We are thrilled that novelist and memoir author, Katherine May, is the next writer in our interview series.
Katherine’s stunning memoir, Wintering, hits shelves in paperback today, published by Penguin Random House / Rider.
The memoir has been critically acclaimed since it was published in February this year. Wintering was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize, an award which celebrates the best of nature writing, it has had write ups in the The Guardian (‘If therapy is a talking cure, this beautiful book – Wintering – is a reading cure’), The Observer (‘A peaceful rebuff to life in fast-forward’), a beautiful review from Publisher’s Weekly, (‘In this elegant memoir, journalist May finds beauty and transformation in a difficult period of her life… ‘) and a starred review from Booklist (‘A beautifully written mix of memoir and philosophy…With a pandemic keeping us isolated in so many ways, May offers much-needed solace and comfort and a reminder that seasons eventually turn.’ ).
Katherine has also started a new podcast, The Wintering Sessions, and has written stunning pieces for the likes of The Guardian (Human hibernation: the restoring effects of hiding away in winter).
Katherine is the author of both fiction and non-fiction books and her previous memoir, The Electricity of Every Living Thing was published by Orion / Trapeze in April 2018. This year, a collection of essays on motherhood, which she curated and edited, The Best, Most Awful Job, was published by Elliot & Thompson. She lives in Whitstable with her husband, son, dog and two cats, and can be mostly found walking along the beach and – yes – swimming in the sea. In her spare time, she reads, cooks and drinks gin martinis, stirred.
What inspired you to write?
In the first place? I’m not sure. I was trying to write before I could actually write – I can remember hiding under the dressing table in the spare room and filing pages and pages with squiggles that looked a bit like handwriting. Later, I used my mother’s unused typewriter to write time-travelling play scripts in my summer holidays. My primary teacher used to tell everyone I was going to be a famous novelist. I hate that I’ve kept her waiting for so long!
What’s your favourite book/piece of literature?
How do you choose? My first love was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, and I still have a massive soft spot for it. I think Sue Townsend is the British Nora Ephron. I also love Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I can’t understand the people who find it unreadable. I think it’s a work of genius.
Where do you write?
All over the place. I used to have a study, but my husband seems to have taken it over since lockdown. I’m now squeezed into a corner in the spare bedroom, but I can’t seem to get many words out there. In fact, I’ve never been very good at writing where I’m supposed to write. I like cafes and libraries, the kitchen table, other people’s sofas. It’s all about variety for me. I’ve done my best work in the grubby waiting areas of soft play centres.
How did you research WINTERING?
In many ways, I felt like I’d been researching it long before I knew I was going to write it – I drew on my obsession with cold places and icy landscapes. When the book was commissioned, I had to sit through a long, hot summer before I could write anything at all. I talked to as many people as possible about their wintering experiences, but I couldn’t get any words down while it was so warm outside. And then, when the cold weather came, I got it all down in a rush.
What is your writing process?
I don’t really have one. I tend to go with my mood, sometimes writing intensely for a couple of weeks, and sometimes getting nothing done for a month. I work all over the place, and I approach every book differently. I always read a lot before I begin, and I like to let the books pile up on my desk as I work. But most importantly, I set aside a lot of time to think – I walk my way through the books I write. I think the words-on-page part of the process is the least of it. You have to devote proper time to thinking.
What were the challenges you faced when writing this book?
I wrote the book in what felt like impossible circumstances, after removing my son from school to look after him full time. The whole story was made in snatched corners of time, while I was feeling completely terrified that I couldn’t do it. Three days before submitting it, I decided that all the chapters were in the wrong order, and cut about 10,000 words from the manuscript. I fully expected my editor to tell me to go away and start again, but somehow it worked. It was probably all good practice for lockdown!
How do you relax after a day of writing?
I’m rubbish at relaxing! But I do like to cook dinner after a day’s work – it switches my attention to a different kind of thinking, and I can start to imagine the next day’s work. Then I drink a martini and go to bed. I’m not terribly exciting.