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Kate Atkinson – sharing some tidbits from Capital Crime

One of the highlights of the Capital Crime festival for me was the conversation between Kate Atkinson and Jake Kerridge. I have been a fan of Kate Atkinson since ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’. I loved her literary fiction and was thrilled when she took a turn towards crime with the Jackson Brodie books. It was such a treat to have one of each this year, with ‘Transcription’ and the latest Jackson book, ‘Big Sky’. In case anyone would like the inside scoop on Ms Atkinson’s writing practice (I can’t seem to call her Kate) and what comes next, I made some notes…

Why the gap?

There’s been a few years between the first four Jackson Brodie books and this new one. Asked about this, Kate (I have to make myself use it because it’s shorter) said, ‘I never thought he’d gone; I’d just run out of steam’. She later referred to a concern about getting into ‘a Jackson rut’. She also suggested that she needed a gap after the TV series was made, so that she didn’t have the actor who played Brodie in her head when she wrote him.

So will there be more?

The first 30,000 words of the next Jackson Brodie is written, but the book is on the backburner, so we are going to have to wait. Apparently, it’s probably going to be the book after next. She talked about writing an homage to Agatha Christie’s ‘The Death at the Sign of the Rook’. She also said she’d thought Brodie would come back in Paris, so maybe that will come later – and that she really wanted to send him on a cruise ship. Lots to look forward to then.

What about Jackson?

‘If Jackson was a dog, he’d be a German Shepherd – or a Collie.’ Although it seems that lots of women tell Kate that they want to marry Jackson, she can’t imagine Jackson settled down – ‘he has to have that gunslinger attitude’.

Readers aren’t falling for Jackson’s looks, though. She pointed out that Jackson doesn’t have a physical persona in the books because she doesn’t tend to describe characters physically.

What about her move into the crime genre?

Kate said that she’d been wary of putting a detective into a novel because then it would be a detective novel. She said, ‘I try not to put myself into a genre because it effects how I write’. However, she says that she now embraces the crime genre quite happily.

What about coincidence?

I’ll just give you what she said about using coincidence in her plots: ‘a novel isn’t real life. You’re constructing something; it’s an artificial construct. There is something very satisfying about coincidence’.

What about the way she writes?

Apparently, Kate was trained as a secretary and learned to touch type when she was 18. She said, ‘I can’t think about a novel until I’m typing. Everything changes when I touch those keys’. She said that she doesn’t have much of a routine, although she is very self-disciplined.

I loved what she had to say about a metaphor for the way she writes. She rejected mosaic and said instead: ‘I think of writing as like a tapestry’. There’s a lot of interweaving and going back and mending. She likes to achieve a sense of texture and thinks that you have to do a lot of reworking to achieve that. ‘Transcription’, she said, was very, very character based, whereas ‘Life after Life’ was more about structure. (She considers ‘God in Ruins’ to be her best book ‘by miles’. She referred to it as ‘a very emotional book’.)

What does she enjoy most about writing?

Her immediate answer to this was: ‘I enjoy finishing a book’. (Hallelujah to that!) She said that she felt a sense of triumph.

She talked about good days being those when she felt like she’d written a good sentence – adding later that these came about every third day.

Taking a slightly broader perspective, she said that she really enjoyed creating characters and having that slightly God-like control over them. Earlier she’d referred to authors as being ‘the arch manipulator of everyone’s fate’, saying that this meant that you needed to keep your characters at arm’s length to enable you to do this.

I find it comforting that she finds it hard to get started again if she stops writing. Although this meant that she started ‘Big Sky’ the day after she finished ‘Transcription’, so then I felt like a pathetic failure. She’s currently writing short stories ‘to keep her hand in’.

What next?

Plans include a novel set in the sixties and another set in the 18th century. She said that she enjoyed bringing the past to life so that people could see that it was just the same as the present. ‘I have a lot of novels I want to write; I’m going to have to live for a long time,’ she said. I’d call that very good news.

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