writes for herself, that she isn’t really conscious of ‘the reader’ whilst writing and that she hates drafting novels so much that she rewrites as she goes! She did admit that, of all the books she has written, she had to have a better understanding of the reader in this case, because of the repetition of the birth, life and death of the character and the delicate issue of the London Blitz. In this book she didn’t intend to be playful with the reader, but that she hoped that the emotional engagement she felt when writing it helped to create itself on the page and demonstrate the intense period that was 58 days of bombing in London.
Despite questions from the audience about how and where she writes, it was difficult to get a sense of who Kate Atkinson really is. She was somewhat vague about her answers when it came to anything remotely personal. When questioned about how she creates characters, she was insistent that she didn’t believe characters appeared on the page fully formed, but admitted she couldn’t sketch out her own characters and that they came like magic to her as she was writing. Asked if she would ever return to Crime Writing she shrugged and answered that she didn’t really believe in genres: she writes what she wants and doesn’t really see a need to go back to crime. Disappointing, then, for all those Jackson Brodie fans.
I did buy the book, if only to have it signed. Interestingly, she accidentally signed it ‘Katherine Atkinson’ instead of Kate – being distracted by my own shortening of the name we share. I managed to catch a word with her publisher and asked what it was about Kate’s first book that convinced her to publish it – after some banalities about agents, editors and the need to love the novel as a publishing house – I discovered that it was Kate’s voice that had captured the publishers heart. ‘It’s unique,’ she said, and a part of me bought the book just to see what that voice might sound like.
It’s a writing workshop and another ‘In Conversation with…’ this evening. It’s Joanne Harris tonight, and I was assured by some fellow audience members that she is much more personable and will likely talk more about herself and her writing rather than just plugging her latest book.