FAQ

by on April 12, 2010

The following FAQ are archived from an older version of this site. Feel free to use CONTACT (left menu)  if you have a question about writing or  about Kathy Page’s books.

Q. Is Simon Austen based on a real person?
I have met several people who were in some ways like him. But, like most fictional characters, he is an amalgam of  different parts of many people I have observed, large doses of imagination,  and my own conscious and unconscious projections.  Perhaps all this could be analysed to show exactly what went into the making of him, but  I’m not interested to do it! The  experience with Simon was very much of him arriving whole, and seeming to me, as I wrote, to be ‘real’.

Q. Why do you end Alphabet where you do? I wanted to know what happened next!
Some people love the ending and others  are frustrated by it. I picked that moment because it is a decisive one. You can see Simon has moved on, but also that there is plenty of potential for trouble ahead of him and the outcome isn’t clear.   That blend of hope and  difficulty – a  sense of his continuing struggle – was what I wanted to leave the reader with.    I have to admit as well that writing with very limited settings is hard. I  don’t think I could have borne  to stay in prison much  longer, but he has to.  If I were to continue his story, some of which I do have in my mind,  I  think I would take it up many years later, after  his release, and fill the intervening years in from that vantage point.

Q:  When you begin a novel, do you know how it will turn out? Do you have a detailed plan?A:  Often, I begin with one or more of the main characters and their situation, which always contains some element of instability, something that will propel him or her forwards.    I think I know how it will turn out and I certainly do write outlines, and plan the structure of the book. Outlines are comforting to have, but must not be taken too seriously. When I get down to it the actual book it always at some point differs substantially from the so-called plan.
I remember being asked to write something called a ‘birth plan’ when I  was having  my children and realising, even as I did it, that it was quite nice to do but almost a complete waste of time: anything could happen (and did).  Likewise, in writing novels, the character and the story always develop in unexpected ways as I write. I  might have planned from page 1  for my character  to do such and such  a thing halfway through the book, but \when I get there he or she won’t do it, or not then, or else  they do do it  –  but someone else intervenes and changes the meaning of the action  and its function in the story completely.  Sometimes it is a struggle to accept that the plan has to be jettisoned or be revised; the book can stall while I resist what in the end just has to be done. Then there is a surge of excitement when I accept the new reality. The book really does have a life of its own and if it did not – if it was a matter of simply writing a succession of already outlined scenes, I am not sure how interested I would be in doing it.  That said, while there is not an exact match between the initial conception and the final book, there is always a strong connection between them. The creation of a succession of outlines probably does have some value in that it continually makes me think of the book as a whole, rather than just focussing on the part I am writing.

Q. Is your writing autobiographical ?
A. On the literal level, no. I have no personal experience, to give just a few examples, of facial disfigurement, of growing up in a religious household, of committing murder.  I was not a runaway child, nor have I been a rape victim, a self-centred world traveller, a bag lady or an obsessive weight lifter…
I only very occasionally write about or around the events of my own life. On the other hand I do write about particular fictional people and their predicaments because they interest or touch me. I want to explore and express the characters that come to me, them only, not someone or something else. From where and exactly how characters arise is another interesting but very complicated question… Suffice it to say that without this personal interest I doubt that I could be bothered to write and so I imagine that symbolically not just my writing but most fiction does have an autobiographical content.
Q. Do you have to be very self-disciplined to write?
I must admit to hating the word self-discipline because it sounds so joyless and  unattractive.. So, on those grounds, the answer is no. I like writing. I see it as a calling, and sometimes as a job too. I feel lucky to be able to  work at something I feel drawn to do and often (not absolutely always) enjoy, though of course I am not being paid by the hour and no one checks as to whether or not I am being productive. That means I definitely have to be organised and set things up so that I can and do work.  The blank page can still terrify me and particularly after any extended period away from  my desk, it can feel hard  to get started again; the best thing, definitely,  is to work regularly.

Q. Do you do much of research?
A. One of the good things about being a writer is that one can become passionately interested in some subject or another for a few months or years, studying it keenly, but without commitment or having to take exams etc. I read, search the net, travel, take photographs, interview people, as necessary. Naturally, I do the focussed kind of research necessary to a particular story line, but I also like to research around a subject, taking in a lot of extraneous detail which may well not appear in the book itself.  Place is a very important element in my fiction, and although I frequently invent places, I do want them to be plausible. I need to get the physical details right, the kind of soil there is, what grows, the way the houses are constructed, exactly what tools are used in a particular trade and their names. Research is more than ‘getting the background right’. It can be a great source of inspiration, throwing up ideas and characters. On the other hand, it can be a way to avoid actually writing; you have to know when to stop.
Q. Is Simon Austen based on a real person?
I have met several people who were in some ways like him. But, like most fictional characters, he is an amalgam of  different parts of many people I have observed, large doses of imagination,  and my own conscious and unconscious projections.  Perhaps all this could be analysed to show exactly what went into the making of him, but  I’m not interested to do it. The  experience with Simon was very much of him arriving whole, and seeming to me, as I wrote, to be ‘real’.

Q. Why do you end Alphabet where you do? I wanted to know what happened next!
Some people love the ending and others  are frustrated by it. I picked that moment because it is a decisive one. You can see Simon has moved on, but also that there is plenty of potential for trouble ahead of him and the outcome isn’t clear.   That blend of hope and  difficulty – a  sense of his continuing struggle – was what I wanted to leave the reader with.    I have to admit as well that writing with very limited settings is hard. I  don’t think I could have borne  to stay in prison much  longer, but he has to.  If I were to continue his story, some of which I do have in my mind,  I  think I would take it up many years later, after  his release, and fill the intervening years in from that vantage point.
Q. Is Envallism, the protestant sect in The Story of My Face, a real religious sect?
A. No. Or rather, not to my knowledge…
The latter half of the nineteenth century was a time of religious revival in Finland but Tuomas Envall was not a real person, and none of the sects that arose then were exactly like his. One of the inspirations for the book was a dimly remembered story someone once told me about a Christian sect in which photographs were banned. I was drawn to it by a mixture of horror (how fanatical!) and interest (a consumer culture such as ours is an image-saturated culture and sometimes I think this complicates life for us to a point that is harmful). A distrust of images has, at different times in history, characterised various religions and sects but when I began to research the book, I did not manage to trace the particular group I had been told about. On the other hand, I found many religious groups with far stranger beliefs, customs and prohibitions, surviving perfectly well in a so-called rational age. [See: The Religious Movements Page at University of Virginia] Actually, I think I would have been wary, in any case, of using a real group of people.

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