With Kathryn Gauci
Tell me your story.
I never set out to be an author. My background is in textile design. I was born in the U.K.and studied textile design at Loughborough College of Art and later at Kidderminster College of Art and Design where I specialised in carpet design and technology. After graduating, I spent a year in Vienna, Austria before moving to Greece where I worked as a carpet designer in Athens for six years. There followed another brief period in New Zealand before eventually settling in Melbourne, Australia.
Before turning to writing full-time, I ran my own textile design studio in Melbourne for over fifteen years. It was a career I really enjoyed as it allowed me the luxury of travelling worldwide, often going off the beaten track and exploring other cultures. After so long in the industry, I felt the need for a sea change and decided to give up my studio to be a full-time author. In a way, I see what I do now as a continuum of the art and design years; .I’m still in a creative world and there are many similarities.
Tell me about your latest book.
Conspiracy of Lies is a World War II Drama/Spy novel that takes us through the picturesque villages and towns of rural Brittany to the glittering dinner parties in fine villas and hotels requisitioned by the Nazi elite. Living a double life as a Gestapo Commandant’s mistress and a spy for SOE, Claire Bouchard, AKA Secret Agent Manon – cover name, Marie-Elise, faces death on a daily basis but by slipping behind enemy lines she retrieves vital information for the Allies leading up to D-Day.
The story unfolds in 2001, when Claire, by this time an elderly woman living in England, has a heart attack after receiving a death notice from a German newspaper sent to her by someone in France. She has tried to keep this notice private but her daughter, Sarah, finds it and is convinced it has something to do with the heart attack. Until this time Claire has kept a painful secret known only to herself and a trusted member of the Resistance.
Where do you get you information and ideas for your books?
Inspiration is all around us. We soak it up like a sponge. As a designer and a visual person, nothing is off limits. I explore everything and have developed a “nose” for sussing out the unusual. Apart from that, much of my inspiration comes from my travels – and reading of course. I couldn’t have written The Embroiderer without living and working in Greece and also travelling to Turkey. With my new novel Conspiracy of Lies, I have again drawn on my experiences in Northern France, Vienna and Germany and much of the research also was done whilst researching parts of The Embroiderer.
Do you have a specific process when writing a book?
When the seed of an idea is sown, I do a lot of reading and research and make notes. I need to know the beginning and the ending and then nut out the framework. The light and shade and minor plots will come from the main theme. I would like to say my notes are filed away in order which for the most part they are but it often turns out not to be the case. There are certain themes I have made so many notes on I can never find them when I want them. Much of The Embroiderer was handwritten first, mainly because it covered a huge amount of history and the dates had to be correct. With Conspiracy of Lies I did most of it straight into the computer from the notes.
Do you have a writing/reading quirk when writing a book?
I have to be organized. I try to read up quite a bit before I attempt to write the first chapter so that I am totally enveloped in the atmosphere of the subject – characters, time and place, etc.. I am also not one of those writers who feel they have to sit down and write so many words a day. I like to work on something and then go away from it. It doesn’t bother me for how long as I know that once I have started something I will finish it in the end.
What is something you’ve learned about yourself through the writing process?
To have patience. Writing and then getting the finished novel out there in the market place takes time. Not everyone will like what you do but that’s fine. The thing is to write to the best of your ability – and to trust your instinct. I think it’s important to visualize the book as you would a film. Have a dream.
What do you think makes a good story?
Plots differ but in the end the reader must feel empathy with the characters. They may not always like the all the protagonists but they must have a desire to find out what happens to them. People often think of a page-turner as some sort of high drama which grabs the reader in the first few pages and I agree that the reader must be drawn in during the first few pages or chapters but some great books are more like slow burners – they get under your skin in a subtle way and leave a lingering expression.
If you could only read one book over and over, which one would you pick and why?
Sarah Gainham’s Night Falls on the City: The Lost Masterpiece of Wartime Vienna. It’s a portrait of wartime Vienna and the struggle to survive after the Anschluss in 1938. An insight into the struggles and life of Nazi occupation as told through the eyes of a group of friends, one whom is the beautiful actress, Julia Homberg who has a Jewish husband.
What books are currently on your nightstand?
Mostly the ones for the next novel – Forty-Five Turkish Fairy Tales, The Book of Dede Korkut, Russian Roulette by Giles Milton and on Kindle, The Ming Storytellers by Laura Rahme and many more.
How do you organize your books?
By subject matter. Usually the ones I need for the latest WIP will be nearest to my desk.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Patrick Leigh Fermor and Richard Burton, translator of Tales from the Arabian Nights not the actor. They were both passionate writers and adventurers. And the third would have to be Leo Tolstoy because I’d like to get into the mind of someone who could write about such a woman as Anna Karenina.
Thank you for joining me on Of Quills & Vellum today, Kathryn! It was a pleasure talking with you.