Kate Harrad has noted that, “In 2002,” when she began writing All Lies and Jest, “the idea of a fundamentalist theocratic United States that was trying to impose theocracy on the UK was definitely in the realm of speculative fiction. Now, while I hope it’s still unlikely, it’s a lot closer to the real world than it used to be.”
Her debute novel addresses fundamentalism, “the dangers of being so open-minded that your brain falls out,” vampires, bisexuality and alternative subcultures in a whirlwind of fun. The book will be reviewed here tomorrow; for now, Ms. Harrod offers the following tidbits from her sharp mind and sharper wit.
–How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?
Mostly they’d differ in the sense that I wouldn’t dare offer advice to writers who’ve been writing for a while! I’m not even sure I’d have the confidence to advise new writers.
But if I were put on the spot? I’d tell new writers that as well as being able to write, they’ll need to be prepared to read their work in public, to promote it endlessly and yet subtly on social media, and to learn when it’s OK to write for free and when it isn’t.
I’d also send them to Tim Clare’s blog on writing, Death of 1000 Cuts, whis has some funny and devastatingly accurate advice on writing techniques.
–When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder?
I’m only writing a minority of the time, because I also have a job and two children. So the only way to manage that is to always be slightly ‘on’ – to let my mind wander when I’m on public transport or when I’m walking round London, and see what comes to me. Sometimes that’s to do with observing what’s going on around me, and sometimes it’s more about things I’ve read online or conversations I’ve had. It’s often not a conscious process.
–From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?
Everything has changed. When I first wanted to be a writer I was five, it was 1980, and books were something you bought at WH Smiths and had to save up for. Now I can read a million books on my Kindle, for free or for almost nothing. How do you stand out in that market? Is it true that good writing will still be recognised? Was it ever true?
That’s the challenge for publishers and for writers – how to get the good stuff seen. But it’s always been the challenge. Maybe now it’s actually easier, because there are more ways to be published. My novel All Lies and Jest was published as an e-book and print-on-demand by Ghostwoods, which is a small press run by people who’ve become my friends. The book I’m currently working on, Purple Prose, is a guide to bisexuality in Britain, and it’s being published by another small press, Thorntree, via crowdfunding. It’ll be in shops by August.
Could I have got either of those books published 20 years ago? I doubt it. But can I make a living out of writing? No – that’s the disconnect. Probably in another 20 years things will have changed again and settled down a bit. Right now I don’t know the answer to my own questions.
–What books are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished Jeff Noon’s Falling Out Of Cars, which is an even stranger book than I was expecting. It takes the concepts of plot and character development and basically sets fire to them. Wonderful.
I’m also reading The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso, which is another very strange and wonderful book, about classical myths. I’m reading it very slowly. Here’s a quote:
“Alpheus and Arethusa: water with water, the spring that gushes from the earth, the current that rises from the depths of the sea, the meeting of two lymphs that have traveled far, the ultimate erotic convergence, perennial happiness, no bastions against the world, gurgling speech. Between the waves of the Ionion and those of the Alpheus, the difference lies in the taste, and perhaps a slight variation of color. Between the water of Arethusa and the water of Alpheus, the only difference is in the foam on Alpheus’s crest as he rises from the sea. But the taste is much the same: both come from Olympia.”
–Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why?
It’s not so much specific authors for me as types of author. BME (Black and minority ethnic) writers are underpublished, underpromoted, and underappreciated – for example, according to the upcoming Bare Lit Festival, 96% of the writers featured in the UK’s biggest literary festivals are white. I’ve heard numerous accounts of writers told to make main characters white, or having their book covers given images of white people even when the characters aren’t white. I’m not BME myself but everyone should be fighting this. [Ed. note: check out this Patreon page dedicated to this issue where you can get involved.]
–Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?
I haven’t read many new writers recently and I’m not sure why not – I reread a lot, and I’m always trying to catch up with writers I haven’t read enough of. I did love Marion Grace Woolley’s Those Rosy Hours At Mazandaran [Ed. note: reviewed on this blog here, author interview on this blog here] – she’s a fellow Ghostwoods writer and I was given a pre-publication copy of the book, and was gripped completely.
I’ve got lists of books I want to get round to reading this year – this for example [a list of 2015 books from diverse authors].
–Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?
I do find it very hard, especially with childcare – when I wrote All Lies and Jest I didn’t have children. Now even short stories take ages, because I can’t write unless I’m uninterrupted.
Sometimes I take my laptop to the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank and write there. Or shut myself in my bedroom. Knowing my time is limited can make me more productive, because I know I have to get started with something. Deadlines help too – it’s a lot harder to write something on spec.
Also, to be honest, occasional selfishness is essential. If I’m writing then I’m not spending time with my children or helping with housework, and I need to accept I’ve made that choice and not spend my writing time overcome with guilt, because then nothing useful happens at all.
–Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?
I’ve just finished my first collaboration, writing a short story with American SF author Greg Stolze, which was exciting. Now I’m trying to write a story for an anthology, about a mysterious voice that orders people to travel to a Cornish island to have their lives judged.
But my main project is Purple Prose (purple-prose.co.uk), which is in the copy editing stage now. There’s no contemporary, accessible book about British bisexuality, and I’m very pleased to have been part of creating one.
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