It’s a great pleasure to welcome author Kathleen Jowitt to my blog today. Earlier this year Kathleen earned the phenomenal achievement of having her debut novel, Speak Its Name, short-listed for the Society of Authors’ Betty Trask Prize – the first-self-published novel ever to make the list.
Welcome, Kathleen – good to meet you!
Where do you live, Kathleen? I always tell people that I live in Cambridge. If I’m being really pedantic, I say that I live in Chesterton, a village that’s been subsumed into the city of Cambridge. It’s on the other side of the river from the city proper, and I love to walk along the riverbank and watch the swans and swallows, the narrow boats and the rowing teams.
I love walking by the river here where I live, too (the river Aire in West Yorkshire). There’s something so relaxing about watching the wildlife, and the water gliding by.
Where is your favourite place in the world? The south-west coast of the Isle of Wight. It’s a glorious coastline of red cliffs, with bay after bay opening out all the way to the southernmost tip, and the English Channel stretching out to the horizon.
Being a writer is a great job. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? The summer before I went to university, I was a waitress at a hotel. Even now I’m fairly clumsy and fairly shy, and when I was eighteen it was much worse, so it was not the ideal job for me. I felt inadequate pretty much all the time.
I remember those teenage years well, too – although they’re a lot longer ago for me!
What is your favourite book? There are many that I’m very fond of! If I had to choose one out of all of those, if you were sending me to the proverbial desert island, it would be The Count of Monte Cristo, if only because it has so many interweaving plots it feels like several books. Plus, it’s well over a thousand pages long, so it would keep me going for a while.
I love that book, too! And The Three Musketeers. Both such gripping reads.
If you could meet anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you say to them? I’d love to meet Jenny Lind (or any of the great opera singers who died before the age of recording, really) and ask her to sing. I’ve always been intrigued, and rather saddened, by this idea that the work of these great artists is totally lost because nobody had the technology to preserve it. All we have to go on is descriptions.
What’s your happiest childhood memory? Picking raspberries. In the garden of the house where I grew up, there was a huge, rambling fruit cage, and there were more raspberries than we knew what to do with. In my head it’s all tied up with long summer evenings, and aunts and cousins and family friends coming to stay and everyone sitting up gossiping around the kitchen table.
If you had to marry a fictional character, from film, television, or books, who would it be? Do I have to? I’m tempted to say Lord Peter Wimsey, because it would be so nice to have a Bunter to take care of all the tedious minutiae of life, but I don’t think I could cope with being Lady anything, let alone Lady Peter. Perhaps one of Agatha Christie’s vicar’s wives. I like Mrs Dane Calthrop, who’s amazingly patient with her unworldly husband. Or maybe Sandy Arbuthnot from John Buchan’s Hannay stories. He’d spend most of the time in deep disguise somewhere in Asia and leave me to my own thing. And if I was really bored I could go exploring with him. (I don’t know why all my fantasy spouses come from the thirties. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed the thirties very much!)
I love all those choices. They sound very relaxing people to be with!
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you? The only way to get good at something is to do it, and do it, and do it. You have to do it over and over again until you actually are good at it.
And finally, please tell us about your latest book, where we can find it – and where we can find you.
My latest book (and, indeed, my first book!) is called Speak Its Name. It’s the story of an evangelical Christian – and closeted lesbian – navigating the troubled waters of student politics. It was the first self-published book ever shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize, and the judges called it “An original, closely-observed, funny and often touching story, with an unusual setting and a keen understanding of the interactions between members of small communities.”
Here is the blurb:
A new year at the University of Stancester, and Lydia Hawkins is trying to balance the demands of her studies with her responsibilities as an officer for the Christian Fellowship. Her mission: to make sure all the Christians in her hall stay on the straight and narrow, and to convert the remaining residents if possible. To pass her second year. And to ensure a certain secret stays very secret indeed.
When she encounters the eccentric, ecumenical student household at 27 Alma Road, Lydia is forced to expand her assumptions about who’s a Christian to include radical Quaker activist Becky, bells-and-smells bus-spotter Peter, and out (bisexual) and proud (Methodist) Colette. As the year unfolds, Lydia discovers that there are more ways to be Christian – and more ways to be herself – than she had ever imagined.
Then a disgruntled member of the Catholic Society starts asking whether the Christian Fellowship is really as Christian as it claims to be, and Lydia finds herself at the centre of a row that will reach far beyond the campus. Speak Its Name explores what happens when faith, love and politics mix and explode.
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Thanks so much for dropping in, Kathleen. It’s been lovely getting to know more about you. Congratulations again on your short-listing for the Society of Authors’ prize. It’s wonderful to see a self-published author getting this recognition, and it’s a great achievement.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Kathleen’s interview. If you have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!