Author Spotlight: Kate Hewitt
You’re a prolific author. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I write both series and stand-alone books, so I suppose I am doing both. Ultimately every book needs to stand on its own as a complete story with fully realized characters, but it can be fun to create a world that gets more detailed with each book in a series.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I’d say it’s the distraction of the internet. Even with the best of intentions, randomly surfing the internet can take away valuable writing time. I’ve had to be quite disciplined, ‘rewarding’ myself with internet time after making a certain word count. The other thing that can act as Kryptonite is bad reviews. Although I’ve developed a pretty thick skin over the years, occasionally I feel paralyzed by a particularly skewering review and have to talk myself out of the funk to keep writing. A review, after all, is just one person’s opinion!
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
That is a really interesting question! I think I learned early on that stories had power, because my father used to make up bedtime stories for me about two boys, Billy and Bobby. Looking back, I can see that they were quite obvious morality tales, but they were far better for teaching me lessons such as ‘don’t lie’ which wouldn’t have come across nearly as powerfully if he’d just said it.
What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
I’m not sure what constitutes an under-appreciated novel! I usually have a healthy scepticism (at least that’s what I’d call it) of ‘appreciated’ novels, as the hype is almost always bigger than the book. One author whose books are little known is Gillian Bradshaw. She writes historical novels that I think are brilliant, but you can only find them in second-hand bookshops as they are all out of print. She has great historical research of little-known periods (like BC Mongolia!) combined with a cracking story.
You have written a number of historical fiction novels. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I’ve learned that I get bogged down and overwhelmed in research if I do too much of it before writing, and so I think I’ve more or less perfected my method! What I tend to do is read 2–3 books about the period before I start, so I am grounded in knowledge, and then I research details along the way. I am writing a novel set in Nazi Germany right now, and so I read Travellers in the Third Reich, Hitler’s Doves, Berlin at War, and Excorising Hitler before I began writing. Then I continued reading some other books as I wrote, and fact checked as necessary through the writing.
What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
I think you need to be as true to the person as you know how to be, while allowing yourself some freedom to create a character. One of the characters in my current manuscript is Hermann Göring. I read a lot about his mannerisms, hobbies, etc. before writing him, but, ultimately, he is my version of the man rather than the actual historical figure, and I think that’s okay. I don’t agree with putting things in you know to be factually incorrect.
What is your favourite childhood book?
Anne of Green Gables, without a doubt! It’s the book that first got me writing (with my own rather ripped-off version of the story!)
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I think this is a tricky one, and a lot of it depends on author’s voice and also what genre you are writing. I like to challenge my readers to ask themselves ‘what would I do in this situation?’ and I also like creating characters that are uncomfortable—neither completely likeable nor unlikeable. But I also want to be clear about what I’m trying to communicate, so there isn’t too much guesswork involved. So, in that sense I ‘take care’ of them, while making demands in encouraging them to think about their own lives.
I like to challenge my readers to ask themselves ‘what would I do in this situation?
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I think it changed my process in that it made it more urgent. When you have a non-negotiable deadline and money is involved, you can be a lot more focused, and that is generally a good thing, although sometimes the pressure can feel like a bit too much. I think it also helped me to realize I will write a lot of books, and I don’t have to put every fancy phrase, interesting character, or controversial theme in one book. There is lots of room to explore and grow.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I am friends with a lot of the authors who write for my publisher, as we’re quite a close-knit community. I’m also part of a private Facebook group for published authors that has a lot of good practical advice. Ultimately, though, I don’t think being friends with writers makes you a better writer; writing does. I have written 90+ books over the course of my career, and I learn from each one. So, my advice to aspiring authors is always: Write! And finish something. Because that is how you learn.
Kate was born in Pennsylvania, went to college in Vermont, and has spent summers in the Canadian wilderness. After several years as a diehard New Yorker, she now lives in a small market town in Wales with her husband, five children, and two overly affectionate Golden Retrievers.