Today, I’m delighted to welcome Kate Evans to Virtual Book Club, an interview series in which I put questions to authors about their latest releases. If you’d like to pose a question, you’ll have the opportunity to do so at the end.
Kate is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her book, Pathways Through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment, was published by Sense Publishers in 2013. The first two novels in her crime series set in Scarborough, The Art of the Imperfect and The Art of Survival were published in 2014 and 2015 respectively. She has created word-based installations for local art festivals, including one inspired by the life and work of Edith Sitwell. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Sussex University and teaches on the Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Hull, Scarborough campus. She is trained as a psychotherapeutic counsellor and runs workshops about bringing creative writing into the therapeutic space. She loves walking by the sea and afternoon tea.
Welcome Kate, and congratulations. The Art of the Imperfect was long-listed for the Crime Writers’ Association UK First Debut Dagger Award 2015, which is quite a recommendation.
Yes, it was a great pat on the back. It was good too that it was open to indie authors like me where other awards I investigated weren’t.
That’s very true. Even when competitions are open to indies, it is not always feasible to enter. So often, the publisher of shortlisted books has to contribute to the prize pot, and the amounts aren’t insignificant. But it’s fantastic to see indies doing so well where there’s a level playing field.
So perhaps you can take us back in time and start by telling us how you came to be a writer.
I am one of those people who can’t remember not ‘making things up’ to entertain myself. I do recall praise for a story written for an English class at school when I was about 13 set me thinking that I might actually be good at this. When it came to deciding on a career path, I chose journalism and I did some initial training and work placements, but I was far too dreamy to get anywhere. During my 20s and 30s I had paid work in adult education and went abroad with a voluntary organisation. I wrote every moment I had spare. I produced non-fiction articles (some of which got published) and novels (none of which got published). Things changed when I hit 40 and was felled by depression. Writing became part of what saved my life, along with therapy and good friendships. I discovered poetry and I was no longer so focused on publication. In 2013 I had a non-fiction book, Pathways Through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment, taken up by Sense Publishers as well as some articles appearing in academic journals. This and finding a vibrant writing community on moving to Scarborough, helped me to build my confidence again. I inherited a bit of money in 2013 which allowed me to return to my novels and start my journey towards indie publishing.
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So would you say that you feel driven to write?
I wouldn’t say I feel driven to write because I love it so. Writing and my writing journal are like having a friend always near. I know I’ve always entertained myself with stories. I didn’t have the easiest of childhoods and story-telling was what pulled me through. I also know that writing got me through my depression. I write pretty much every day and, for most occasions or emotional states, writing is my first instinct.
You are writing a series of crime novels set in Scarborough. (Readers are recommended to start with the first.) What can readers expect?
My novels are character driven and are told from the perspective of three people, only one is a police officer. What I’m interested in is what motivates people to do what they do, the psychological workings which are behind words and actions. There is the puzzle of the crime which I hope the readers will enjoy trying to solve, but essentially I hope they will become engaged with the characters and caught up in their stories. My novels are certainly not police procedural nor action based. The landscape of Scarborough and the sea are an important element, becoming almost another character in the narrative.
Are they inspired by any real life events?
I live with depression and am a trained psychotherapeutic counsellor and I have brought those experiences into the stories. The first three novels, The Art of the Imperfect, The Art of Survival, and (to be published Autumn 2016) The Art of Breathing, follow Hannah’s journey through depression. The first novel, The Art of the Imperfect, is based in the therapy world which I know very well, however, I will not be drawn on how close to life the events depicted are!
Khaled Hosseini says that he feels he is discovering a story rather than creating it. Are you an avid plotter or do you start with a single idea and let the novel develop organically?
Several years ago I would have said I let the novel develop organically. I am a great fan of ‘free writing’ as defined by Nathalie Goldberg in her book Writing Down the Bones; basically letting go of rules and allowing yourself to throw words onto the page without worrying about ‘making sense’. I find it a great way to get myself started and of coming up with ideas which are raw and quirky. However, having chosen the crime genre – partly because I love reading it myself and believe it to be very versatile, partly because as an indie I wanted something relatively easy to market – I am becoming more and more aware of the shaping of a crime novel. I am noticing how the plotter in me is coming in much earlier in the process. For this third novel, I find the plotter and the organic writer are working more hand-in-hand than previously.
Do you feel under pressure to make your main characters likable?
In Hannah, I have apparently created a character who is difficult to love. It was not a deliberate decision, I just wanted to describe an experience of depression from the inside. For some people this is very challenging. At first I worried about this and did feel some pressure to explain Hannah or make her easier to like. But now I’m more sanguine. I feel I have portrayed depression in a way which will chime with at least some people and, hopefully, support them in understanding the condition.
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You’ve mentioned worry. How do you cope with the self-doubt that seems to plague the creative process?
It’s hard. I do love to write and generally, as long as I can keep thoughts of the audience out of the picture, I potter along quite happily. However, eventually my intention turns to presenting my work to an audience, perhaps through publication or I also perform some of my poetry, and that’s when self-doubt and shame can take hold. Then I need the support of fellow writers. Not just people to say, yay, you’re wonderful, but also people I can trust who will give me constructive feedback. In addition, since indie publishing, I have found positive reviews a balm for self-doubt, though I’ve also had less than encouraging ones and they’re not always so easy to swallow.
How do you feel when you have finished writing a novel? Are there any particular characters that you have found it hard to let go of?
I am proud of what I have done with The Art of the Imperfect and The Art of Survival, both of the writing and of getting them out there. I also feel I am improving as a writer and as an indie publisher. I MAKE myself stop for moments and savour what I have done, as it is too easy to get overwhelmed by what I have not managed to do and what there is still left to do. I am writing a series in which many of the characters recur. I am really enjoying this as it allows me to follow and develop the stories of the individual characters. I am not ready to let go of any of them any time soon.
What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?
I suppose the greatest advantage would be that my work is out there. I didn’t want to die without having published the novels I wanted to write and now I won’t. Over this last 18 months, I have also discovered (through social media) a lovely group of women writers, many of whom are indies, who are encouraging, supportive and a mine of useful information.
On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors miss out on?
I am a writer, I want to write, and being an indie means I have to put time, effort and energy into things other than writing. I have to: project manage; trouble-shoot; design; format; market. For The Art of Survival I had to format the manuscript three times – once for a local printer to do a short print-run; once for the paperback on Createspace; once for Kindle. It’s not hard as such, but it all takes time and head-space which I would rather be giving over to my writing.
You’ve mentioned that you formatted your books yourself, something which many self-publishers might outsource. Which professional services won’t you skimp on?
I think it’s important as an indie to put a ceiling on what I want to spend per book. I hate it, but I know I have the formatting skills for what I need to do and I manage when it comes to marketing so I would rather spend money elsewhere. I always get a professional proofreader. I can edit with the help of my trusty critiquing writer friends, but there is no way I can proofread 65,000 words of my own work. For The Art of Survival I was lucky to get a free proofread which meant I could afford to pay for copy editing. The local printer also threw in cover design which was far better than I could have done myself. So all in all, The Art of Survival is a better ‘product’.For The Art of Breathing I would like to find a way of paying for both copy editing and proofreading, plus I aim to get a designer to do covers for all three which mean they look like a series.
And, of course, presentation is so important, especially when you are trying to persuade book shops to stock your work.
I was very lucky to have a signing in WH Smith for The Art of Survival. This was purely because of local networking and contacts. Generally I haven’t found the large book stores very open to indies but have had a fab response from small independent shops.
In an interview about self-publishing, asked about advice he has for fellow authors, Hugh Howey recommends patience and says that you can’t lose if you combine happiness with low expectations. How do react to that? Is there any advice you would add?
Absolutely, I wish I’d read this before I published The Art of the Imperfect. My expectations – both of myself and of the potential for finding readers – were far too high, and I spent far too much time dealing with my disappointment which led to crushing self-doubt. The publication of The Art of Survival was much more satisfying because I kept my expectations low and concentrated on what I love (and do best) the writing. I think to be an indie, it’s useful to be pretty organised and be able to set and stick to deadlines. I’ve heard traditionally published authors saying they need contracts and agents on their backs to get going or finished. Well we don’t have that incentive, we have to live with the knowledge that we’re the only people who really care whether our books are out there or not. Plus, in my experience of selling doing talks and events, has been a must. For me, social media has been a good way of raising my profile and meeting great, supportive people, but I have sold most of my books through face-to-face encounters. I would also say, forget about the big book chains, concentrate on the local, independent ones. Finally, remember that getting a literary agent and being traditionally published is far more down to luck than quality of writing and we are fortunate to be in a world where indie is a feasible option.
Finally, can I ask what you’re working on at the moment?
The third in the series, The Art of Breathing. This novel is based in the academia, another field I know pretty well as both my parents were academics and I have worked for universities. It is also a homage to DL Sayers, a fascinating woman and writer.
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