Kate Atkinson at Scarborough library. 23-04-09

I looked forward to this as I have just read her last three novels and really enjoyed them. They are the kind of basically lightweight easy read which doesn’t always come anything like as well written and there should be more books like them. As a writer she is sharp, funny and never wastes words, her books are well structured and fast paced, written with real insight into human nature. I thought I had a very good idea what she would be like, and I wanted to know if I was right.
It turned out to be very interesting. She isn’t a performer, there’s no reason why she should be, but she was very good at talking about being a writer. I was surprised that she writes about 20,000 words without any structuring or planning beforehand (not on paper anyway) and then gets to a kind of sticking point where she has to find a structure. Finding this structure for a book is what she said that she is looking for, and the process is quite stressful until it is there. That’s what makes the difference between books that get finished and books that don’t. It’s interesting that a writer with such a good command of structure doesn’t start with that and still finds it a hard thing to find. What keeps her going is the impulse to complete a book, to wrestle it to the ground, as she said, until there is no fight left in it and it is done. One thing which did bring out the down to earth side of her which I was expecting to see was a rather pompous question including a Steinbeck quote about his characters emerging filthy with words. The person who asked clearly wanted to hear the sound of their own voice (there’s always one on these occasions) and while Kate Atkinson remained polite she clearly had little time for the question. It interested me that she is writing another novel with Jackson Brodie in it (yay!) seemingly almost against her will , in that she would actually like to write something different but he has turned up again. She was also honest enough to admit that while there is a definite impulse to write she also writes for money. The last three crime novels have sold extremely well so that is an understandable incentive.
One last small thing that interested, and slightly puzzled me, was that she failed to answer a simple question about favourite authors, only managing to come up with an AS Byatt children’s book that she had read in proof. Beyond any doubt she reads a great deal and always has, she said that was one of the main qualifications for being a writer, so that was odd.

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