I’m a big fan of Katherine Scholes. The first book of her’s I read was Lioness. I then went and tracked down all her other books, as I usually do when I find an author I love.
Here’s Katherine talking about the writing of her new offering; The Perfect Wife.
“I’m so glad to be home again, with publicity for my latest novel behind me. Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy it. To me, the experience of meeting readers face to face, swapping stories with them, really makes being an author worthwhile. But by the end of the campaign I’m well and truly caught up in an identity crisis. Am I really that author, dressed in her best clothes, smiling and signing books? Or someone else entirely? Or a mixture of both? The title of my new book is ‘The Perfect Wife’, which inevitably invites remarks about ‘The Perfect Author’. Me. And indeed, for the book launch, there I was with a 50’s hairdo, wearing a vintage wiggle dress, gloves and pearls. It was great fun (and it’s always easier to play a part in full costume). I toned the look down for the rest of the author events, but I still made an effort not to look too … ‘imperfect’. Too ordinary. But as soon as it was all over I found myself changing my facebook background photo to one of me wearing an old safari jacket, my hair stiff with dust, taken a couple of years ago near the village where I was born in Central Tanzania.
One thing I’ve really noticed this time around is the growing popularity of the author Q & A. It makes for great publicity and the good thing is that you – as the subject – are in control of what’s printed. (You’re safe from the horrors of reading remarks you wish you’d never made.) The problem is, I agonise over the questions as if I were searching for the right answer in a test. (Because we all know there is a correct answer. It’s the one that makes you sound interesting and successful without coming across as being arrogant, and which might just inspire the reader to rush out and buy your book!) My problem is I’m just too honest. I can sit for ages puzzling over a query like, ‘what is your pet hate?’ Do I even have one? What does it mean if I don’t? And when I’m instructed to complete the line ‘I can’t live without…’ my mind simply won’t turn to the Chanel handbag (not that I own one anyway) or even a treasured book. I can only think of things like clean air and drinking water. I’m a missionary’s daughter after all.
When I see author Q & A’s in magazine or newspaper columns I skim-read them feeling a wave of sympathy for the writer, or perhaps if I’m honest some flicker of dark pleasure when they come across as too pleased with themselves, or envy if they’ve managed to take cover behind the trusty façade of humour (which I just can’t seem to manage). Often I don’t read the columns at all. Who needs to suffer vicarious anxiety while relaxing with the weekend papers?
The whole publicity thing is made trickier for me because my books tend to draw on my family background in Africa. I end up mythologizing my childhood, quite possibly seeing things in it that would never have been noticed if I hadn’t gone on to write about them. Sometimes I wonder how my family feel about the things I say – occasionally I suspect I’ve crossed a line. But I tell myself we all have to take the rough with the smooth. The writing of my novels is a family affair. I’m exploring a world known better to my parents than it is to me, so they’re constantly giving me information or working on Swahili translations, or telling me true stories that might relate to what I’m writing. This process is amazingly enriching to our relationship. I know they feel that way too. My siblings and their partners are often involved as well, reading drafts and offering opinions. Again, hopefully, the interest of seeing our shared past explored – the horizons of our real experiences broadened into unexpected dramas – makes any downside worthwhile.
Sometimes a genuine insight is thrown up by the publicity-driven introspection. In ‘The Perfect Wife’ I drew very directly on some experiences my mother had as a young art student in London. Prompted by questions from interviewers, I began thinking about how throughout my life she’s always painted whenever she could (which was not often enough, for many years, with four children to take care of). I came to see for the first time how extraordinary it was that she made space for her art when we lived in Africa. As a missionary wife there were endless calls on her time. In the village there were life and death medical dramas every day. There was the constant grind of malnutrition and untreated diseases like leprosy. She must have been criticized for wasting time, not to mention squandering precious money on oil paints and canvas. Only now do I see what a powerful message she gave her children about the importance of following your passion, and the true value of art. It’s probably the reason I’m a novelist today. But I’d never thought of this before now. So that’s one thing I’m taking on with me as I turn my eyes to the next frontier – page one, chapter one, of a whole new story.