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Kate Tym Interview

Posted on 15 February 2009. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to poet Kate Tym

Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, what you’re currently writing

My writing career came through an editing background. I started my professional life as an editorial assistant at Random House children’s books (making lots of cups of tea and doing lots of photocopying). After about six years there I had risen to the heady heights of Commissioning Editor (having the odd cup of tea made for me and not doing nearly so much photocopying). I found though that I was becoming somewhat frustrated by editing some things that I felt I probably could have written better myself in the first place. The opportunity to write arose when I was commissioning a series of fairly mass-market fiction for teenage girls – I did some sample chapters, had them approved by the publisher and wrote my first book. I was thrilled to pieces and loved every minute of doing it. Since then I’ve written right across the board for children – from pre-school board books to teenage fiction. I also done a bit of non-fiction and had one adult novel published – chicky-litty! I now have moved away from writing for children and I’ve gone back to what is probably my first love – poetry. I write my own stuff for performing and (hopefully) publishing and I have a sideline in writing bespoke wedding/celebratory poetry for other people.

Other work besides writing; ie. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works/worked for/against your own writing

When I first went freelance I did a lot of editing work to supplement my income (I’ve never been able to make a real living wage through writing alone). But as the years have gone by, and I’ve taken a block of time out to have kids, I’ve lost most of my contacts in publishing houses and it often does come down to not what you know, but who you know. So now I still don’t make a living through writing, but my husband, who is a builder, works very hard while I sit around waiting for inspiration! I’d like to do more poetry-writing workshops, but need to set aside time to get that organised and, with three small children, there sometimes just aren’t enough hours in the day to pursue everything I’d like to pursue

How, when and why did you first start writing?

I’ve always loved words and language and communicating. I used to write my own funny little poems as a child. I loved English Language at school but I think I thought ‘being a writer’ was something only people with a certain background could do… When I became a published author I used to feel weird telling people that ‘I’m a writer’ then I had a while, after having children, where I had no real work and I considered getting a job in a shoe shop. But when I thought about it I realised that actually ‘I AM a writer’. I love it and it’s what I do.

Who are your favourite writers/influences and why?

I have quite eclectic tastes but I like what I read to be intelligently written. I don’t do anything mass market. I like to read books and think ‘wow! I could never have written that – they’re so clever!’. Recently I read The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon – absolutely fantastic. The sort of book you get completely immersed in, pacey, gripping, fabulous. And, because I’ve got a touch of the old feminist leanings in me I love The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’m not a fan of all Atwood’s work, but I love that book. It’s as politically relevant now as when she wrote it. On the poetry front I love Betjeman and Larkin – they are straightforward and yet clever at the same time – I don’t like my poetry to be too esoteric.

How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication?

I have never had an agent. I had a dabble with the idea a couple of years ago. I’d had my kids and was trying to get back into writing. I felt a bit isolated and had lost a bit of confidence and I thought maybe an agent would help push me forward. I was rejected by several (despite already being a published author!) but then found that one of the big London agencies was happy to take me on. I had a meeting with them and basically they advised me to become ‘brand Kate Tym’ and suggested that rhyming texts for children (the thing I love best and the thing children love best too) were not the way forward as they don’t sell well as co-editions (ie they don’t translate into different languages) and talked about how competitive the market was and how sales driven. I came away so depressed that I didn’t bother getting back in touch and shelved the idea of writing children’s books for the time being! Having been an editor, I know some agents can be great and really work hard for their clients but for me, the timing was all wrong.

What's the worst thing about writing?

It’s really, really, really hard to consistently make money. There can be periods of feast – but there’s a lot of famine too.

And the best?

If you love it, you love it. I love constructing pieces of writing. The joy of finding just the right word. I need to motivate myself to do lots of things in life, but writing isn’t one of them. And when I perform my poetry (which is mainly funny) and the audience laughs – that is such a kick.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

saturday at 10:16 on 16 February 2009  Report this post
I really enjoyed this, so many of the things you said resonated with me very strongly - the worries about bringing daughters up in a clone-girl celeb-wannabee world; about not even trying to become a writer when young because you thought it was something that only people with a certain background could do; about the crisis of confidence when the paid work dried up - lots of it.

It was depressing though, that someone with your history found it difficult to break back into the industry.

All the best for the future, I hope things work out for you.

tinyclanger at 10:34 on 16 February 2009  Report this post
Yes, enjoyable stuff, thanks Kate.

Good to know there's a bit of money in poetry commissions - I did one for my brother's wedding and though it was very hard, I did enjoy it in the end. They, (utterly non-poetical) absolutely loved it which was the really satisfying bit.
Must be a challenge though to get under the skin of the couple to understand what really makes them tick...

Hurrah for Larkin and Betjeman. Though I worry about both in terms of attutudes to women, I do enjoy reading them - Larkin especially - but just tend to get ''sniffs'' if I mention them in somne poetical circles!

All good luck with your writing.

Luisa at 09:07 on 17 February 2009  Report this post
I enjoyed reading this too, and I recognise your name. (Don't Call Me Baby is on my shelf, and my kids love Lucas the Lion!)

Thanks for this interview, and wishing you all the best with your writing.


kate tym at 11:18 on 23 February 2009  Report this post
Thanks everyone for such nice/interesting comments. Lovely to know my books are actually on some shelves out there! Yes, Larkin and Betjemen bit unfair on the ladieeez - but I like their stuff and accept it in terms of the time and context it was written. Larkin was a bit of a bastard where the women in his life were concerned, it seems to me, but I can't help liking his poems.

Keep plugging away everyone!


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