Author Interview: Kate Williams

Posted: November 14, 2006 in Uncategorized

An interview with Kate Wiliams, author of England’s Mistress:the Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton

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1). How has the experience of publishing England’s Mistress? What about the experience has stood out from your other writing endeavors?

As ‘England’s Mistress’ is my first book, I’ve had many surprises! Perhaps the most interesting thing of all is how much your job changes after you hand in your manuscript. Before you do, you’re simply someone who beavers away on your work on the computer. Then after that, you occupy so many different roles. You grow to understand production, and then art research and then publicity…But the greatest surprise has got to be seeing it in the shops – I still can’t quite get over it.

2) What writing projects are you working on currently?

Apart from writing articles to publicise Emma for newspapers and magazines, I’m working on my second book. I’m still working on strong women, but I’m moving slightly forward in time, into the very late Regency period and the early Victorians. At the moment, I’m writing on Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV – who died tragically in childbirth

3) Do you practice any writing rituals?

Not really. I get up, I get ready etc, then I start writing. I find it harder to stop than start. I use notebooks a lot, so I can scribble on the Tube or at bus stops, or just while I’m waiting.

4) What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

I’m always reading – the minute I get up, cooking, brushing my teeth.. In terms of biography, I recently enjoyed Maria Fairweather’s Madame de Stael – a wonderful book, and I’m currently enjoying Lucy Moore’s Revolution Belles. I spent my summer in New York, so it seemed apt to read Manhattan Transfer and USA, which I thought was fabulous. I’ve also just been reading the novels of Antonia White, as well as her biography by Jane Dunn.

I have a plan of trying to read the longest novels I can find (in translation!), and I’m currently on Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. My favourite so far is Cao Xuequin’s Story of the Stone, a fascinating eighteenth-century family saga set in China.

5) Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately about?

The environment. It seems unbelievable that we’re hurtling towards what seems to be a terrible catastrophe, whilst doing very little about it.

6) Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life?

I don’t know if I have a philosophy. But I like Samuel Beckett’s ‘Fail Better’. I think it’s important to keep on going. To do it or at least to try.

7) If you were marooned on a island, stuck on an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you want to have with you?

Heavens – just one. I guess it would have to be the Bible. I don’t know it as well as I should and there are lots of good stories in there. If I was just stuck in an elevator, maybe it would be War and Peace. I took Anna Karenina as one of my few books for a three month tour of rural Central America, where I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy many books – and I could have recited it by the end.

8) What memories do you have, from your childhood, about your experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your love of books and reading?

Public libraries were absolutely crucial to me. My family weren’t bookish and so my tastes were entirely crafted by the library. We lived in a small Midlands village in between two larger ones, both with a library, so I ‘cheated’ – I persuaded my mother to take me to both libraries every week, so I managed to supply myself with 11 new library books a week, from about the age of 7. By the age of 11, when I’d exhausted both libraries, I was given dispensation to join the adult libraries, which was truly wonderful. I discovered James, Austen, and hundreds of other fabulous books.

Some of the most crucial books I ever read as a child were library books. The stories have stayed in my head wonderfully – there was a fantastic one about a missing sister. But I can’t find them – I’ve tried. Now, I live a short walk from two local libraries, and I love piling up my living room with books!

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Kate Williams

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