Greatest Hits: Laura Barnett and Kathryn Williams
In the September issue of Writing Magazine, we met bestselling novelist Laura Barnett and Mercury Prize-nominated singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams to discuss their unique collaboration on Greatest Hits - a novel by Laura accompanied by an album by Kathryn.
Before (or after!) you read the interview, read the opening chapter from Laura's book here, and scroll down to listen to the accompanying song via Soundcloud and watch their entertaining video interview. But first, find out a bit more about Laura's career to date:
What did working in arts and features journalism before becoming a novelist – what did it give you in terms of writing fiction?
Journalism has given me so much as a writer. The necessity of detail: the more specific you are, the more resonant it becomes in the reader’s mind. A good journalistic feature requires a really keen eye, not just for what someone’s saying, but how they say it. You have to be shrewd and focus on a few key details. And look for the colour, the funny little fact. But the bad side is, I find it difficult to give myself permission to make things up. I find myself looking up the most random things, like what kind of toilet basin would have been in a hotel in New York in the 1970s?
And what about in terms of subject matter? The characters in your novels are artists, writers, musicians…
As an arts journalist I interviewed artists… I’m drawn to artists... and I’m interested in the challenges of maintaining a relationship when you lead an unconventional life. My husband’s a musician, so it’s something we talk about. He’s a sound engineer and producer, and songwriter with Northern Light Exposure.
Will you carry on writing about artists?
I won’t always write about the arts. The novel I’m working on now is called Salvage, it’s about a 50-year relationship and the characters work in industrial salvage. I suppose I’m drawn to unconventional people, but my project as an author is to map the details of everyday life.
Did anything surprise you about the response to The Versions of Us?
I had a review in the Guardian – very good, very warm – by Jenny Colgan. But the first comment was ‘it’s only chicklit anyway.’ I was really surprised that a book I considered quite structurally challenging and innovative was being dismissed out of hand because I’m a young woman and it’s about love. It’s a way of putting us in our place, almost, that someone was looking to dismiss fiction that takes the stuff of everyday life as being less substantial.
What’s your writing process?
I’ve only been a full-time novelist for about four years so I’m kind of learning! I’m not a meticulous planner so I take quite a lot of time before I put finger to keyboard. I use Scrivener, write a synopsis, get a basic idea for the arc of the story. And then, because my books involve characters who are older than me, I have quite a lot of research to do. I trend to read a lot of non-fiction, immerse myself in online photographs, books, films, music. I have a mood-board, I have a Scrivener folder with the research. And once I feel the characters are coming into focus, I’ll sit down and start writing. I’ll plan a couple of sections ahead, and put the characters in a situation and kind of go with it. I do redraft, but I’m quite slow and meticulous.
Is there anything you’d recommend to new writers?
Find a time to write every day. Find 15, 2 minutes and be strict with yourself. Versions got written when I was working as a freelancer. The discipline of doing that was invaluable.
To find out more about Kathryn and Laura's process and how it all came about, watch the video
For the full interview, see the September issue of Writing Magazine.