Just over a year ago I posted my very first author-to-author interview to this blog. I was honoured to host the wonderful Kate Rigby, an indie author I had discovered by chance. You can read the interview here. I’m a huge fan of Kate Rigby, and I’ve been working my way through her huge back catalogue since I came across her on social media. I think we’re fairly similar in style and content, and we certainly have the same views in life, so inevitably we’ve become friends and even got to meet up with each other a few months ago! Anyway, I thought it would be great to celebrate a year of author interviews by catching up with Kate to see what she’s been up to since the last interview! Kate has the experience of being both traditionally and independently published, so it’s always interesting to talk to her.
1- It’s been a while since we last chatted – can you tell us what you’ve been doing since then? What books are you working on etc?
Yes, the only new book I’ve been working on at the moment is one I began circa 2005. It’s about a neighbourhood conflict but the political climate of that time which formed the backdrop has changed a lot. So in a way it’s been more difficult trying to bring it up to date than if I was starting it anew. I have spent many years converting my backlist into digital format, this was the one I left until last and inevitably it got more and more out of date! The more out of date it got the more daunting the thought of updating it became. But I need to finish it this year. I planned to finish it last year but things didn’t quite work out that way! I think it’s nearly there or it may be I’m just tired of it now but I’m struggling with the title, not something I usually do.
2- Thalidomide Kid is a story about Daryl, who was born without arms due to the Thalidomide tragedy. Could you tell us what inspired you to write this novel?
I think it was a gradual evolution and dovetailing of several ideas. I had an idea for a short story involving someone who cut the limbs off their rag dolls (as my sister and I did!) and the idea for a Thalidomide survivor very much fitted together with that idea. I also had an idea about writing a book in a school setting. I wanted it to be retro and to draw upon my own schooldays, so that side of it became (partially) autobiographical. I spent the same years in Cirencester though I slightly changed the name of the secondary school. There was a boy who was a Thalidomide survivor at the school I went to in Liverpool, although I didn’t really know him and visually he was very different to Daryl. But I wanted Daryl’s disability to be incidental and not the raison d’etre for the story. Yes, it has an impact on his relationships and the way his peers relate to him, but he’s also just another kid growing up and having to deal with what all adolescents do: romantic encounters, sexual awakening and friendships with his added disability.
3- How do you think things have changed for people with disabilities since you wrote Thalidomide Kid? Are they better or worse?
I’m not sure how they are for schoolchildren today, I am hoping things are a lot better with all the strides that have been made by people with disabilities for parity in all spheres of life, the Equality Act and so on. I like to think that things like the Paralympics have made a lot of difference to how kids view disability but at the same time I think the pendulum is swinging the other way due to contradictory government policies. You only have to look at the rise in disability hate crime and the number of attacks on people with disabilities, stoked up by the right wing tabloids to justify stripping people of their benefit entitlements. I could get very political here! But it does make me really angry and ashamed to think this is the way society is heading, after all the decades of progress. It just goes to show how fragile progress is and that we can’t take anything for granted.
4- How much research went into the book?
I mainly based it on observation although I will always try and research around areas where there are gaps in my knowledge. But I do like to be accurate and authentic if possible and of course I had a publisher – Bewrite Books – for this novel so had the added input from the wonderful editorial team at that time. I often get my information from TV programmes or documentaries that just happen to be on during the course of writing a book. But having been a child in the 60s I do remember the climate and the impact of the Thalidomide drug. Every child of that era knew of it.
5-I know you are politically active, and in our last interview, you mentioned keeping a ‘campaign diary’, perhaps with a view to releasing another ‘Guide To…’ style book. Is this still something you might do?
Yes, this follows on nicely from the question about whether things have changed for people with disabilities. I began the Campaign Diary in 2012 when I saw how bad things were getting for people with long term health problems and disabilities under the Welfare Reform Act. After yet another person died, quite needlessly, I felt I needed to record it in words. I didn’t really know her, although we’d spoken now and again on Social Media and her name was mentioned on Question Time. But there have been so many needless deaths. There’s much solidarity along many campaigners. This is important because all the time the government rely on divide and rule tactics to divert us when we need to be united. I just had to begin writing down all the terrible things that were happening, as some sort of outlet, and as documentation. Some of it is just copying and pasting from articles until I can get round to shaping into something. Now it has moved on to Brexit and Trump and other depressing things, although Welfare Reform still plays the largest part. It is all too close and depressing but one day I may have the energy and the distance to distil it. Having said that, there are various things relating to it that I’ve incorporated into my current novel.
As for the Little Guides, yes, they are a lot more fun! I have only written Little Guide To Unhip so far but that went down well on Authonomy when I first showcased it and subsequently when it was published. I have ideas for several more but they are stuck in the backlog! But they don’t require a lot of planning and plotting, so they could be done relatively quickly.
6-Do you have any promotion/marketing tips for newbie indies out there? Has anything been a particular success?
Ooo, I wish I knew the answer to that one! I think it’s what all indie authors want – to find that golden goose. Things are changing so fast too, that what worked a few years ago, or today, may no longer work tomorrow. I do the occasional paid promotion with tried-and-tested promo sites but if I break even that is good. The general advice is to build up your reviews so that you get more visibility on place like Amazon. But people rarely leave reviews these days, even friends who mention how much they’ve enjoyed a book, and I’m not very good at asking people to post reviews! I don’t wish to sound as if I’m nagging. I prefer to approach review bloggers who like my work and there are some wonderful dedicated bloggers out there doing a fantastic job of featuring or reviewing indie authors on their blogs. It’s just a question of finding the ones who review in your genre and like your work. And of course interviews and guest posts like this all help to garner visibility! Another area that is growing is audiobooks and that’s something I would like to explore at some point. The thing that has been most successful in all my years of writing was having a traditional publisher. I was very lucky to find one back in the day when books were all paper and there were many more bookshops. They did all the marketing, they had the contacts and they did get me some reviews in some thrilling places like The Times and The Face as well as publication in the States. But those times are gone. Even people with traditional publishing contracts these days are expected to put in a lot of the leg work and time on social media, so the lines between different publishing contracts are blurring.
7-If you could rewrite any of your novels now, would you, and if so what would you change?
Not so much a major rewrite but maybe some major tweaking. Nowadays that is easy to do with the advent of digital technology but with my first published novel, Fall Of The Flamingo Circus, once it was in print that was it! If I was writing it now I would have included more about punk music and bands than I did and also I’d have had Lauren in a band. In fact she was based on a character I invented called Donna who was in a band so I just don’t know why I didn’t translate that into the book. When I brought it out digitally a few years ago that was the time to rewrite it but because it was successful as it was I decided to leave it be. I also should have properly capitalised on the relative success of Flamingo Circus. I had a publisher and an agent at that time and they were trying to help me with my follow up book but I didn’t really take on board their feedback. They say that it’s harder to get a second book published than a first and I think that was very true in my case.
8-You’ve covered so many gritty social issues in your novels, such as domestic abuse, substance abuse, homelessness, racism, runaways, disabilities and even feral children. What else is left to do? What else would you like to get your teeth into?
I think humanity is such that you never run out of things to get your teeth into! It may seem as if I’m an issue-based writer but often it’s the characters that come first. I have a backlog of ideas for novels and short stories. Sometimes a couple of ideas for short stories, for instance, will be combined into something longer. I also want to get on with the Little Guides and have also been doing some poetry so I have an idea of putting together a collection of that too at some point. Shorter pieces in the form of poetry, flash fiction or short stories seem to be the way forward, not only because of my own health and time restrictions these days, but also seem to lend themselves more to the 21st century way of life where there’s so much more vying for people’s attention but only the same number of hours to read it in, and that’s just the literature! The same is happening in art, photography and music. If people have to leave Facebook and click on a link to read more or listen to something they tend not to. So their attention needs to be held before that. This is where poetry, art or photography have the advantage in their immediacy. I also want to write something more autobiographical, not that I’ve led a particularly exciting life but I have a plan to do a slightly different take on it. My mum, on the other hand, lived through WW11 and has written an autobiography of her early years but she doesn’t want to get it published! But it would be nice to get it into print form for the family and the technology exists for that too these days.
9- Do you currently have any characters in your head who are waiting their turn to get written?
At the present time, it’s more a question of following up on characters from former novels to see where they’re at now. I already decided to do a follow up of Down The Tubes as some readers wanted to know what happens next! I already knew in my mind some things that have happened so thought I should write about it but just haven’t caught up with myself yet. I’ve never been one to do series or sequels but one reviewer expressed an interest in a follow up to Thalidomide Kid and I’ve also left other novels open-ended, like Savage To Savvy, which would lend themselves to a sequel. So maybe I will do some sequels after all!
10-What are you hoping to achieve in 2017?
For the last two or three years I’ve tried to set myself writing goals as well as other goals. This year I tried not to be too ambitious as for the last couple of years I found that I didn’t achieve them and then felt very disappointed with myself. So this year I have been more realistic and then I won’t feel as if I’ve failed dismally! My writing goals for 2017 are to finish the novel I’m currently working on, bring another of my books out in paperback (perhaps Fruit Woman or The Dead Club, both would be nice) and begin the follow up to Down The Tubes. I think that is manageable!
Thanks very much, Chantelle, for this interview – I’ve really enjoyed it.
If you would like to find out more about Kate Rigby and her books, here are the links!