Katherine Mezzacappa who also writes as Katie Hutton and Kate Zarrelli.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
- Age 15 I had a holiday in Thomas Hardy country I have never forgotten. I’ve stayed in the house where George Mackay Brown was born, in Stromness, Orkney. And I’ve visited writers’ homes, such as Wordsworth’s Cottage, Grasmere, the Brontë parsonage at Haworth, Dickens’s houses in Broadstairs and London, Yeats’s home in Sligo, Henry James’s house at Rye, Dr. Johnson’s London home, and Joseph Conrad’s grave in Canterbury cemetery, round the corner from where I used to live.
What is the first book that made you cry?
- Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I was 13 and a lonely kid so I used to read a lot. With a book you’re never alone. Now I am really, really grateful for that strong literary foundation.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
- It energises. I feel so bad if I don’t get ‘my words’ done every day. I sleep poorly or not at all if I haven’t written.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
- There are a few and I’ve probably fallen into them all. One is trying to write like someone else. You have to write what you feel but at the same time you can’t treat writing as just your own therapy, as you’re writing for an audience, who will probably not find your personal challenges as absorbing as you think they are. Think how you feel when someone shows you an entire family album of people you don’t know. So I’d say learn from your experience, but transform it. And don’t send your manuscript to an agent or publisher until you’ve really made it as good as it can be.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
- Sadly, and this is going to sound very curmudgeonly, it’s other people – some other people. I think writers have to be super-disciplined (and I think this is a good rule if you are not a writer too) to spend time with those who give you energy, encourage you, can be constructively critical, and to whom you too can give back. Not the time wasters.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? Anne Booth, prolific children and YA writer now exploring adult fiction too. She’s the gentlest and kindest person I know and I’m sorry I’m not more like her. She read me the riot act sitting in a pub near Canterbury in February 2016 about making excuses for not writing. Four years later I have a two book deal with a major publisher, have written two further novels, published a novella, am revising another novella for publication and have got numerous short stories out there. Every writer should have someone like Anne! Other author friends are Julie Cohen (her Louis and Louise is about to be made into a film) and Maria McCann, both of whom I knew professionally first as they assessed two novels for me. Patricia O’Reilly and Catherine Kullmann in Dublin are both great writers of historical fiction; Patricia is a great teacher and networker, and there is nothing Catherine doesn’t know about research, and self-marketing. Watch this space also for authors Lorraine Rogerson, Liz Kershaw and Jane Wallace, my Arvon companions. Also Ian Sansom in Newtownards, a marvellously comic historical novelist, perceptive reviewer and teacher of creative writing without compare (as well as being just a delightful bloke). Then there is the Cill Rialaig residency Seven in Ireland: Marie Breen-Smyth, Sheila Armstrong, June Caldwell, Charleen Hurtubise, Olivia Fitzsimons, Emily Cooper. Great gas, and great support. I should mention my fellow Zaffre author Elizabeth Woodcraft, who is also a barrister and gave me fantastic guidance, not just concerning legal accuracy, but also how to build tension in a court scene. Who said writing was a lonely business?
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
- I’d published non-fiction before, and some short stories, but the first fiction book I published was with eXtasy, a romance. Their editorial process was second to none. With their help, picking up on inconsistencies and head-hops, a book written years ago and left in a drawer became something I am proud of, and made me a better writer in all genres I write in.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
- Going to an Arvon residential in November 2016, for the people I met, and Ian Sansom’s tuition.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
- Reading George Orwell’s 1984. He’s more right about the danger of doublethink than ever.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
- David McLaurin’s The Bishop of San Fernando. McLaurin writes like a mixture of Graham Green and Joseph Conrad, but he’s become a priest and doesn’t seem to be publishing now.
- I always have to have a cat. Currently I’ve got Magnus and Seánie.
What does literary success look like to you?
- Actually I find that easier than writing about my own sex. I’m attracted to men, so it’s fun to write about them.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
- I’m not a big Dickens fan. He was so spiteful to his poor wife. Yet Nicholas Nickleby achieved the closure of dozens of abusive schools, more than any newspaper campaign could have.
How do you select the names of your characters?
- This is probably a bit ghoulish, but I write historical fiction, set in times when people moved about less than they do now, so I look at war memorials and churchyards in the places I’m setting my books, and choose names that recur.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
- Oh yes! Not telling…
What was your hardest scene to write?
- I’ve written a book set in Renaissance Italy which is currently with my agent, based on a real event, where a girl from an orphanage was used as a test bench for the virility of Vincenzo Gonzaga, so that he could make a dynastic marriage. The contemporary correspondence is never written from her point of view, but it is apparent that she fell for this man she spent only three nights with. I wrote a scene where she tells him what she hopes for her own future, only to find that he’s fallen asleep.
What is your favorite childhood book?
- Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Tom Kitten.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
- When I do the ninth reread and think the book is crap, even though I’d been pleased with it up to then.
When you die – what would you like the universe to say to you as you walk into the next life? You wrote something that brightened up a dull day.
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