Today I’m thrilled to be kicking off the blog tour for Kay Landale’s The Comfort of Others and am very excited to be sharing an interview I’ve done with Kay.
Please tell my readers a little bit about yourself and your novel
The Comfort Of Others is my sixth novel. It tells the story of the friendship between an elderly woman, Minnie, and an eleven year old boy, Max. Both have issues that they need to come to terms with, and the novel is about how they approach that.
I live in Oxfordshire, am married and have four fledged children between the ages of nineteen and twenty four. When I’m not writing or reading I’m mostly walking or running, and my labradoodle Rocco is with me for all of the above – his favourite spot is beneath my writing desk.
I’m reading The Comfort of Others at the moment and am finding it very moving – in particular the way you show the loneliness of Max and Minnie, and the way it’s possible to find friends in the places you’d least expect. What inspired you to write it?
I’m so pleased that you are finding it moving – thank you.
Minnie was the character I started with. I was interested in portraying someone who has not lived the life she wanted to life, and who has been stigmatised by shame and secrecy. I wanted to explore how someone who was basically vulnerable and sinned against can manoeuvre themselves into a position where they see themselves as wholly at fault. I also wanted to think about how time can change the perspective by which something is viewed, and Rosemount was a means of ‘fastening’ Minnie into the period in which it all happened.
I was very conscious that Minnie wouldn’t open up to an adult and so I wanted to explore how a child – with a child’s unerring accuracy for truth – might be able to win her trust. Max is watchful; he is frequently just on the outside of things, and it was this shared quality which became the premise for their friendship.
I’m finding myself getting quite emotional at some of the things Max says but clearly doesn’t understand yet, but as an adult I see the bigger picture. I’m getting similar emotions coming up whilst reading Minnie’s story – from the way she’s looking back on her life and seeing things anew. Both characters feel like real people to me and I know I’m going to miss them when I finish reading. How did you find writing from the perspective of a young boy, and of an older lady?
I loved writing Max and Minnie.
Minnie came to me almost fully formed. I had such a strong sense of her girlhood – her exuberance, her zest for life – and of how her mother found that so very difficult. The emotional truth of her adult life also felt very immediate to me; her total withdrawal, her bruised reflections and her sadness that she has been so effectively snuffed out by her experiences.
I really enjoy writing from a child’s perspective. Most of my books contain this as a feature. What I loved about Max from the start was his desire to please; whether it’s his mother with her startling hair colours, the old man who gives him the dahlias, or Mrs Philips with her budgie and her buttered brazils. He is constantly trying to piece together the implications of his mother’s actions – which is the same as Minnie when she was a girl – and that kind of watchfulness was a very immersive writing experience.
How did you first come to be a writer?
When I was a child I always wanted to be a writer, and upon leaving university, I refined that into working with words, which I thought made a bit more (necessary) financial sense. I worked as a copywriter for a brand development consultancy, and then began having my children (four of them in five years).
I was totally rubbish at anything resembling controlled crying, and so when my children woke in the night, I would go and sit with them and just pat their backs or stroke their hair but not talk, as we all know how quickly that becomes a game of i-spy. Sitting beside them in the darkness I began to think about the central character of my first novel – Martha – and basically began telling myself a story. I was working part-time at this point and realised that Martha was developing a hold on me when I would drive to work and be thinking about the plot rather than the meeting I was headed to. When my youngest child started nursery school, we realised we could just about make the numbers work as I could write without the cost of childcare, and so I resigned and began writing the book that became Redemption. For years I fitted my writing around school hours and term times, with lapses for example when they all got chicken pox in perfect sequence. Now that they have all fledged, my timetable is much more flexible. It was very disciplined in the early years!
It depends what stage of a book I’m at. If I’m mulling on the beginnings of an idea I don’t spend much time at my desk. I walk miles and I think, and have my notepad with me, and I tidy cupboards and wardrobes. I’m a big believer that if the mechanical, logical part of your brain is engaged, your creative thinking somehow is liberated.
When I’m writing a first draft, I’m very disciplined. I work most days and aim to have about three to four thousand useful words. That’s not always the case, especially if the plot takes a different turn and I need to pause to recalibrate. I’m very fond of a French phrase – Reculer per mieux sauter – which basically means to pause in order to jump better. I think it’s important to know when to do that.
When I reach the end of a book – the last 20,000 words – I get really obsessive and work much longer days and find it hard to think about anything else.
When I have a complete draft, I put it aside for a couple of weeks and catch up on everything I’ve neglected, and then return to it with fresh eyes and start editing and refining.
It never feels finished – I mostly get to a point where I can’t bear to look at it anymore!
What has your journey to publication been like?
I’ve been hugely lucky. My first book was published by a small indie publisher, Transita. My second book – which was very dark – did not get an English publisher but went to a three way auction in Germany and then Poland, which was pleasing. I learned some lessons from why that hadn’t worked for a UK audience, and then my third book was signed by Hodder and Stoughton, and they have remained my publishers ever since. I’m working on my eight book now and am hugely proud and thrilled to be part of Hodder’s team of writers. They have a wonderful mural at Carmelite House called the River of Authors which streams around the lifts at each floor. My name is next to John Lennon’s, which is when a school register alphabetised strategy really pays off!
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End, Polly Clark’s Larchfield, and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. I re-read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and now I’m reading Sarah Dunnant’s In the Name of the Family. I’ve got the new Elizabeth Strout on pre-order on Amazon and can’t wait for it to arrive!
If you were to be stranded on a desert island and could choose just one author’s books to read, who would you pick and why?
Virginia Woolf, no question. To The Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway are two of my favourite books ever. Every sentence she is writes it so beautifully balanced, so loaded with psychological insight and with such an awareness of what it is to be alive; she would be sustaining company on a desert island.
Is there a question that you wish an interviewer would ask that you’ve never been asked? What’s your answer to that question?
That’s a very clever, very tricky question! I think it would probably need some analysis to answer correctly! I write obsessively about mothers, about mothering, about the ties that bind us. To be totally truthful I don’t know why this is such a preoccupation. I have the objective, lit-crit ability to see how much it features in my work – I found Minnie’s account of her mother’s death very moving to write and I hope it holds a truth about what we need to feel and hear as adult children – but I can’t subjectively tell you why that is the case.
How can people connect with you on social media?
Twitter @kaylangdale. I’m constantly vowing to be become better at it although am also mindful how it can suck up time. I always answer back, and really enjoy hearing from readers.
The Comfort of Others is out now and available from all good bookshops or online at BookDepository.
The blog tour continues all this week and you can find the other stops here: