Kate Harrison Interview
Posted on 21 April 2005. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to author Kate Harrison about her novels and that elusive first book deal
Tell us something about your background.
I mainly write full length novels – my second book, The Starter Marriage, is published in April 2005, and my first, Old School Ties, was published in Autumn 2003 and was picked for the WH Smith Fresh Talent scheme. I’m just putting the finishing touches to my third novel, due out next year, which is all about whether your childhood dreams have any relevance twenty-five years on. The books sit somewhere between ‘women’s fiction’ and comedy – but probably not chick lit as my characters don’t live in London, don’t work in PR and are almost always married.
But I also write articles, short stories, TV documentary scripts – and would love to write children’s fiction and radio drama. There aren’t quite enough hours in the day, though!
How did you start writing?
I’ve always written – English wasn’t like work at school. I didn’t believe it was possible to become a writer if you hadn’t got a double-barrelled name, or gone to Cambridge. So I left school at 18 and went straight into newspaper journalism, which was excellent training for me: I met so many fascinating people, gained insights into all kinds of different lives. I was also quite shy and having to go out and interview people forced me to become more outgoing.
I made a few attempts at fiction writing, did some evening classes, but journalism involves very anti-social hours. Then I went on a brilliant Arvon Foundation course, and also discovered a writing site, similar to writewords. Sadly it’s now defunct, but encouraged me to write regularly and critique too. Some of my web-friends from that site were at the launch of my first book – I have no doubt that one day I will be at theirs too.
How did you get your first agent/commission?
Once I finished my first book, I tried a few agents, and got about four rejections. I signed up for a weekend’s conference where you get to meet those elusive agents in the flesh. It was a bit discouraging at first, but then I was lucky enough to win the ‘opening to a novel competition’ there – the judges were Piatkus publishers and they wanted to see the full manuscript. Then I submitted to more agents and landed a publishing deal and an agent on the same day a few weeks later… I felt drunk with excitement. One of the best days of my life, without a doubt.
What's the worst thing about writing?
The isolation isn’t great – though I am lucky as I still work four days a week in broadcasting, developing new TV programme ideas, so I still get my fix of office gossip. The waiting for the verdict on a new book is AWFUL because it’s so hard to know whether what you’ve written is any good…
And the best?
I love creating characters and setting them against the odds, seeing them survive or fall. It’s a privilege to be published, to be able to share those stories. The satisfaction of ‘having written’ is, in my view, sometimes more fun than the actual writing…
Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences and if/how this affects/influences your writing
It’s still early days but I do love getting feedback – I remember the first time someone argued with me about what happened to one of my characters and I felt so excited that they cared. I have been influenced by responses to my first novel – some people found the central character, who is fairly hard and uncompromising, difficult to sympathise with, so I have worked very hard on that in the next book. The trouble is, I know my characters so well that I understand why they can be unpleasant, and sometimes I took that for granted in the reader too. It’s not about creating 2D cop-out characters, but there are ways to build empathy from the beginning… As an author, you carry on learning and, hopefully, improving.
I also aim to be realistic – my new book is about divorce and I wanted to show the reality of having your heart broken. So many novels begin with the central character inconsolable on page 1 and right as rain on p3. Life’s not like that. It’s tragic, it’s comic, and above all I do believe in the old saying, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…
What was your breakthrough moment?
I think unless they got a six-figure deal on first publication then most writers will say there were many different moments that hopefully culminate in a breakthrough. Mine included getting the first deal; being picked for Fresh Talent; then moving publishers to Orion and feeling like I’d come home. They really seem to understand what I am trying to do with my writing – and I love the cover they’ve designed for the new book. Landing a US deal for The Starter Marriage was very exciting, too.
What inspires you to write?
Everything and anything, but I’m particularly fascinated by how people behave in groups: school reunions, divorce recovery groups, the Brownies!
Comments by other Members