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My First Time...with Laura Kaye

Laura Kaye grew up in a village in Oxfordshire before attending Nottingham University where she studied Spanish and Portuguese, specialising in Brazilian music. After graduating she went to work at the BBC in the music documentaries department where she stayed, on and off for ten years. In 2011 she took a year off work to do the MA in creative writing at Goldsmiths. English Animals is her first book; her second – a mixture of auto-fiction and historical fiction set between Berlin 1912 and 2012 – will hopefully be along soon.

Laura's speaking at The Riff Raff on December 14th in Brixton along with a stellar line-up of debut talent...come one, come all. Let's eat mince pies and talk about the writing journey! Get your tickets here >>

Here's the blurb for the English Animals...

When Mirka gets a job in a country house in rural England, she has no idea of the struggle she faces to make sense of a very English couple, and a way of life that is entirely alien to her. Richard and Sophie are chaotic, drunken, frequently outrageous but also warm, generous and kind to Mirka, despite their turbulent and argumentative marriage.

Mirka is swiftly commandeered by Richard for his latest money-making enterprise, taxidermy, and soon surpasses him in skill. After a traumatic break two years ago with her family in Slovakia, Mirka finds to her surprise that she is happy at Fairmont Hall. But when she tells Sophie that she is gay, everything she values is put in danger and she must learn the hard way what she really believes in.

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

I went on a date with a woman from Slovakia who told me that she had come to the UK to work on a pheasant shooting estate, had helped the man with his taxidermy and had had an affair with the wife…I woke up the next morning and I thought, I want to write that book!

I had already been working on something about a group of characters in a rural setting – William in particular who is a kind of older version of Jacob Rees-Mogg – hates Europe, wants to tell women what to do with their bodies, thinks Golliwogs are acceptable, that kind of thing. When I met the woman, I realised that I wanted to write about this kind of environment as someone from outside it might see it.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write your first book?

You need to know the basic plot! Not plot exactly, but purpose. Not everything by any means, but I had started several books before English Animals where I just started writing and thought that I would work it out but it means that the writing isn’t imbued with that purpose from the outset.

For example, I wrote something that I thought was about female friendship and turned out to be about my relationship with my mother – so I had to go back and start it again because all the little details and symbols were wrong.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

In the past it was EVERYTHING. Life, tidying, food shopping, any excuse. The energy I put into not writing was incredible. Now I make that writing time sacred and I don’t let myself do anything else – if I am working full time, it is an hour before work, if I’m not working it’s four hours every morning, and then I do whatever I want afterwards. I can’t write for more than four hours so I don’t even try!

Someone told me that if you can’t think of anything to write, just go and sit at your desk and put your hands on the keyboard and you are not allowed to move, you just have to sit there. That stops you from persuading yourself that there is something more important you need to be doing.

What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing it?

I moved home to live with my parents because I couldn’t afford rent and so I was 32, unemployed, single, living in my parent’s house watching crap TV with them every night and thinking, is this really my life?

Best thing about writing your book?

The feeling that the characters came alive and were their own complex things that would surprise me. Richard especially – I love Richard, even though he’s a bit of a dick. He made me laugh. And the worst?

Not so much with English Animals but with other things I have written, the worst thing is getting about 40,000 words into something and realising it needs to go in the bin. I’ve done that maybe seven times now and it’s painful!

Go-to writing snacks?

Hundreds of cups of herbal tea.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Other writers – when I was in my teens and twenties I felt like the only people that really knew how I felt about things were other authors, they wrote about the world in a way that I recognised and made me feel less lonely and so I thought that if I could do that for someone one day that would be a good thing.

The book that changed you?

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – I’m not sure how it changed me exactly but I loved it so much when I read it, that loneliness, the strangeness of friendship, the town with all its characters.

Your pump up song?

Brahms symphony no. 1. (I know that’s really lame but I only listen to classical music when I’m writing as music with words distracts me!)

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer dead or alive, who would it be?

Vita Sackville-West – she’s my hero and I want to be her! She looks like such a laugh.

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get a book published?

Keep going – it’s determination more than anything else. I was shocked at how awful I was when I first started to write, but you get better and better, slowly, so you just have to keep going. I’ve seen people give up who were really talented and clever and I thought that it was sad because they gave up too soon.

Buy English Animals

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