This week, the lovely Katherine Webb was kind enough to give me an interview, ahead of her new novel The Night Falling being released in November.
Last year, while browsing the book section in the supermarket, I came across The Misbegotten by Katherine Webb. Intrigued by the blurb, I had to pick it up. Set in Bath in 1821, The Misbegotten tells the mysterious tale of Rachel, a governess who marries an elusive self-made businessman, and Starling, the young, feisty servant who's bent on exposing the sinister truth of what happened to Alice, the woman she loved as a sister.
I loved the way the two stories became entwined, bringing the two women together, and casting a harsh light on the men in their lives. I raced through it, needing to devour every word, and unravel all the secrets hidden within the pages. The Misbegotten is dark, full of deceit and mystery, but also absolutely enthralling.
Gripping, beautiful, and extremely compelling, The Misbegotten is, in my humble opinion, Webb's best novel yet. I look forward to reading The Night Falling, which is due to be released this November.
I reached out to Katherine on Facebook, to ask her about her writing process, and she was kind enough to reply.
"My mother fostered a love of books and reading in me from a very early age, but I think the urge to write my own stories was born with me", she said, when I asked her what inspired her to start writing. "I always loved to write stories, from when I was very little." Despite winning poetry and short story competitions while still at school, Webb didn't write her first novel until she'd graduated from university.
And I knew at once that that was the only thing I wanted to do, career-wise. I wrote seven novels during the following ten years, whilst working and living in a variety of places and at a variety of fairly menial jobs.
Her seventh novel, The Legacy, was published by Orion in 2010.
Webb suggests that aspiring writers explore alternative avenues, such as The Arts Council, which picked up her first novel, as well as traditional ways of being published.
"Crack on. Get something finished, and if nobody is interested, start something else. You improve by practising, by actually writing. Just do it. Get something down on the page, and then rework and improve it. Get it read – by friends, family, strangers online, a writing group. Listen to their feedback – even if you get a mauling, feel misunderstood and don’t want to act on any of what they say. There is always a difference between what you think you've put down on the page and what people will actually find there, and you need to know how wide that gap is."
She's also an advocate of building a good relationship with those in the publishing industry. "Being published was a very steep learning curve for me – I had very little idea of how the industry actually works, and what would be expected of me. But I was ready to learn and help in any way I could, and I have learnt so much from working with skilled editors. I think with that attitude you can’t go far wrong."
But, Webb says, being a commercial author and writing a book every year is hard work. "You need focus and you need to be willing to knuckle down and write, even when you don’t feel like it."
Webb's ideas usually begin "with a character or characters, rather than with a plot point, but that character will obviously be in a time and a place, and often a season, so the setting of the book is also revealed." Her stories then grow and develop, seemingly of their own accord, but also in response to the extensive research Webb does.
"A novelist is not someone who writes books, a novelist is someone who generates stories they need to write down."
Webb is currently in the research and planning stage of her next book, which has no title yet, but will be set in Oman during the Jebel War in 1958. Her fifth book for Orion, The Night Falling, which comes out in November, is set in Southern Italy in 1921. It features the unforeseen fallout of an ill-advised love affair, at a highly turbulent time in Italy’s history.
I also wanted to know what Webb is currently reading. Webb is currently reading The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, which she describes as a gentle story, and beautifully written.
"I always have a book on the go, sometimes more than one, and I’m mystified when I hear about other authors who don’t read anything else while they are writing! I couldn’t do that."
A woman after my own heart! It was an absolute pleasure speaking with Katherine, and I eagerly await the arrival of her new novel!