An Interview with Kathleen Jowitt
Kathleen writes about people sorting their own heads out and learning to live with who they are. She lives in Cambridge, works in London, and writes on the train.
I both love and hate novels that don’t leave a discrete ending for the reader. Have you ever felt the need to write sequels?
I believe that part of effective characterisation is knowing the trajectory of the characters’ lives beyond the end of a novel, so I can see where the temptation arises to carry on. On the other hand, knowing where to stop is an essential part of plot! It’s a tricky balance to find. Speaking personally, I know exactly what would happen in a sequel to Speak Its Name, but for the moment at least I have no desire to write it, and there’s no need for it to exist.
There’s always another novel in the pipeline to write… Tell me about it! Does it have even a working title?
There is, and it does! The working title is Wheels – the main characters are a wheelchair user and a former cyclist – and it’s very different from Speak Its Name. There’s less of an emphasis on the LGBT themes, and I don’t touch on religion at all this time around. I’m writing a male first-person narrator, instead of tight third-person female. But it’s still about people learning how to live within their own identities.
Some advice other writers have given is that your first novel is best sitting in a drawer for a while, because then you feel stronger about chopping up ‘your baby’. Do you still have a copy of your first novel? Whether this was published or unpublished, I need to know!
My first novel was never intended to be published, and I had a wonderful time bolting a chick-lit plot onto a sci-fi setting. I called it Love at the Galactic Zoo, and I think I lost it when my external hard drive died. It would be a decade old by now.
I’m not particularly sentimental about editing, and I’m as ruthless with my own writing as I would be with anyone else’s. I chopped huge amounts from Speak Its Name – in fact, I literally took a pair of scissors to it at one point! Then I realised that the whole thing needed to come from the point of view of a character who’d started out as a minor love interest, and so huge chunks had to be rewritten… fun times. It was worth doing, though; it’s made it a much better book.
Do you have a dedicated writing space? How does it meet your writing needs?
I do have a study, and I am very grateful to be able to shut the door and escape from interruptions. However, most of my writing actually happens outside the house – on the train to work, or in quiet corners of pubs or coffee shops when I’ve got a spare half hour.
What is your writing process? Have you ever thought about changing it? Other authors I have interviewed talk about having an outline – post-it notes in an office, or writing in paper journals. Is there something like that in your writing technique? Or is it all digital for you?
I experiment a lot with different processes. At the moment I’m writing five hundred to a thousand words in longhand at a time, and then typing them up later in the day. The outline is in my head; I may or may not transcribe it, depending on how complex the plot becomes. By contrast, the timeline for Speak Its Name ran across nine sheets of paper, all taped together, and several different coloured pens. I think different novels call for different approaches.
How do you know when a novel or short story is finished? How do you know to step away and let the story speak for itself?
When there’s nothing missing, and when I can’t take anything else out. When I’ve used up the best part of a ream of paper printing it out and covering it in red pen alterations. When I’m thoroughly sick of it. When at least two people whose judgement I trust can’t think of anything else that needs doing.
Do you have a preference for ebook or paperback format? This is for both your own reading and your novels.
I don’t really have a preference either way. I make more money per copy on ebooks, but then it becomes less likely that the reader will pass the copy on. If someone finds it easier to use one format than the other (if they prefer an ebook because they can enlarge the text, for example) I wouldn’t want to get in the way of that. As a reader, I like being able to flick backwards and forwards through a physical copy, but I was given an ebook reader for Christmas and am finding that huge chunky books that wouldn’t fit in my handbag in paperback format are suddenly becoming readable.
Social media is becoming a big thing. How does managing media outlets come into marketing your brand and your books?
The internet has made the world much smaller. I think it’s great – I love making connections with people all over the globe, and it’s certainly opened up markets that I wouldn’t have had a hope of reaching if I’d been writing twenty years earlier. I try to be as honest and friendly as possible on my website and my Twitter account, and most of what I put up there doesn’t actually have much to do with my writing – I don’t want to alienate people who have already read it! And I try not to take it too seriously, because if you start worrying what people on the internet think about you then you’ll never get a moment’s peace of mind.