03 May 2017
On writing emotions, mysteries and rural locations with the Hiding Places author
Read our full interview with Katherine Webb in the June issue of Writing Magazine. In the meantime, whet your appetite with a brief tease!
Each of your novels involves a revelation of secrets. How do you create this effect?
The revelation of secrets and the build-up of tension can be tricky! It does give me some headaches. I have to just write it and jiggle things around and put them in. The Hiding Places was an absolute shocker, keeping track of everyone – it was a real brainache. In the first draft I concentrated so hard on getting to the end without giving away the twist that I had to go back and give Pudding and Irene focus and agency.
It’s a good twist – I really didn’t see it coming!
I’ve always wanted to write a really good twist. One of my quite formative books was Rebecca and I remember my jaw hitting the floor when Max says ‘I hated her.’ I had to reassess everything I’d read. It hit me between the eyes! It’s not easy to make a reader go back and rethink what they’ve read.
Is there a reason why there are recurring countryside settings in your books?
I don’t think I’ve written an urban book! I’ve always lived in the countryside apart from brief years in London and Venice. Cities are fascinating but they exhaust me.
Click the cover to LISTEN to an audio extract from The English Girl, courtesy of Audible
Are landscape and place vital components of your novels?
I think places are very intrinsic to my books. I’m inspired by place. I go and spend a lot of time lurking in my settings and discovering everything I possibly can about that place. It dictates the tone and atmosphere, so it is an extra character. I can’t imagine being able to transfer any of the stories to a different setting. It’s all bound up in the character and feel of the book. I’m very affected by landscape and weather – it affects my mood, and this definitely shows in the way I use settings.
Your last novel, 2016’s The English Girl, was set in the desert, in Oman. Did you spend time there?
The book really was a love story to the desert. I thought it would be a bit fraudulent writing about the desert unless I’d done it. Of course we had GPS, four-wheel drives, but just to have gone far away from civilization was such an experience, so I went into the desert for five days, wild camping.
What inspired that book?
The character of Maude in The English Girl was inspired by the explorer Gertrude Bell, an incredible character and so under-recognised, compared to the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, and I was outraged on her behalf, that she’s largely passed out of memory. So I was glad to write a character who was overlooked. Nathaniel in The English Girl nicked Maude’s triumph, her victory – and he didn’t even have to try very hard, because no-one would believe he’d been beaten by a woman. With The English Girl I was fired up and wanted to write about female explorers, so that book became betrayal in the desert.