The Allotment Girls
I'd like to say a huge welcome to Kate Thompson to Boon's Bookcase and I am so pleased to be a part of this Blog Tour. I do love a family/wartime saga and I find the covers of these books just gorgeous. Today I am delighted to have a Q&A with the author herself! Thank you for answering my questions!
Firstly, please could you tell readers a little about yourself?
Hi Julie! Thank you for having me on your blog. Well, I'm a 43-year-old mum of two very loud, boisterous boys.I live in Sunbury Upon Thames with them, a very elderly Jack Russell called Twinkle and my husband Ben.
I like to exercise; Crossfit, yoga and running, but mainly because I have a serious mint Matchmaker habit!
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
It sounds like a cliche but I can't remember a time when I wanted to be anything else. Creative writing was my passionate at school, perhaps to the detriment of everything else as when I came out of school, it was with one GCSE in English. From there I became a journalist, I'm still not sure to this day how I got on the National Council Training Journalists (NCTJ) course as it was only open to graduates, and I definitely did not have a degree, but they accepted me and I never looked back. Journalism gave me the chance to indulge my love of stories, writing, interviewing and trying to understand what drives human nature. I have sat in hundreds of front rooms, often in very difficult, heartbreaking and emotional circumstances and listened as people's stories unfolded. It's very humbling.
What did you do as a job before becoming a writer?
I have never really done anything else but work as a writer, apart from a Saturday job delivering cakes, which it turns out I wasn't very good at. I managed to get a huge birthday pavlova stuck in some revolving doors and it got smashed to pieces. I was also a waitress but got fired for spending too long talking to people.
How do you carry out the research for your novels?
It’s a bit of a scattergun approach. I draw up a huge list of places to go and people to speak with, which includes libraries, community groups, Facebook groups and calling round the wartime East Enders I know. I met a lovely 82-year-old lady called Anne who told me all about how she worked at Bryant & May. When she told me this:
“‘There was such camaraderie and friendliness amongst the girls. It taught me to be strong, work hard and to appreciate the value of friendship.” I knew these same values had to be instilled in my characters. Working away in the archives is great but nothing beats speaking to someone who was actually there. That's when history bursts into life.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
Some people say they struggle to sit down and just write, I don't have that as much, working as a journalist gave me a good work ethic and a fear of missing the deadline. What I struggle more with is characterisation, I know some writers whose characters are so well drawn and fully fleshed out you feel they must have been living with them inside their heads for years, but that's something I'm continually working on to try and improve.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I have an office at the top of the house which is a quiet spot with a lovely view over the river. I try to see it as much as a job, every day once I`ve dropped the boys to school and possibly done an exercise class, I brew up a large coffee, I plonk my bum on the seat and I write, even if inspiration isn't flowing and I'm inwardly thinking, "this is a load of rubbish" I write because I know how important psychologically the first draft is. Once it's there you can and will revisit it dozens of time, editing, cutting, polishing. I'm afraid I've never been able to work in cafes etc, as it's too noisy for me, that said, I do carry a notebook everywhere and if I overhear something interesting, funny or juicy on the Tube or bus I jot it down. You never know when an idea will strike you after all.
When you're not writing, what do you like to read?
Anything, everything and every day. In order to switch off, I try to read outside the genre in which I write.
I'm currently reading The Stranger by Kate Riordan, a tense, dark Agatha Christie style mystery set in wartime Cornwall. Before that I read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, which absolutely blew my mind and before that, it was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. Actually reading that list back it would appear I am obsessed with the First and Second World War! Next to read is the Rosie Project which a friend has been telling me for ages I have to read.
How important do you think social media is to authors in today's society?
I think you ignore it at your peril. Look at people's reading habits and where they go to to interact and get their news. It's not from traditional newspapers and magazines any longer. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay and authors really need to connect with it and use it to their advantage. I treat my author Facebook page like a community. Post regularly, interact, be curious, ask questions, and post giveaways, news, events, links to videos, favourite photos or anniversaries. The other day, I came across a wonderful photo of a group of apron-clad matriarchs gossiping on the doorstep. ‘What are they talking about?’ I asked. The feedback to that question was amazing, with people laughing and imagining the most creative and witty stories. Facebook especially gives you access to the mind of your reader and an insight to what makes them tick, as well as their hopes, fears and loves. Market researchers used to pay thousands for those kinds of insights.
Could you tell the readers a bit about your latest book?
It’s the story of a group of women working in the notorious Bryant & May match factory in Bow in wartime. My characters set up a Dig for Victory allotment in the grounds of the factory in a scheme inspired by a real-life group of intrepid gardeners who transformed bombsites into allotments. As the garden grows, it becomes a place of intrigue and deceit. An allotment is such a wonderful stage for drama. Serene and beautiful on the face of it, but dig deeper, and it can conceal all manner of secrets.
Which of your characters would you most like to be and why?
Ha, there's a good question! I would rather like to be like ravishingly beautiful, headstrong and ambitious 21-year-old seamstress, Daisy in Secrets of the Singer Girls, though in reality I am probably more like her downtrodden, grumpy, cynical mother, Vera.