Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire, Wales, raised on fairy tales in a household full of books. After studying art she worked in television for over ten years, mainly on documentaries. She studied for an MA in creative writing at Aberystwyth University, where she won a prize for the best beginning of a novel. That work became The Girl in the Red Coat, published by Faber & Faber in February 2015, and in seven other territories including Germany and Holland. Kate also won the Rhys Davies short story prize in 2011 and her story “One Summer” was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
Kate has two children and lives in Cardiff with her husband.
Facebook – Kate Hamer, Author
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I began writing when I was a child and never stopped really. My first big break was winning the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition in 2011. This really gave me the confidence I needed to launch into writing a novel.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
The Girl in the Red Coat was published in February this year and I’ve been touring the UK promoting it. It’s a book that begins with a missing child and is about loss, love, and mothers and daughters. It’s been called a crime book, a psychological thriller, and a domestic noir novel but my favourite description so far is a “twenty-first-century fairy tale.” I’m also writing my second novel, which is a coming-of-age tale with a healthy dose of the supernatural.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
At the moment very cluttered. I have a pin board to my right with all my chapters on separate strips of paper. That way I can play around with them and swap them – a sort of primitive Scrivener if you like! Behind me and to my right are teetering bookshelves. I have way, way too many books and the cheap shelving isn’t really up to the weight of them.
I also have three desks, which is ridiculous I know. My first is the desk I had as a child. It’s obviously too tiny for me and it’s falling to bits but I’m just too attached to it to get rid of it. It’s the desk that I wrote my very first stories on. The second one is a cheap second-hand bureau that I bought when I was desperate for something to write on and is now loaded with papers and diaries. The last one was donated to me and is a proper lovely oak computer desk. One day I’ll have beautiful streamlined bookshelves and just one desk, but a little part of me has the superstitious feeling that might be the day the creative juices stop flowing.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
I work every day unless I’m away promoting except I try and take a day off at the weekend to reconnect to family and recharge my batteries. I find the earlier I start the better. If I’m still fiddling about answering e-mails or reading notes by midday that’s the best of the creative day gone. I carry on until around mid-afternoon when I go for a walk – writing is so sedentary it’s pretty essential. I often wake in the middle of the night and that’s a fruitful period. I look at the ceiling and think about the narrative and what’s next and just hope to goodness I’ll remember it in the morning.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I tend to know the beginning and end before I start, then I’ll write a very rough first draft fairly quickly. Then begins the long, long process of editing. I can’t say how many times I edit because it’s just so many.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
It doesn’t feel like a choice really. I’d write even if I weren’t being published. I just seem to have this compulsion to make up stories in my head – I don’t think that’ll ever stop; it’s always been there!
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I watch a lot of films and am influenced by them as much as I am by books. I think the red coat has a wider resonance than my novel – it brings to mind films such as Don’t Look Now and Schindler’s List and that was quite deliberate. I first saw Don’t Look Now when I was quite young – about thirteen – and its imagery and haunting atmosphere stayed with me for a long time. The work of both Gillermo del Toro and David Lynch appeals to me for their narratives and visual qualities. I also recently saw a 1976 Spanish film called Cria Cuervos which also features an eight-year-old girl and really captures the atmosphere that I was trying to create in the novel. It’s quite strange when you see something after the event like that.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
Facing the uncertainty of it all I think. When worried thoughts creep in I do my best to send them packing.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED?
That it’s all right to have confidence in your work. That those ideas that seem the most on edge – the weird ones that seem too exposing – those are the best ideas you have.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC OR PROFESSIONAL VISION?
Just to keep on writing for as long as humanly possible.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE FEMALE AUTHORS
Hilary Mantel, Rose Tremain. The mid-twentieth-century writer Elizabeth Jenkins. Maggie O’Farrell, Helen Dunmore, Alicia Erian, Nicole Krauss. A new discovery is the Scottish writer Lisa O’Donnell – fabulously vibrant writing.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHER NEXT?
Lisa O’Donnell – I’ve just finished The Death of Bees and loved it.
Thank you, Kate Hamer!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Mei Williams
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