An Alternative Author Interview:
TCL’s Countdown Questions.
This week I’m featuring author Kate Braithwaite!
It was actually Kate who contacted me about reading her book “The Girl Puzzle” which is about Nellie Bly. I had just read David Blixt’s novel “What Girls are Good For” which is also about Nellie Bly, and the movie “Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story” had just been released. Someone on a Facebook page was saying that the film had some glaring mistakes, and I commented how it sounded like the screenwriter should have read David’s book. That’s when I saw that Kate also had a book about Nellie Bly, and we got to chatting. I showed interest in reading her book as well, and the rest, as they say, is history. Leave it to say that I don’t think I’ll be watching that movie, but at least I got to know Kate and to read her book! Now, let’s see how she answered my questions.
- If you could visit five (5) places you’ve never been, where would you go and why?
Right now, my top place I want to go to is Virginia! That might not seem the obvious choice but I’m a historical novelist and my work in progress is set there, in the late eighteenth century. There are certain houses where real events that form part of the story took place, and I’m planning to visit those that are still there. There’s nothing quite like stepping where your characters once stepped. There are clear tangible benefits – being able to see a landscape and accurately describe buildings and rooms for example – but there’s also an intangible benefit, hard to describe, a kind of feeling of authenticity or connection between the real and the imagined that I hope comes through in the writing.
On that same theme, I’d love to return to a couple of places I visited for my last novel, The Girl Puzzle. Although I’ve stood outside the building on 2nd Avenue where Nellie Bly pretended to be insane, and also the asylum on Roosevelt Island where she was committed as a result, I wasn’t able to go inside either. The 2nd Avenue building is derelict (how much would I love to win the lottery and turn that site into a Nellie Bly museum??) and the asylum is now an apartment block. I think sometimes you can go inside the Rotunda part of the asylum and see the original staircase but it was closed on the day I was there. Boo hoo!
Stepping away from writing and research, I have Alaska on my bucket list. I’ve always been drawn to grand scenery and have a love of gothic literature. There’s something so moving and dramatic about icebergs. If I could see a few whales while I was there, that would be perfect. I’m a big fan of whales!
Following on from that, I also have the Grand Canyon and Arizona on my list. We are hoping to head there with the family next year.
Growing up and living in the UK until I was nearly 40, I’ve seen a lot of wonderful cities in Europe. I’ve also visited parts of Asia and Australia. So nowadays when I’m thinking of places I’ve never been to, I turn my thoughts to Scotland where I lived until I was 18. I made it to Loch Ness a couple of years ago, but I’ve never been to the Isle of Skye. I had a favourite novel as a child that I used to read over and over again when staying at my grandparents’ house. It was called School on Skye I think, about a girls’ boarding school. I just loved it.
- Name four (4) foods or dishes that you enjoy so much that they’ve practically become part of your personality.
Avocado – avocados are hands-down my favourite food. Forget bacon, for me everything tastes better with avocado.
Haggis – there is something about being an expat that really brings into focus all sorts of things that you miss from home, often things you didn’t think you would miss before you left. Haggis is one of these. Many people in the US haven’t heard of haggis but anyone heading to Scotland should definitely try it. It’s a spicy mix of lamb offal and oatmeal. Sounds terrible but it really tastes good!
Hummus – like many writers, I have a go-to munchy food when I’m busy writing and don’t want to let everyday things like eating interrupt my flow. Hummus and chips or carrots are it for me. Can you be addicted to chick peas? I’m thinking yes.
Lastly, I’m picking a cup of tea. Not sure if it counts as a food or a dish, but it’s definitely an essential for me. I love tea – specifically black breakfast tea or builder’s tea as we call it in the UK. Whenever I’m writing or reading or thinking about writing or doing pretty much anything, I’ve almost always got a cup of tea on the go.
- There is the past, the present, and the future – if you could choose, which of these three (3) would you prefer to live in, and why?
The present. While I love spending my working life in the past – researching and writing historical novels – I’ve no desire to live there! When I was writing my second novel, The Road to Newgate, I did a lot of research about 17th century childbirth and midwifery. I’m very glad to have had my three babies in the 21st century. And as for the future? Like many people, I’m quite concerned about the future because of climate change. Perhaps I’m unadventurous, but the present works for me, even if we live in a far from perfect world.
- Best and/or worst – you choose which – name two (2) of either your best moments of your life, worst moments of your life, or one of each.
I’m going for the 2 worst moments, although one of them, while terrible at the time, was not so terrible in retrospect. But first, the really bad one. Just over a year ago, one of my kids nearly died. My son Max, then aged 15, almost drowned. He is a swimmer and was doing his normal Sunday morning practice. The group swam a length, flip-turned and then swam back. Except Max flip-turned and stayed under. Thankfully, people realized. He was pulled unconscious from the water, resuscitated and taken to hospital. The rest of the story involves tests, misdiagnosis and a disastrous 6 months of medicine with enormous side-effects that it turns out now he did not need. But the moments of the phone call, when we heard what had happened, and of driving to the hospital not knowing if he was alive? Those were certainly the worst I’ve experienced.
My other worst moment wasn’t life or death although it felt that way to me at the time. When I was 7, I started my third year of primary school with a new teacher, having had the same lovely teacher for the first two years. The new lady – Miss Curran – started the first day by making labels for the pegs where we would hang our coats and gym bags every day. When it was my turn, she called me over and with a big black marker pen poised over a label, asked me how to spell my name. “K-A-T-E”, I said. “No,” said Miss Curran. “I want to know how to spell your real name, Kathryn.” Well, I didn’t know! Although my legal name is Kathryn, I had never (and still have never) used it. I hadn’t a clue how to spell it and there I was, thinking I was a bright, good girl who could read and loved school – but I couldn’t spell my own name! I can still feel the horror of the moment, the feeling of all the blood draining from my body, the sense of panic and shame!
- Name one (1) book you’ve read in the past year (or so) that you wish you had written, and why.
I’m currently reading “The Giver of Stars” by Jojo Moyes. It’s my first Jojo Moyes book and it was recommended to me by a friend, particularly because it’s historical and that’s my favourite genre to read as well as write. The opening is just spectacular. It jumps right in, sets the historical time and place seamlessly and introduces characters I instantly want to read more about. That’s always what I’m aiming for and it’s great to come across something like that. I’m excited to read it over, break it down and see what I can learn from it.
Thanks Kate! (Now… if you ever visit me in Israel, I’d be happy to treat you to the best Hummus in the world – and our avocados are pretty fantastic as well!)
From Kate’s website: Once upon a time in a pub in Chelsea, some bloke asked me ‘what my talent was’ and I had no response. I think I was supposed to say that I could speak Mandarin or play the harp or that I made my own clothes out of used plastic bags, but the only thing that sprang to mind was that I read a lot.
Years on and the answer is pretty much the same. I love books, novels especially, and I also love writing and words in general – oh, and my kids and my mum and my dogs and my husband and the cat (although not necessarily in that order).
I grew up in Edinburgh and have lived in various parts of England, Canada and now Pennsylvania. We are so settled here right now, that I have recently put my books in alphabetical order – no small undertaking!
I’m the author of three fact-based historical novels – so far! The first two are set in 17th century Paris and London respectively: Charlatan (Fireship, 2016) and The Road to Newgate (Crooked Cat, 2018). The Girl Puzzle, a novel of Nellie Bly, (Crooked Cat in 2019) takes place in late 19th and early 20th century New York City. It’s about to be made into an audio book.