Saturday, 2 November 2013

The PINK SOFA welcomes Kate Long


Kate Long and I met on Twitter. Only I didn't realise who she was, as she tweets under a different name. We bonded over our shared love of wildlife: voles and hedgehogs in her case, Roman Snails in mine. It was only when she started tweeting links to her 3rd book, Bad Mothers United, that I made the connection. I have bought and read all her books - they are brilliant. So it is a great pleasure to welcome her to the sofa. I asked Kate to describe her writing route:

''Looking back, I can’t remember what it was about the story-idea of a teenage girl getting pregnant and battling with her mother that lodged so firmly in my mind. It was 1998, I had a new baby in the house and I barely had the energy to dress myself in the mornings. Yet it was during one of the long, sleep-deprived nights that I managed to sketch out the bare plot for my first published novel, The Bad Mother’s Handbook. I still have that set of notes somewhere, scribbled inside the pages of a book on breastfeeding.

Perhaps it was because becoming a mum had been so fraught with difficulties. I’d suffered two unexplained miscarriages and undergone horrid fertility treatment. Experiences like that go through you and colour you forever, and, post-baby, I found myself drawn to explore motherhood in fiction. So I imagined a schoolgirl, Charlotte, bright, ambitious and university-bound but nevertheless falling unexpectedly pregnant and having to navigate her way through the consequences. 

Then there’d be her mother, angry, thirtysomething Karen, who had herself dropped out of Sixth Form for the same reason seventeen years earlier. And, overseeing the family, eighty year old Nan, whose own journey to motherhood would have taken her through the route of secret, private adoption, with much heartache along the way. As the story developed, I became caught up by in other issues too: how had life changed for women over the last few decades? Did having more choices simply mean more pressure of expectation? Why did we repeat our parents’ destructive patterns of behaviour? How could we break out of unhappy family scripts? The more the characters told me, the more I wanted to investigate further their complex dynamics.

I’d come to writing via a lonely path. When I very first tried my hand, in the mid-Nineties, there was (for me) no internet, no online forums where I could ask advice, no Google for my background research, no time-swallowing social media. There was simply me, a freezing box room and my old Amstrad PCW9256. This machine was so basic that you had to insert a Start of Day disk every time you switched it on, as it was incapable of retaining instructions between sessions. Even the attached printer was a cranky dot-matrix contraption which took two minutes to print each page and couldn’t cope with continuous feed.

Nevertheless, this is where I produced my first published work. For the next ten years I settled into a pattern where I’d always have a full-length work on the go, but alongside that I’d be producing and sending out short stories, perhaps three or four a year. I wasn’t in those days au fait with e-zines or lit-zines, and I’d sussed early on that women’s magazines are a terrifically hard market, so I sent almost everything off to competitions. That was the only other viable market I knew. As it was, a steady series of comp placings kept me buoyant as I slogged away on the novels.

It was 2000 before I found the time to sit down and write The Bad Mother’s Handbook in full. I managed to do it only with the aid of an Arts Council Grant which helped pay for childcare. Because by then I’d spent so long considering the plot and characters, the novel flooded out almost faster than I could type and I was able to complete the bulk of it within eight weeks. That taught me something about the way I need to work, which is that thinking/preparation-time is vital for me, and if I try and begin writing without it, I quickly dry up.

The novel was accepted in 2002 by Picador, came out two years later and did very well, reaching the Sunday Times bestseller lists and making Book at Bedtime on Radio 4. Later on it was adapted as an ITV drama. I was bemused, though, to see myself portrayed in the press as an “overnight success” and a “kitchen-table scribbler” who wrote “if there was nothing on TV”, when in reality I’d had ten years of slogging to find my style and voice.

Since then I’ve had six more books published, the latest being the sequel to The Bad Mother’s Handbook, Bad Mothers United which I wrote because so many readers emailed asking for it. I’d never imagined a follow-up, so that was a learning curve in itself. But as soon as I started planning out the narrative, their voices came back as strongly as ever, telling me how each thread would develop and how their concerns had changed. Because the book had been on TV, I even had moments where I felt the actors themselves were leaning over my shoulder and watching what came next. I do like to think they were all fairly satisfied in the end by their individual story arcs and resolutions. More to the point, the readers who’d begged to know what happened to Charlotte, Karen and Nan seemed happy.

Meanwhile I’m currently on the last chapter of my work-in-progress which is a tale of two sisters, one of whom is afflicted by extreme beauty. The novel covers eating disorders, sibling rivalry, family secrets, infidelity and friendship, and will be out next spring. You can get a sneak preview here of the images I’ve been using for inspiration: http://www.pinterest.com/volewriter/your-beautiful-sister/

So where next? I haven’t ruled out a third Bad Mother book, but again it’ll need time to percolate. I’d like to see Charlotte-the-teen grown up with a teenager of her own – then she’ll know what she put her own mother through – and I feel mum Karen could be on the verge of something really dramatic. She is, after all, entering her prime. Who knows? She’ll no doubt tell me when she’s ready. My pen is poised for instruction.''

You can buy Bad Mothers United here: http://tinyurl.com/cjjlytq
Come and say hello on Twitter: https://twitter.com/volewriter
And last but not least – if you’re into wildlife, check out my nothing-to-do-with-books nature blog: http://staggsbrook.blogspot.co.uk/

Thanks Kate ... please hang around - I'm sure people have lots to ask. Actually, I'm going to start the ball rolling: there is this myth on social media sites that if you are published by a ''big'' publisher, they have marketing people to do all the promo work for you. Is this true?



34 comments:

  1. Very much a myth! These days writers at all levels have to do a lot of their own publicity. The platforms are there, so why not use them? Internet access has made the process much more democratic. And it's wonderful to be able to connect with readers directly. For shy writers, social media can be a gentle introduction to the process of putting your books (and yourself) out there - less daunting than approaching a bookshop or library in person or standing up at a festival and giving a talk. I think writers really benefit from engaging directly with their market.-

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    1. Thanks, Kate. I'm going to do some blogs on publicity, so good to hear from ''the other side''.

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  2. Kate, I read recently that there's no such thing as an overnight success when it comes to writing, and you have confirmed this here. What you've also shown me is how determined you have to be as a writer - determined, dedicated and prepared to work very hard. You've done all these things. Congratulations on the hard won success. I don't live in the UK, so I don't know the series, but I'll be after them soon! Lovely to 'meet' you on my favourite Saturday blog - and that Pink Sofa is something special isn't it?

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    1. Thank you, Val. Lovely to meet you too! Yes, I served a long apprenticeship but it was enjoyable a lot of the time (if you don't count the rejections). And it got me into the habit of regular writing, which was useful when a contract with a deadline appeared on the table.

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  3. Hi Kate...*waves*...Due to my hiding behind Carol's Pink Sofa, whilst she interviews and entertains...( she'd never know, she rarely cleans behind here )... I've met so many interesting and amazingly talented people, the most recent being yourself Kate.
    I'm quite sure your books will pinch an all too common nerve with many of your readers and, for myself at least, there's nothing more appealing than the shock of realism stabbing you in the heart and twisting the blade to nurture a desperate urgency to read more...and more...
    So, good luck with all you write, Kate, and may your success continue to grow....( I'm off for a shower now...I'm covered in dust )...

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    1. Don't *ever* look behind my sofa, Lynn. - Yes, I think a lot of writing probably begins as a form of therapy, or exorcism, or at the very least the desire to impose control on capricious fate.

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  4. Fascinating blog interview, ladies!

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  5. Fascinating hearing how your first novel 'percolated' for so long, Kate. It certainly visits a number of heart wrenching issues that have touched most families, even if they won't admit to it in public... the stigma does live on. Thanks Carol for introducing me to Kate :-)

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    1. For me it's about building creative pressure. It really helps the momentum of my writing to wait and plan before I write.

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  6. Your new novel sound fascinating, Kate - I look forward to reading that one in time.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your writing experience with us Kate. Your honesty gives hope to us struggling authors. Where's the cake today Carol?

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    1. she scoffed it before I'd even put the post up!! These ''celeb''authors! What are they like!

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    2. I did indeed (she said, brushing the crumbs from off her mink stole).

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  8. Smashing interview, Kate, thanks for talking to us. The Pinterest thing is great! Did you do one for any of your other novels?

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    1. Yes, I've got one for Bad Mothers United/The Bad Mother's Handbook http://www.pinterest.com/volewriter/bank-top-home-of-the-bad-mothers-handbook/
      I think Pinterest is a really useful device for those of us who like to write to visual prompts, and especially if setting is an important element.

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  9. I love the fact you met as wildlife enthusiasts and then Carol realised you were also that great writer! Lovely interview, great books and can't wait for the latest.

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    1. Thank you very much! I do find wildlife sneaks its way into my novels as well (a LOT in the case of Before She Was Mine).

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  10. Kate, I ADORED the first book's movie , after I had become ROBsessed about 2 years ago. I had had no idea it was such a big seller in the UK ....I am so very happy for you. Then I started researching you, as the writer, this past summer. I couldn't wait to get my hands on Bad Mothers United ! I ordered it and had it sent to Connecticut, USA from England and thoroughly enjoyed it ! PLEASE consider a sequel to this book also~ I just "gotta" keep reading about Charlotte, Daniel, and her mom. I now have my 35 year-old (voracious reader) daughter hooked on this book. We both were very sad when the book ended , and were SO ready for the next story. I truly appreciate today's write-up about you, giving me more background on the first book. Now it makes even more sense to know your personal/professional background regarding this series. Thank you again .....and please seriously contemplate another novel for this series.

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    1. What a lovely comment! I'm so glad you're fond of Charlotte, Karen and Daniel because I almost feel as if they're my own family. I think probably the next-book-but-one will be the follow up, and I'll certainly let you know when it's under way. It's also great to hear about mums passing on books to daughters, and vice versa. x

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  11. Kate, that's a really useful - as well as interesting - interview. It shows how much you have to be 'driven' to get the characters and stories out of your head and on to the paper, despite everything that gets in the way.

    It's good to know that persistence pays off - but only if you have the talent in the first place.

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    1. It may be that other writers don't have to 'drive' their characters out the way I do. It's just the process which works for me. Thanks for your comment, Jeannie.

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  12. Kate, your writing route is fascinating, and so encouraging. You've resurrected memories of Amstrad days with Start of Day discs and dot matrix printouts - ugh - but your latest book sounds enthralling. I know it will be immensely readable, as all your books are.

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    1. That's very kind, thank you. Yes, young writers of today have no idea of those pre-internet struggles!

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  13. Your experiences as a successful writer are very encouraging! Your posts are always warm as well as informative. A very welcome combination, Kate,

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  14. What a great story, Kate! It's funny how to the media you appeared to be an overnight success, yet you know how much work and years went into writing that book. Happy to see your hard work paid off for you.

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    1. There was an article in the Telegraph very early on which did its best to make it sound as if I'd almost "accidentally" scribbled a book in the moments where there was nothing on TV. It was so far from the truth it was laughable. I worked for ten years before I got my contract.

      Thanks for your good wishes!

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  15. Good to find out more about you Kate.I loved the Bad Mothers Handbook.I didn't even know there was a sequel.

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    1. Oh, that's nice. Yes, Bad Mothers United picks up three years later and has the same main characters in it. Fun to write as I was very fond of those women!

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  16. We started out with an Amsrad too Kate, but that seems a long time ago now... glad you mentioned Pinterest, been meaning to check that out, just wish there wasn't quite so much still for us to learn. But you do meet such lovely, helpful people on Carol's sofa!

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  17. Great post-very interesting to see how you work. Thanks.

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