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My First Time...with Katharine Kilalea

Katharine Kilalea, The Riff Raff

Originally from South Africa, Katharine Kilalea moved to London in 2005 to study for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Her first book, One Eye’d Leigh was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award and longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize for writers under 30.

She has received an Arts Council Award for poetry and her poems have appeared in publications including the 2010 Forward Prize Anthology, PN Review and Magma and performed on BBC Radio 3, as well as at festivals including the Wordsworth Trust Poetry Festival, Bridlington Poetry Festival and Worlds Literature Festival. A poem on chairs was commissioned for Martino Gamper's design book, 100 Chairs in 100 days and its 100 Ways. She works as a publicist for an architecture practice.

Katharine will be reading from her debut novel OK, Mr Field at The Riff Raff on Thursday 13 September so snatch up your ticket before they're all gone...

Here's the blurb for OK, Mr Field...

'Mr Field, a concert pianist travelling back from a performance in London, fractures his left wrist in a train crash. On a whim, he uses his compensation cheque to buy a house he has seen only in a newspaper, a replica of Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye built on a stretch of coast outside Cape Town.

'When he moves there with his wife Mim, the house – which Le Corbusier designed as 'a machine for living' – has a disturbing effect. Mim disappears without apology or explanation and Mr Field can barely summon the strength to search for her.'

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

It was in August, about five years ago. Somebody had told me the poems I’d been working on for a couple of years 'weren’t working', so you could say the prose was born out of a moment of despair.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it?

Two things. Firstly that even if I didn’t like it, I already had a 'style' – it’s the style that I use when I’m writing in my notebook. Secondly, that when I get stuck it’s not a problem of style (because a sentence is badly written) it’s a problem of content (because I have nothing to say).

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

The Modern House website.

Any tantrums while writing it?

Not that I can remember. I was, however, absolutely furious with the poor person who had the nerve to criticise the poems...

Best thing about writing your book?

It gave my days a structure that they hadn’t had before, when I was writing poems. It also gave me a confidence in my ability to think things through, all the way to the end.

OK, Mr Field | The Riff Raff

And the worst?

The feeling of excitement that you’ve got a whole chapter in your head, which, when you start writing, fizzles out after a few sentences.

Go-to writing snacks?

Liquorice. Anything sweet. Big meals make me sleepy.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Thomas Mann. Structurally, as in almost every other way, he is a very satisfying writer. His writing is almost mathematical.

The book that changed you?

The Magic Mountain. I hadn’t previously acknowledged the seductiveness of lifelessness.

Your pump up song?

Bach. He doesn’t motivate me so much as convince me that nothing is quite as mysterious as it seems.

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

Is it acceptable to suggest someone I have shared a bottle of wine with? Definitely Jack Underwood. He’s brilliantly funny, even without alcohol.

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

I find it useful, from time to time, to ask myself: Does what I’m writing really interest me? If it doesn’t, find something which does.

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