Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Author Q & A with Katherine Marsh

Continuing in the spirit of celebration for today’s blogiversary, I am now lucky enough to be joined by the lovely Katherine Marsh, author of  ‘The Night Tourist’ and ‘The Twilight Prisoner’ who has just released her latest novel ‘Jepp, Who Defied the Stars’ – a hauntingly beautiful tale with an extraordinary hero at its heart.

“For those readers who haven’t yet discovered Jepp, who defied the Stars, how would you describe the book to them and tempt them to pick up a copy?”

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is the story of a teenager at the end of the 16th century who leaves his small town home to become a court dwarf, rebels against the world he finds there, and ends up a captive of a revolutionary and eccentric astronomer. It’s a tale about fate and free will, specifically the question of whether our parents, circumstances and misfortunes define us, or whether we can shape our own destinies. The characters are based on real historical figures, including the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and the dwarf who served him. I think anyone who's ever felt like an outsider or underestimated by the world will enjoy this book--as well as anyone looking for a page-turning historical adventure. 

“Can you tell us a bit about your process – how the ideas come to you, and how you develop them?” 

My background is as a journalist and one of the hints I used to share with reporters was to pay special attention to moments that bother you. The same is true for fiction. I think great books come out of questions, confusion, things that rattle and plague you. In the case of Jepp, I knew I wanted to write a novel about fate and free will because of my own conflicting feelings on this subject. When I was growing up my mother was a very serious astrologer and, to this day, I find comfort in the idea of predetermination. But, at the same time, I am constantly both exhilarated and terrified by a gut feeling that life is uncertain and unknowable.
When I decided I wanted to write about this topic, I began to read about the history of astrology and became fascinated by the time in which astronomers were also astrologers but a new sense of science and free will were emerging. This led me to the astronomer/ astrologer Tycho Brahe. He was such an eccentric character--with a futuristic castle with running water, a collection of automata or moving statues and even a beer-drinking pet moose--that I immediately wanted to write about him. When I read that a dwarf named Jepp sat at his feet I thought of the wonderful portraits of court dwarfs by the 17th century Spanish artist Diego Velazquez and the story of a teenage court dwarf trying to control his own destiny came into focus.

“What was the most exciting part for you?” 
The most exciting part for me was putting Jepp into tough situations and watching him work his way through them. Once you establish a strong character and voice for that character, they begin to take you on a journey. I also loved shaping the language in Jepp, trying to make the prose as distinctive, memorable, and beautiful as I could.

“And what was the most challenging?” 

The most challenging part of the process is honestly putting Jepp out into the marketplace. We live in a time in which books are expected to be reducible to Hollywood-style sound bites and in which familiarity is considered a virtue. I did not write Jepp with those kind of commercial considerations in mind. Rather, the book is an act of faith that there are plenty of readers out there who value complexity, originality and ambition.

“What has been your favourite part of the writing and publishing process?”

On a good day, the writing part of the process is my favorite. On a bad day, I take solace in having written although when I look at my published books, I'm always afraid I won't be able to do it again.

"What are the most important attributes to helping you stay sane as a writer?"

I don't think anyone who aspires to become a writer should place a high value on sanity. Doubt, failure and madness can be just as instructive.

“Has writing always been something you wanted to do? And how did you make the jump from wanting to write and writing for yourself to becoming a full time writer?”

I've wanted to write pretty much as long as I can remember. It's the way I process the world. I started my career as a narrative journalist, which is a wonderful way to learn how to observe the world and structure a story. But ultimately, I wanted the freedom to create worlds, as opposed to just describing the one around me. In my late 20s, I wrote one children's book that ended up in a drawer but it gave me the confidence to attempt another. This second one found an agent and eventually a publisher. It's called The Night Tourist and was published in translation in ten countries and won a big US mystery writing award. I wish I could say that it's been easy since then but I still struggle with doubt and the fear that I'm not really a "writer." So I hope no one else let's that stop them.

“Do you have a specific routine or writing process, and does anything in particular stimulate your writing?”

I work for about 4-6 hours a day, starting at 8am, when my mind is fresh. Some days I write nothing at all, other days several pages. There are occasional moments of inspiration interspersed with lots of revision made to look like inspiration. I am always stimulated to write by reading other books, especially ones that give me a new sense of what is possible.

“Do you have some favourite books or authors that have inspired you?” 

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is one of my all-time favorites. I love how expansive the story is, integrating religious history, Soviet oppression, philosophy, magic realism, romance. I like books that defy genre and that appeal to our interlinked sense of mortality and wonder.

“What are you working on at the moment?”

A story based on a Russian fairy tale.

If you’d like to find out more about Katherine, you can follow her on twitter @MarshKatherine

You can also follow the lovely UK publishers of Jepp, Hot Key Books here!

You can also find her facebook page here, and don’t forget to check her website for more information and news!

1 comment:

  1. Heard Katharine talk about Jepp today at the LA Times Festival of Books and thought it sounded wonderful. The exploration of fate and free will is particularly intriguing.