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Virtual Book Club: Kathy Shuker talks about her novel, Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Kathy Shuker to Virtual Book Club, an interview series in which I put questions to authors about their latest releases.

Kathy was born and raised in the north west of England. She trained as a physiotherapist but soon had to give the work up due to a back injury. Subsequently studying design, she worked as a freelance artist, painting landscapes, seascapes and interiors in oils and watercolours, exhibiting, supplying galleries and teaching. Starting to write during this time, she soon became hooked, now writes full-time and is the author of two published novels to date: Deep Water, Thin Ice and Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts which are both available as paperbacks and as eBooks across multiple platforms.

Kathy, you’ve obviously had a roundabout route to writing. So what drew you towards it?

My love affair with books started very young and I read endlessly. I was lucky to grow up in a house where books were in abundance. I was also very imaginative, loved to draw and was fascinated with the use of language and with foreign languages. It never crossed my mind that I could earn a living out of my creative talents, such as they were, so I trained as a physiotherapist. It seemed like a sensible career! I specialised in treating people with acute medical conditions, especially strokes, and met some amazing people at that time who coped with their problems in a quite humbling way. But I soon damaged my back with all the lifting and had to rethink my career. I then worked as an artist and enjoyed some success but it didn’t fully satisfy my creative drive. I started writing novels and everything seemed to click into place, bringing my love of language and my creativity together.

Who was it that gave you your first encouragement as a writer?

My first two novels were learning experiences and I never pursued them. With my third I found a literary agent who loved it and offered me a contract. Her reaction to that novel gave me that first endorsement that every writer needs – I was euphoric. Unfortunately she was unable to find a publisher but the feedback for my writing from the editors was excellent and buoyed me up to continue.

If you were trying to describe your writing to someone who hasn’t read anything by you before, what would you say?

I think of them as ‘people’ books. That’s not to say that they don’t have a strong storyline but that the characters and their relationships and motivations drive the books forward. There is always at least one mystery at the heart of the novels and a couple of sub-plots weaving in and out of the main story. I’m particularly intrigued by families, by the things they tell each other and especially by the secrets they keep or the stories they fabricate to hide the truth. We are all affected by our families, by the way we are brought up and the experiences to which our families expose us, for both good and bad, and we carry it with us to some extent – and perhaps more than we sometimes realise – for the rest of our lives. These issues tend to keep cropping up in my stories, as do art, music and wildlife which are particular interests of mine.

Kathy Shuker Silent Ghosts Painted Faces cover.

Click here to look inside or buy Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts

Your latest novel is Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts. Can you tell us a little about it?

It’s about Terri Challoner, an art curator, who is being aggressively stalked by her ex-boyfriend. She takes a job curating the Retrospective of an infamously bad-tempered and reclusive portrait painter who lives in Provence. The setting is idyllic, but the household is strained and difficult. Something happened there which no-one is prepared to talk about and finding out what becomes a strangely personal quest for Terri.

Is the setting central to the novel?

I have been lucky enough to have visited Provence several times and the beautiful and remote mountain regions where the novel is set felt like the obvious background for the story, especially given the artistic heritage of the region and the many artists who have lived and worked there. The atmosphere and extreme heat during the summer there also offer an echoing counterpoint to the tension of the story.

You obviously have experience of the art world. Were there any real life events that inspired you?

Yes, but they had nothing to so with the art world. My paternal grandfather – who died before I was born – remarried after the death of his first wife. My father was the youngest child of that union. I remember him telling me once when I was a child that his mother had always fretted that she was not as special as her husband’s first wife, that she always felt compared. Whether it was true or not or simply in her imagination I shall never know but the sadness of her story stayed with me, grew and developed until it became something else…and Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts was born.

‘I’ve always said there are two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. Architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up.’ (George R R Martin) Which are you?

I’m a gardener. I do have a broad idea of the plot and the main characters before I start but, once writing, it all starts to shift and change in a very organic way. I’ve tried to be more organised because I write quite slowly this way and rewrite over and over, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the only way I can do it.

Kathy Shuker Deep Water Thing Ice cover

Click here to look inside or buy Deep Water, Thin Ice

Do any of your books have dedications?

My first novel, Deep Water, Thin Ice, is dedicated to my husband, David, because if it weren’t for him I’d have given up writing years ago; he has been immensely supportive in every possible way. Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts is dedicated to my late brother, Pete, who died of cancer some years ago now. He had just fallen in love with Provence when he was diagnosed and had so many plans to spend time there. It felt obvious to dedicate it to him in the circumstances. (The use of a character called Peter was coincidental, however.)

You’ve mentioned that you had an agent. What influenced your decision to become an indie author?

I parted with my agent when we differed on the direction my writing should take and, despite further interest and glowing reactions to my writing, struggled to find another. It has become so hard to get an agent now and, without one, almost impossible to be picked up by a traditional publishing house. With the advent of digital publishing I decided to produce Deep Water, Thin Ice as an eBook and see what reaction it got. The response was so good that I went ahead with publishing it in paperback too and then, some time later, I published Silent Faces, Painted Ghosts in both formats too. It’s wonderful to know that the stories are finally being read and rewarding to hear how much they have been enjoyed.

Some writers need silence, others like the buzz of a coffee shop, the rumble of a train or their favourite music. Which type are you?

I live in the country and I work best at home with just the sound of birdsong and the occasional tractor in the background. If I tried to work in a coffee shop, I’d get nothing done: I’m an incorrigible people-watcher.

How do you cope with the self-doubt that plagues the creative process?

Not very well! (Back to the supportive husband again…) But maybe we need the self-doubt in the same way that actors say they perform best when they’re really nervous. Perhaps the feeling of being on the edge sharpens our thoughts and our creative muscle. And all those self-doubts and insecurities might help to inform the characters too – at least I hope so!

What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?

I still paint occasionally and I have a keen interest in music, especially contemporary folk music – British Isles and French Canadian mainly. I play guitar, mandola and fiddle and sing a bit too. Of course I love to read too, pretty eclectically.

Kathy Shuker (portrait)

What are you working on at the moment?

My WIP follows a woman whose long marriage to her childhood sweetheart has just folded and who returns to the village where they grew up and where, six years previously, their youngest daughter disappeared. They had left, desperate for a fresh start but she now realises that she can’t move forward until she has gone back. And going back will raise more questions than it answers.

Intrigued? To find out more about Kathy:

Visit  her website, like her on Facebook  or find her on Goodreads.


Remember, if you enjoyed this post please share it. If there’s anything else you’d like to ask Kathy, leave a comment.

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  1. I love Kathy’s work, having read and thoroughly enjoyed both her novels, and it’s nice to be able to get a bit of background on her journey as a writer. I hope this interview inspires readers to pick up her books; they’re both beautifully written with great characters and intriguing plots! Thanks, ladies!

    Comment by Lorraine Devon Wilke on August 20, 2015 at 6:38 pm
  2. Thank you so much, Lorraine, for your kind words. Knowing that my writing is being enjoyed is very precious – and also helps me through my struggles with the WIP. 🙂

    Comment by Kathy Shuker on August 21, 2015 at 5:56 am
  3. Excellent interview. I’ve read and enjoyed both of Kathy’s published novels and it’s interesting to read so much background, although I find it hard to believe that such well-structured plots can grow naturally from the gardening approach!

    Comment by B J Burton on August 21, 2015 at 7:30 am
  4. Thank you BJ. But maybe those ‘well-structured plots’ you so kindly describe would be written more quickly if I could only plan better!

    Comment by Kathy Shuker on August 22, 2015 at 7:46 am