Kate Atkinson Wows The Wimbledon Bookfest

Discusses her new novel and thoughts on writing

Kate Atkinson was the final event at the Wimbledon Bookfest last Sunday ( 9th October) and her only UK event of the year.

While A God In Ruins is longlisted for the Bailey's Prize for Fiction, Kate was however, more anxious to talk about the novel she is currently writing. Transcriptions is set in two time periods, the 1940s and the 1950s and the plot centres around a woman's life as a government employee, firstly as a transcriber and later in the world of 'schools broadcasting'.

The central character, Juliette Armstrong is recruited to MI5 in the Second World War and afterwards gets a job in the BBC.

Kate said that she was originally inspired to write about this when she read in the Kew Archieves about Eric Roberts who worked for the transcription service and had posed as a member of the Gestapo in order to 'hoover u'p fascist supporters. She became fascinated by his story but did not want to write about his story, so she created a fictional female character.

In the 1950s so many women worked as audio typists or in the typing pool in big organisations such as the BBC, and she herself once worked as a typist. She became fascinated by the 'voice' of the person doing the transcribing of somebody elses's words.

Asked by Samira Ahmed about her famous first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum and its use of 'objects', Kate said that she was very 'object orientated'. She grew up as an only child, in York, where her father had a shop selling medical supplies, and while her father kept everything, her mother was the opposite and liked to throw everything out. She herself hated throwing things away.

"I see a button and I say 'what's its story?'". She recalled as a child being taken by her father to the Castle Museum in York, and looking at 'ordinary objects' from daily life in history. She uses objects as a way of'pinning down' the ordinary life of her characters.

As an only child Kate was a great reader and she felt that because she didn't have siblings she relied more on her imagination to entertain herself. When Samira pointed out that some of the characters in Life After Life appeared to be cruel, Kate replied that often writers were drawn to the 'darker side'. It was more difficult to write about good people- Teddy, the main character was a "good man" and that was more difficult to convey. She found it an easy book to write, and believed every fourth book was the easy one. The central theme of the novel was about identity and indeed she believed all fiction was about identity.

She was very happy with A God in Ruins, and felt that she had reached, for herself, a pinnacle. "It was the book I wanted to write".

Case Histories, which became a popular television crime show starring Jeremy Isaacs, came about when she had started writing a book about the Antarctic which featured a 'cold crime' involving the disappearance of sisters. She felt she "needed a detective", and Jackson Brodie was created. While the book, which was then transferred to the small screen, was classified as a crime novel, it wasn't really about crime but about criminals, and it was never really about Jackson Brodie, the central character.

Asked which of her novels was her favourite, she replied it was probably Human Croquet.

Kate, who lives in Edinburgh, listed Alice in Wonderland as a favourite book "for its playfulness". It was important for a writer to have read good writing, "as you were going to be your own critic". Other inspirational writers for her were Richmal Compton, JD Farrell, Barbara Pym, Penelope Fitzgerald and Anita Bookner.

Kate Atkinson hopes to have completed her new novel, Transcriptions, in January 2017 and it will be published next year.

Anne Flaherty

October 14, 2016