I am so excited to introduce Katherine Reay to A Library of My Own's readers. I absolutely adored her two novels Dear Mr. Knightley and Lizzy & Jane and am eagerly awaiting her next novel -- more about that at the end of the interview!
Welcome to A Library of My Own. I am so excited to have the opportunity to interview you because I recently read and loved both of your books Dear Mr Knightly and Lizzy & Jane.
I love books that incorporate different senses into the writing and Lizzy & Jane is definitely one of those books. I actually tabbed some of Elizabeth's recipes to try later - like the Greek chicken salad she made Nick. How did you do your research to write through Elizabeth's foody perspective?
That was the best research project ever – enlightening and yummy. It took a three-prong approach to capture all I wanted to learn. I dug into literature, looking at all the references I could find in Austen, Hemingway and other writers for ways food was used as reflection of character and relationship. Simultaneously I scoured cookbooks for healthy eating ideas and tips for people struggling with cancer, compromised immune systems, allergies and other heath-related concerns. My daughter has some dietary issues and my husband and I run a lot, so that was familiar reading. And finally I picked through some of my favorite cookbooks and family recipes, playing on familiar and comfortable themes. We love to cook in our house and everything Lizzy made is a variant of a family favorite. I must remember that for future books – make your research tasty.
One of my favorite passages in Lizzy & Jane is when you wrote "Great writers and my mom never used food as an object. Instead it was a medium, a catalyst to mend hearts, to break down barriers, to build relationships." I noticed your love of literature, not just Jane Austen, all through the book. Ernest Hemingway, Cold Comfort Farm, A Year in Provence, The Wind in the Willows. It reminded me of how I love the smells and tastes in Sarah Addison Allen's books or Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients. Do you have other favorite food or sensory books?
Great question… Food books: Recently Christa Parrish’s Stones for Bread had me pulling French loaves apart and Hillary Manton Lodge’s A Table for Two compelled me to bake cakes. I also love Dickens’s breakfasts; the stark cold feeling from the sparse fare laid out in Wuthering Heights; the opulent culinary texture Peter Mayle gives us in every book; the full sensory experience emanating from The Life of Pi; the rich flowers that permeate the air when reading The Language of Flowers; the sights and smells suggestive of 1940s Seattle in The Hotel at The Corner of Bitter and Sweet and even the acrid, dead scents captured in Dracula, which kept me awake a few nights last month.
As writer, I haven’t mastered this area; but as a reader, it’s important to me to feel absorbed within a story on multiple levels. And such absorption in sight, smell and texture, fit Lizzy’s character so I worked to keep her close to all her senses.
One of the main reasons I picked up Lizzy & Jane is because I love books about sisters. I have an older sister and it's such an important relationship. Obviously even Jane Austen thought so too. Do you have a sister and what was your inspiration for writing about this relationship?
I do have a sister. She is eight and a half years younger (same distance between L & J.) and her name is Elizabeth. ☺ Now before you think Lizzy & Jane is in any way autobiographical, I need to assure you it’s not. Like L & J, however, our age difference meant that Elizabeth and I were not terribly close as children. Unlike L & J, my sister is now my beloved confident, first reader and closest friend.
Perhaps our relationship was part of the inspiration for Lizzy & Jane, but not entirely – Sibling relationships are always fascinating. One can look at a sister or a brother and in a single heartbeat feel love, annoyance, jealously, bitterness, betrayal and a fierce loyalty – and that’s in one moment. I wanted to play upon that depth of emotion and explore it and felt sisters gave me the greatest latitude in both pulling and pushing a relationship.
Lizzy & Jane really resonated with me because like Elizabeth, I lost my father to cancer when I was 17 years old. I empathized with her age and also the fact that no matter what, losing a member of the family is tough on everyone and leaves such a scar. But I also loved that while you wrote about such a serious topic the book is filled with optimism and hope. What made you decide to use cancer as the center of conflict between Elizabeth and Jane?
I’m so sorry you experienced that. Thank you for letting me know that Lizzy’s experience and perspective wasn’t too off-the-mark. It breaks my heart that cancer is such a reality in our lives and in our families, but it is. As I began to think about using cancer as a canvas for Lizzy and Jane’s struggle, I asked others about their experiences. I didn’t find a single person who hadn’t traveled the road either personally or beside a family member or friend. These conversations definitely revealed the pain that cancer and life can bring, but they also revealed how much hope and strength and beauty exists within our families and our faith during such times.
As I think back to the very beginning, I’m not sure I can separate Lizzy’s character from her journey with cancer. It was simply part of her story and make-up from the first moment she and I met.
I am a Christian and I loved how subtly you incorporated Elizabeth's faith into the story. For instance I love the passage "I knew I could no longer justify my existence. No work could accomplish that. And if it couldn't, then it meant that I was more. I could be more, live more, give more - live large and thankful and with no regrets." Do you consider your novels to be Christian fiction? How do you balance your writing knowing more than just Christians will be reading your novels?
Ah… That’s an interesting question. Clearly my novels come from a Christian world-view. It’s my worldview. But it’s not my intention to let readers grasp that too easily. Rather, I believe I write best when I let the characters wrestle issues to the ground in their own fictional situations, even leaving some questions and concerns unanswered all together.
Whether one is a Christian or not, or one talks about such things aloud or not, we all struggle with the same big eternal issues: Who am I? What’s my purpose? Where do I belong? I love examining those and if a reader glimpses something true, beautiful and affirming in my story then I’m more than delighted.
Last question, I read a brief synopsis about your next book and think it sounds awesome. Could you tell my readers what it's all about? When do you think it will be published?
Okay, you’ve just hit upon a great weakness. I’m horrific at the Elevator Pitch – that elusive one sentence description that captures a story’s totality in a fresh and tantalizing way.
My next book doesn’t have a name yet. Left to me, I’d probably title it something dreadful like Two Women on an Exciting Journey through England. It involves a young computer hacker, an octogenarian former thief, lovely books, London, Yorkshire, interior design, great clothes and a huge diamond. And I love the story… And before it releases in October 2015, it will have a fabulous title and a pithy Elevator Pitch!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all my questions and I'm looking forward to reading your next novel!
Amanda, Thank you very much. I so enjoyed your questions and loved being here today. All the best, KBR
Also super excited to let you all know that Katherine Reay recently unveiled the title of her next book via her Facebook page. I am so excited!
The Giveaway has ended, February 23rd - the winner is LEEANN!!