Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit the clubhouse is via membership or an invite to the clubhouse tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation I’ve had with a guest over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, about their work in progress, or latest book release. I’ll be talking to all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers.
Today I’m welcoming Kate Lowe to the Clubhouse Tearoom. Welcome, Kate. I’m so sorry but your request for a pint of lager and blackcurrant has beaten me, so I have a cup of Yorkshire Tea for you instead. 😀
That’s okay, Paula. I’m just please for your invite to the tearoom.
Now we have our drinks I shall start by asking you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
Wow, that requires quite an explanation. I think, I’ll try to keep it as short as possible! I became interested in the supernatural at quite a young age. There was a small bookshop in our town (sadly long gone) that had a whole floor-to-ceiling section of horror and fantasy books and I really got into the Point Horror series and fell in love with authors like Stephen King and Anne Rice. There was a corner shop down the road from our house that rented out videos and I went through their entire collection of horror films, probably at an age when I shouldn’t have been able to legally rent them! As a teenager I became heavily enamoured with rock and metal music, and from there it was a natural transition into the goth scene and all of the romanticism and imagery that goes with it. When I first sat down to write a novel I was very much into Lord of the Rings, the first film of which had just been released, so my first attempt at a (shockingly awful, cliched, 160,000 word embarrassment of a) novel was more in line with alternative-world fantasy. I hope I’ve learned a lot since then and have settled into writing within my favoured genre of supernatural fiction.
What writing elements do you think is your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?
I read quite often that writers struggle with dialogue the most, especially with making it sound natural, but I’ve always found that part of writing really easy. The thing I struggle with most is keeping the plot in my head and tying it all together. I write in Scrivener, have chapter and scene notes, a cork board in my office with a sticky-note timeline pinned on it but nothing seems to make it any easier!
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
I’m currently re-writing a novel I thought I had finished two years ago! It’s probably been a decade in the making but was set aside in favour of another novel that I believed in at the time but have since lost faith in – it involved a lot of vampires and I think people have had enough of those for now! While The City Sleeps is a supernatural mystery set in Nottingham: think Kinsey Millhone meets a working class Discovery of Witches. My lead character, Liv Tennyson, is a tracing agent with empathic abilities who takes on a missing persons case, only to discover that her client isn’t quite what she seems and that all of Liv’s acquaintances are keeping a secret about Liv’s dead mother, the woman that her alcoholic father won’t discuss. The original version was written by my much younger self and it’s painfully evident in the writing; I’m attempting to give this latest version a grittier and more mature tone.
Choosing only five of your favourite authors. Can you list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?
Okay, so the author who has probably influenced me the most and in fact made me want to write my own novels is Canadian author Kelley Armstrong. When I first read her debut, Bitten, I fell in love with her werewolf pack and have devoured everything she’s written since. I love the way Kelley weaves the fantasy elements of her novels so seamlessly with the real world. Her books usually contain a love triangle, which is useful for keeping the tension up and the reader’s attention hooked, and are peopled with smart, sexy and interesting characters that you’ll happily follow throughout a series. I’m very much a character-driven reader and writer and I believe that if you can secure a reader’s interest in your lead then you’ve got yourself a fan for life.
My second author is the late Sue Grafton, writer of the Alphabet series featuring Kinsey Millhone. Kinsey is a Californian PI, a card-carrying loner, twice divorced, who lives in a small converted garage on her elderly landlord’s property. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, has a self-deprecating sense of humour and a sardonic way of viewing life that resonates with me enormously. Seeing how successful Grafton’s books were, it has given me confidence to write a lead who owns her idiosyncrasies without feeling like she has to apologise for them.
My third choice is Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher books. Again, it was the character of the brusque, capable, lone-wolf Reacher that hooked me, but there is a spareness to Child’s writing also that I really admire and hope to incorporate. Although I wrote the love interest in my current WIP before I read Child’s novels, there is certainly a streak of Jack Reacher in him!
My fourth choice is Jim Butcher, author of the Harry Dresden urban fantasy series. Butcher is a master at ramping up the tension in his novels: every time you think things can’t possibly get any worse for poor old Harry, they inevitably do, and he is always tested to the ends of his reserves before the novel lets up. I aim to do the same to my own poor characters!
My final choice has to be Stephen King, not because his fiction has particularly influenced the way I write but because of his superb memoir, On Writing. As a new writer you’re bombarded with advice, dos and don’ts and rules and musts and must-nots and how-tos: it’s exhausting! I think you can really get lost trying to tick all of those boxes and your writing can lose its natural quality because of that. However, if I had to chose to keep one book on the craft of writing, it would be this one. After all, who’s going to tell Stephen King where to stick his advice?
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
I try to avoid this as it’s the first thing people who know me ask about my writing: am I in it?
There is certainly quite a lot of me in Liv Tennyson but I’m glad I don’t have her empathic abilities, they’re as much a curse as a gift! My first Riley Pope novelette, Strange Weather, was written after a comment from my better half about setting a story in our local pub, which is something of a community rather than a boozer. The landlord in the story is based on my good friend and landlord of the Vic Bikers Pub, John Commons, who viewers of Channel 4’s Four In A Bed may remember when he was a contestant on the show a few years ago with his sister Joy. He doesn’t have hairy hands though, and I promise he isn’t a vampire! (At least, I don’t think he is.)
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
Oh, wow, the amount of research you have to do to sound credible when your character does a job you know nothing about! I’ve read almost every website belonging to private detective firms in the UK and read dozens of books on the subject. I’m also planning on enrolling on a tracing agent course soon. It means forking out a bit of money but it if makes my character sound more authentic then it will be worth it (and possibly give me a new avenue to go down if I ever find myself out of work!) I’ve also set my book in the next county over from where I live, which has presented its own challenges. I tried setting it in Leicestershire but found it a creative struggle for some reason, so I chose to move the whole thing over the border which seemed to work. I know central Nottingham quite well as I shop and attend gigs there quite regularly, but I’ve still had to do a lot of research on the layout of the wider city and her suburbs (Google Street View has been a godsend!)
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
I should but I don’t is the short answer. I don’t mean to sound like I’m making excuses but I work a full-time day job which involves sitting at a laptop all day and the last thing me and my tired eyes feel like doing in the evening is sitting back down at a computer for several more hours! At the moment, if I’ve worked on my WIP a couple of times a week then I’m generally happy with that, and I also try to use my annual leave to get some extra writing time in. I tend to be more productive if I can really get stuck into a piece of work for hours on end. Writing for an hour here and there every day would never work for me I don’t think.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I’ve never written under a pseudonym before and have always wanted to publish under my own name as I’m proud of my work and want to see my own name on the cover! However, there is a successful young author of fantasy fiction called Katie Lowe and we’ve already been mixed up by a Hollywood agent who contacted me thinking I was her! I’ve since added a note in my Twitter bio that I am not she, but I think if I ever get a publishing deal for my novel will probably have to publish under a pseudonym to avoid any confusion.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I think most of the main characters in the stories I’ve written have popped into my head before I’ve even got a plot to put them in to. I tend to come up with a character who has certain traits, then I trace back and fill in the blanks as to why they developed those traits and how this will affect the way they act and interact within the story, and also how they might change. I find it useful to keep character sheets that I can add to as I go along, as this really helps when your head is full of all the other ingredients of a story like pace and plot and description etc and you can’t remember if the lead has green eyes or grey! With regards to names, I try to chose something that tells the reader a little about the character before they’ve even met them. For example, the wealthy, aristocratic Bernays family in my WIP are called Xavier, Jessica and Enzo, but I’ve chosen what you might call ‘everyday’ names or nicknames for my working class cast of characters like Joe, Deano, JJ etc. For inspiration and ideas, I tend to scour internet baby names sites, but also find that reading the credits at the end of movies and TV shows is a great source of material. Scrivener also has a useful name generator feature if you really get stuck.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Haha, judging by current standards about a decade for a novel! No, seriously though, when I’m creating from scratch and not re-writing or editing, I can do maybe 5k-6k words a day, so assuming I have a plan to write to and the time to sit down and write, I can probably get a novel written in under half a year (I’m looking forwards to attempting this with the next book in the series when the current WIP is done!). I tend to write short stories in one sitting, they can take a few hours to a whole day, and I’ll then come back and edit them with fresh eyes on another day. Drabbles tend to take me under an hour but the hard part with those is the editing, which can take a lot longer than the actual writing!
Thank you Kate for chatting to me about your writing and books.
If you would to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books, don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.