A highlight of the festival was always going to be Kate Atkinson. I have heard her speak before so I knew that I would have an entertaining evening with plenty of laughs. Now that I had of course reached the giddy heights of interviewing some authors I was very interested in watching the wonderful Ramona Koval wield her formidable interviewing skills. Perhaps I could learn a thing or two! (or three or four …)
Kate started off by reading an excerpt from her latest book Life after life. Her lilting English accent that so fitted the context made the book really come alive for me. I wish she should read the book when it comes out in audio.
Kate’s process of writing is an intense one. She described how when she is writing a book she becomes distant from family and friends, she has conversations but finds herself thinking about the book and the characters rather than listening. She holds the book in her head at all times. When she describes her characters they sound like real people, and I suspect while she is in this process that to her they are.
Ramona asked Kate why she is so attached to writing about the Blitz. Kate was born in 1951, she had just missed the war but it was still talked about. 58 days and nights of relentless bombing led her to think about how this must have changed people, to make them think differently about life and death and to maybe get things into perspective. Although our earthquakes were nothing like the blitz her thoughts resonated with me as I thought about how we in Christchurch have changed. Earthquakes are now part of our DNA!
She did a huge amount of research and immersed herself in the stories of war, right down to playing only music from this era, watching endless films and newsreels of the time. She wanted to portray not just facts of this time, but the feelings and emotions. I think she succeeded brilliantly. My mother went through the Blitz and I know that it affected her for the rest of her life.
Ramona had the ability as an interviewer to take the conversation all over the place without it feeling disjointed. After talking about the Blitz they somehow ended up talking about creative writing classes, of which Kate is not a fan. She feels strongly that writing is something you do on your own, it is isolated and individual and you have to learn to be your own critic. All the fiction writers I have heard at the festival have said more or less the same thing. Interesting considering the recent proliferation of creative writing courses in this country.
Kate has a new book beginning to form in her head and feels that she hasn’t finished with the whole theme of war yet, and no, Jackson Brodie is not coming back in the short term. Kate said he is off on a cruise somewhere – a long cruise.