Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Interview #10: Kate Maryon

 "The key to writing is to find your voice. And often you find your voice when you look to what was the most difficult part of your life."

Kate Maryon

Kate Maryon offered me this brilliant piece of advice right at the end of our interview when she asked me whether I was a writer. I told her I had long been a writer but felt I hadn't yet found my voice. I thought a lot about what she said after I put the phone down and I realised she was absolutely right. Writers should face up to awkward, painful events and tell the truth.

If ever there was a writer who followed her own advice, then Kate Maryon is that writer.
Her books explore themes such as isolation, loneliness and separation. She may not describe it as such, but writing could be a form of therapy for her.

"I always knew from when I was young that I could write. I used to write, with a pencil and pad, pages and pages of scribbles.

Baby Kate
 "I had a traumatic childhood and I think I was trying to express that somehow."

Kate's father was violent and cruel towards her and her siblings and mum. He'd had a troubled childhood of his own.

"When he met my mum and she got pregnant with me his anger erupted. He burned everything and threw everything out of the house. He would take a puppy or a kitten out and shoot it if it did a wee in the house."

One of Kate's strengths as a writer is her understanding of what makes people tick. And she can see why her father behaved the way he did.

"My father was born after my grandparents lost a three-year-old. He was born into an atmosphere of grief and panic. He was a wild little boy, obsessed with nature and animals. When he was 15 he went into hospital with tuberculosis and didn't come out until he was 20.

"He was full of rage."

Her first published novel
Witnessing that rage ultimately led Kate to a realisation: "I became aware of the continuum of life and he was part of it. But he was not to blame."

Speaking to Kate and looking at her books and the themes they explore, one is struck by her compassion for others and a sense that she is somehow trying to heal those around her.

So it is no surprise to learn that she is a homeopath. Since 1996 when she first qualified, she has worked with thousands of people. "My particular talent is supporting clients in unravelling the emotional and psychological patterns that are keeping them from living the deeper, truer expression of themselves," she says on her website.

She was married young and had her two children when she was 24 and 25. Her writing was put on hold, but she read lots with them. She became a writer once more years later when she had an epiphany driving through Frome, Somerset, where she lives.

She joined a creative writing class.

"It became evident that I could write after a week and the class was very supportive - we read and shared things. As the weeks went on I stopped doing the class homework and started writing a novel. It didn't occur to me it was a children's novel."

She sent the book out to the world and after the usual rejection she was signed up by agent Eve White and publishers HarperCollins.

She relished the editorial process of working with her editor and Shine was her first book to be published, in 2009, although it wasn't her first written book. Three more novels, Glitter, A Million Angels and A Sea of Stars followed in quick succession.

"I learned something new with each book. My weak spot is plotting. I am very good at emotional content and understanding characters."

On her author website, she explains: "My books are about ordinary girls, like you, who find themselves faced with an extraordinary real life situation. I’d like my characters to take you on a journey, a kind of exploration so you get curious about life, so you end up thinking… How would I feel if this thing happened to me?

The novel Kate sent to my daughter
"What would it be like if my mum suddenly got sent off to prison? How would I cope if my dad lost his business and we had no money left? How far would I go to bring my dad back home? What would it be like if my family adopted a child?"

She begins writing when a character "leaps" into her imagination. "I ask them lots of questions about themselves. They will reveal what is going on for them. There's a point where the character starts writing their own story."

She's working on a novel at the moment about a girl living on the streets of Manchester. To help with research, she has been talking to Andy McCullough of homeless charity the Railway Children. "When he was 11 he packed a bag and a teddy and lived on the streets." She said she doesn't want to romanticise homelessness and Andy has busted a few myths for her, such as the idea that homeless people eat out of bins - he told her they don't, they still have pride.

Meeting her young readers on school visits is important to Kate. She will talk to the youngsters about her experiences and leads them through workshops, encouraging their own writing and self-confidence.

"I do have a mission," she told me. "My mission is to bring about an awareness of how we relate and particularly how parents relate to their kids."

Kate worked in diverse fields before she was a homeopath and author. She's been a nanny and a waitress. She was also  a dresser for a West End theatre and at the BBC, where she worked on EastEnders, Breakfast TV and Grange Hill. Perhaps she might find herself back in the world of television with her books, I suggested.

"CBBC looked at Shine for a  while. There's that slot around Christmas that Jacqueline Wilson seems to snaffle," she said. Not that she holds a grudge against the Tracy Beaker author. Wilson and Cathy Cassidy are authors she looks up to. If a film or TV series were made of one of her books, she would love to see director Ken Loach behind the camera.

Kate is happy and fulfilled, despite her traumatic childhood
As we brought the interview to a close, Kate asked if my nine-year-old daughter had read any of her books. I said she hadn't but explained that she had read several Jacqueline Wilsons.

A couple of days later a parcel arrived for my daughter. Inside was a copy of A Million Angels with a lovely personal inscription from Kate. My daughter was thrilled.

Kate Maryon truly knows how to touch people.

* My thanks to Kate for speaking to me. Her author website is here. There's loads to read and do there, including joining her fan club. If you are interested in her work as a homeopath, go here.

Her page on her agent's website is here.

If you want to find out more about homeless charity Railway Children and the inspiring work of Andy McCullough, you should click through here.

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