Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Interview with Kate Veitch, author of Without a Backward Glance

I was very excited when Kate Veitch, author of Without A Backward Glance (you can read my review of the novel here), allowed me to interview her. Kate was a pleasure to work with, and her emails always brightened my day. I've met a lot of great people since I started blogging, and I'm glad to include Kate in that group.

[Before I move into the interview, I just want to remind you all that Kate's website features a link to a book group discussion guide for Without A Backward Glance, and she's available to speak to book clubs via phone or email.]

What inspired you to write about a mother who abandons her children?

At the time I started writing Without A Backward Glance (which was published, by the way, under the title Listen in Australia), I only knew of one family where the mother had walked out, and I wasn't thinking of them when I came up with the idea. It was really an attempt to come to grips with my own mother's unhappiness. Like Rosemarie, my mother was a talented and ambitious woman who was thwarted by the conservative social mores of the times. If she'd had a career, I think she'd have been fine, but that wasn't acceptable for a wife and mother in Australia at the time. Her unhappiness became chronic depression, which she self-medicated with alcohol, and me and my brothers often had the feeling that she was absent, even though she was there physically. So in Rose, I created a mother who had the necessary combination of selfishness and courage to walk out and get what she needed, whatever the cost. However, I've been astounded by how many readers have approached me since the book was published, both in Australia and here in the U.S., to tell me that a mother's abandonment is part of their own family's story. Clearly it's much more widespread than I'd guessed, though still quite a taboo subject.

Do you identify with any of the characters?

Oh, yes--most of them! There's a bit of me in all of the siblings--except James, who's based much more on my younger brother (though James, I have to admit, is better looking!). There's also a great deal of me in Olivia, the self-possessed young girl who so loves animals.

You touch upon the disillusionment some women feel with the roles of wife and mother, and you've created strong female characters in Rose, Deborah, and Olivia. Could you share the inspiration for these characters?

Being a woman demands many complex and demanding roles, doesn't it? I've talked above about how I came to create Rose out of my own mother's unhappiness with the constrictions of her life, but I should mention, too, that I have had several dear friends who are English and have always found it difficult to feel truly at home in Australia. One of them has now returned to England--that's where Marsh Farm in Somerset came into my novel. Deborah--well, although I'm not the eldest sibling in my family, I'm the only girl, and my brothers all tended to look to me to make family decisions and organize things. I've also watched a number of women friends who tend to get rather over-engaged and controlling, can't take their hands off the family reins, and in that process can lose sight of who the people they love really are. All these observations went into the character of Deborah. Olivia, Deborah's daughter, is at that fascinating age where she is stepping into adolescence--but she is not a stereotypical adolescent at all. As a child, I was old for my years and had very few friends--which, like Olivia, didn't bother me a bit. And my own son was very much the same. (I might add that as grown-ups, both my son and I have plenty of friends and enjoy them immensely!)

Your portrayal of Alex's dementia, Meredith's alcoholism, and Robert's OCD were very real. How much research did you do to portray them so accurately?

Not much, actually--I'm not an avid researcher. I more just reach into my observations of life, and let my imagination go from there. Having said that, the description of Alex's dementia is very much what happened with my own father, even though the character of Alex is not like my father. Writing the novel in fact helped me a great deal to regain a sense of control over what had been a traumatic, grief-stricken, helpless period of some six years as my father's condition worsened. My mother was an alcoholic, so I had plenty of opportunity to observe that, and Australians (including me) tend to drink a lot anyway. Robert's OCD--I have a tiny bit of that myself, not nearly as severe as Robert's, but I just extrapolated--and I'm relieved to say I've had very positive feedback about my depiction of it from people who understand the condition far more deeply than I do.

It strikes me that all this makes my book sound really HEAVY and a litany of life's trials and torments--oh, dear! No, it's actually got a lot of lightness and humor, too, and I write for "flow" to keep those pages turning--which is why so many readers say, "I couldn't put it down."

How long did it take you to write the book? Could you describe your writing process?

The first draft was very quick, just four and a half months, then there were subsequent drafts over the next year--but not full time. I loved the process of working with an editor, by the way, that was wonderful. I have a fair bit about my writing process on my website; readers who'd like to know more about this aspect might like to look at that.

What are you working on now?

Oh, it's another book about modern tortured families! But there are some real baddies in this one; everyone in Without a Backward Glance has problems, but no one is bad. I'm finding it a real challenge for me to get inside the head of someone who is truly manipulative and cruel. But that's the fun of writing fiction as well as the challenge--getting to explore different people, to live inside another skin than the one you normally inhabit. In fiction, I can paint, and make beautiful clothes, and bring dogs who died back to life--it's wonderful!

Thank you, Anna, for your interesting and insightful questions!

Kate, the pleasure was all mine! I wish you the very best in all you do!


Lady Blogger said...

Fantastic interview Anna! Your questions peeled open another side to the book and made it much more real. Keep it up! :)

Serena said...

Another great interview...now I'm nervous about ever having to do one. LOL

Sounds like another great book to me.

avisannschild said...

Great interview! I'm definitely adding this book to my wish list!

Anonymous said...

Wow, great interview, Anna!! Having recently read Loving Frank (mother abandons her kids to have an affair and find herself) I find myself weirdly interested in maternal abandonment. Adding this one to the (long) list!

Anna said...

Thanks, everyone! I can't recommend this book enough! Kate is a brilliant writer; it's hard to believe this is her first novel!

Wendi said...

I love the cover of the book! I always love your interviews!

:) Wendi

Your interview has been added to

About the Author - An Author Interview Index

Anna said...

Thanks, Wendi! That is a great cover, isn't it??