Saturday, August 22, 2020

Kate Riordan

Kate Riordan is a British writer and journalist who worked for the Guardian and Time Out London.

Her new novel is The Heatwave.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The Heatwave, as a title, doesn’t attempt to tell the reader much about the specific plot points of my story, which is set in the south of France and brim-full of long-buried family secrets. But what it does suggest, I hope, is the mood of the book. A heatwave is by its nature extraordinary and so it follows that the people enduring it will start to behave in extraordinary ways, shucking off the normal rules like their clothes as the mercury keeps on rising.

A reader knows without conscious thought that there will be drama in a book called The Heatwave because hot weather can send people mad; we naturally associate extreme heat with fury and fire and boiling resentments, and all of these are present in the book. We also know instinctively that heatwaves can’t go on forever. At some point the weather is going to break, and probably in dramatic fashion. Any reader will pick up that the action ‘on the ground’ in the book is going to mirror that climax.

I did consider the title Heatstroke instead - I liked the single word, and the sensuousness of ‘stroke’ (though the medical condition, which features in the book, is anything but), but the word ‘heatwave’ seemed to hold more menace and tension - and that’s exactly what I was after.

What's in a name?

The family in my book is half-French, half-English. The narrator is Sylvie, who is returning to her childhood home in Provence, which is also where she lived with her now ex-husband and their first child, Elodie, who they lost ten years earlier. Their younger daughter is Emma, who left France for London when she was only four and is to all intents and purposes, fully English. Those two girls names, both beginning with E, were very deliberately chosen. Elodie is French, pretty but foreign, melodic but unknowable, just like the character herself. Emma is English and familiar, a little bit gauche and plain - and the daughter who is a much simpler proposition for her mother.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not very surprised at all! I have always loved France and spent a lot of time there as a teenager. 1993 is the present day in the book and Emma is turning fourteen, which is more or less the age I was myself back then. I did that on purpose so I could relive my own teenage summers: the promise of sultry evenings, the cool jewellery you could buy in the markets, the unfamiliar smells and sounds, the boys. Everything feels super-charged when you’re that age, caught between childhood and the adult world, and I wanted to try and capture that as best I could from my own memories.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I love beginnings. There’s that line about every book being a beautiful idea ruined and I think lots of writers identify heavily with that. When I start, I have such high hopes, but of course it never quite turns out the way you intended. Actually, it’s not the end that’s so tricky - it’s the middle. That’s the bit that gets away from me!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I think there are always elements of you in your characters but often it will be something quite small that you borrow from your own life. So you might have a character who doesn’t like flying or who loves the burnt crust of pizza (both of these apply to me!). These little details can make a character ring true. But with the big stuff it’s much more fun to create people who are absolutely not like you.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I did a lot of film studies as part of my English degree - I was always drawn to those courses over the more traditional literature options. I try to write in a very visual way - I want readers to be there, in the world I’ve made up - and so I definitely draw on films and TV shows I’ve loved to do that. Drama series are also brilliant for plotting and pacing - there will often be multiple arcs running at the same time: one for a single episode, another for the season, others in case a second or third season is commissioned. There are even mid-season arcs in case a show gets cancelled. The writers really squeeze every drop of tension, potential and possibility out of their cast of characters and there’s a lot to learn there for a writer.
Visit Kate Riordan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue