(1) Can you tell me about yourself and when you started writing? Have you always wanted to be an author?
My love of books, reading and writing goes back to childhood. When I was at school, there was still a creative writing element to the English language O’ level, and I do remember getting a particularly good mark and dollops of praise for a piece I produced in class in preparation for the exam. I think that might have been when I began thinking that I could do something with writing as a career. My first choice was journalism and I did the National Council for Training Journalists one-year course. But, at that time (perhaps even still) my ideas around writing and journalism were too romantic – I thought my writing could change the world – and I didn’t have the sticking power. I went off in other directions: university; working in adult/community education; spending five years abroad working for a voluntary organisation. All the time I was writing along side, getting some feature article accepted by magazines and working on novels which I would submit to agents and get rejected. The turning point, was when I came back to the UK and began to struggle with depression. Writing became vital to my survival. That was sixteen years ago and since then I have: explored the therapeutic aspects of writing for myself and others; written more poetry; had more non-fiction published including a book on writing blocks; trained as a psychotherapeutic counsellor; and begun to indie publish a series of crime novels.
(2) Can you tell me about your crime novels?
I have written the first two in a crime series based in Scarborough: The Art of the Imperfect and The Art of Survival. The third, The Art of Breathing, is scheduled for publication on the 31st of October 2016. They all have three narrating voices. There is Hannah, a trainee counsellor who is working her way through her own depression. DS Theo Akande, new to Scarborough, who begins a relationship with Hannah’s friend Lawrence. And Hannah’s next door neighbour, Aurora, who struggles with post-natal depression. Hannah’s story towards well-ness is a continuing theme through the books, as is Theo’s efforts to establish himself and become accepted. The Art of the Imperfect deals with the death of psychotherapist and the shadow-side of the therapy world. The Art of Survival is about a little girl who goes missing. The Art of Breathing is based in a university and has a theme of story-telling.
(3) You use mental health in your novel(s) – why do you think it’s important to create diverse characters? Was your aim to increase understanding and help tackle stigma or something else?
I want my novels to reflect the world I know which is full of diverse characters with their strengths and vulnerabilities. Hannah’s story echoes, at least partly, my experience of depression. I wanted to explore ideas around the medicalisation of the condition and what we mean by well-ness. I do think there is often not enough acceptance of the range of emotions which we are prone to. We can fall into the trap of believing that certain feelings are not acceptable and should not be expressed. Whereas I believe there is a danger in suppressing emotions, both for the person suppressing them and for those around them, always with the rider of safe expression of feelings and that feelings don’t necessarily have to be acted on.
(4) Do you think writers have a social responsibility or not?
Absolutely. Words can be powerful, why else would dictators put some writers in prison and harness others to their cause? I still have the fantasy that my writing could help create a more compassionate, fairer world. If just one person reading my novels understands a little more about depression and also recognises that we all have our frailties and it is not weak to ask for help, then I’d be happy.
(5) How much research do you do before writing?
My novels are very character led, if I get their psychological and emotional landscape right then I hope the stories will work. I wrote my first novel when I was 19, and I’ve been writing about the characters in my present novels in different ways since then. I am also curious when I meet people, I like to ask questions, find out what motivates them. I hope all this has led to me creating characters within my novels which have depth. My novels are at least partly set in the therapy and academic worlds, both of which I have worked in, so I feel pretty confident about presenting them. I have done some research to try and get the police procedure and environment right, talking to acquaintances who work in the police, reading good crime novels, watching documentaries. In my novels, Scarborough and the sea are almost characters in themselves. I love to walk mindfully and then write, connecting with nature, this feeds into my descriptions.
(6) Do you have a favourite time to write? How does your writing fit in with any other responsibilities, such as family or work?
I write best in the morning. I am pretty disciplined and good at keeping to a schedule, but then writing nourishes me, why wouldn’t I want to keep at it? My father died in 2013 and that gave me some financial security meaning I only do part-time paid work and I can focus on my writing.
(7) Writing has many highs and lows – how do you keep motivated?
I love the writing, the researching, the drafting, the crafting, the re-drafting. I do have a group of friends who are writers and we support each other by reading and critiquing our work. I’ve also paid a copyeditor (who is also a friend) to help me with my novels. The bit I find difficult is the publishing. There is so much to think about and co-ordinate and when you’re an indie everything falls on your shoulders. However, the bit I really hate is the marketing. It’s great to connect with readers – I do talks and events – but it’s so hard to get seen and picked up, especially when the mainstream media are only interested in traditionally published books, sometimes it feels grinding.
(8) If you could have a dinner party with four famous (dead or alive) writers, who would you choose and why?
Toni Morrison, what can I say, a great writer and thinker and phenomenal woman.
Ruth Rendell, a crime writer I’ve read and admired all my life.
Anne Sexton, the first poet I read who spoke about experiences – especially those connected to being a woman with depression – which chimed with mine.
Edith Sitwell. Born in Scarborough and a very interesting poet and woman. I’m not sure I’d like to be at the same table as her, she comes over as a bit scary, maybe just watch from afar.
(9)What advice would you like to pass on to new writers, or those thinking about becoming a writer?
Start writing, write, read, and write some more. Don’t get too self-critical too quickly. Hook up with supportive friends who also write.
(10) Could you give me the links for your books and social media links, please?
The Art of the Imperfect: https://goo.gl/JrGat2
The Art of Survival: https://goo.gl/6RPzk5
Kate Evans on Facebook