Of all the author interviews I’ve done over the years, none will be dearer to my heart than this one. Kathryn Evans has been a friend and critique partner for many years, and I have watched her storytelling develop and grow over that time. I remember reading an early draft of More of Me and thinking, “What on earth has got into Kathy’s head this time?!” The idea was so totally whacky, the pulling and holding together of the threads of the story while maintaining credibility seemed insurmountable, that while I loved the idea, I couldn’t see how Kathryn would pull it off. And yet she has done so with remarkable style, and on 1 February 2016, and after many years of writing and waiting (not always patiently!) for a deal, Kathryn Evans’ debut, More of Me, was released. Let’s find out more about Kathryn Evans’ journey and her remarkable novel, More of Me.
Teva seems normal. But at home she hides an impossible secret: 11 other Tevas. Because once a year, Teva splits into two, leaving a younger version of herself stuck at the same age, forced to watch the new Teva taking over her life. But at 16, Teva’s had enough. She’s going to fight for her future - even if that means fighting herself.
Imagine all your friends growing up, moving on, and you being stuck in one year of your life... More of Me is an incredible, unforgettable story of identity, friendship, love and sacrifice.
Kathy – I’ve waited a long time to say this… Welcome to Absolute Vanilla! Sit down, have a glass of one of the Cape's nicest Methode Cap Classique bubbles, a slice of chocolate torte - and tell me how it feels now that you’re finally here?
|Author, Kathryn Evans|
Yum, thank you, this is delicious! Honestly, it feels wonderful. I’ve had the best year, I should think I’ve become a bit of a book bore and am trying to curtail all the excitement and happiness that are constantly bubbling away but keep failing. I mean it’s great. So completely great. It’s all the things you expect and more. It does also feel like I’m still on a journey though. Other writers have warned me of this – you haven’t made it because you have one book in print – that book has to succeed and then you need to write the next one but I am determined to enjoy the feeling of having got this far. And I am. Immensely. The only down side is that I’m conscious of other brilliant writers who haven’t yet made it, I know that however pleased they are for me, they will be a little bit pinched by me getting a deal while they’re still waiting. Trust me, I know this feeling.
Yours in a long story, so let’s start at the beginning. When did you first start writing and how did you manage to keep yourself motivated over the years? Were there any keypoints in that journey?
I started seriously writing books, with a view to being published, at least fifteen years ago. In all honesty, it was probably more. I’d always loved writing but once I started making up stories it was an unstoppable thing – something clicked in my head and I was constantly seeking the story in everything. There were so many points along the way that gave me an upward nudge. When my daughter was about four years old, she was terrible at going to bed so I made up a few stories to try and encourage her – one of those I thought was so great, I sent it to an editor at Random House. Ah ha ha. Ooops. Luckily for me, that editor was Natascha Biebow, she suggested I join SCBWI and learn how to write properly. It was about that time I first contacted my agent, Sophie Hicks, who politely turned me down. Anyway, I got on with practicing and the rejections kept rolling in and eventually, instead of writing picture books, I wrote a novel and I sent it to Beverley Birch. It was the first request for a full manuscript I ever had. I sent it off, so excited. Back it came - a no - but with a detailed critique of my work. I wrote another novel and thought I’d try Sophie again – this time she rang me and said she really liked it but it needed work. If she still liked it, after I’d done the work, she’d like to represent me. She took me on but the novel she’d loved never sold. I wrote another one but I lost confidence in it and withdrew it from submissions. I also wrote a middle grade series that I actually still really love but again felt it needed more work. A lot of time had passed and a lot of words when I had the idea for More of ME. You’re so right about its complexity – what is wrong with me? Honestly, find a plot, make it impossible, write the book…but I did it and Sophie loved it and it sold really quickly.
Your head, I know from personal experience, is full of brilliant and utterly mad ideas. What inspires you, where do the ideas drift in from – in other words, where do you think all the crazy amazingness originates?
I have a theory about this. I’ve read a lot throughout my life. When I was younger, I basically worked my way through the library. As a youngster I loved Mrs Pepperpot and Flat Stanley – odd books about odd people then as I got older I read pretty much anything and everything Dickens, Hardy, the Bronte sisters, Jilly Cooper (oh yes) , Dick Francis, Mary Hooper, Isaac Asimov, Alduous Huxley, HG Wells, Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard – I absorbed it ALL. I feel like my books are the result of my seeing the world through the perspective of those stories – I genuinely think what we read informs how we write.
So given that, let’s focus on More of Me. The idea of multiple selves is not a new one, and yet you’ve approached the concept from a very unusual angle. What would you say lies at the root of this story and why is it a story you felt you needed to tell?
I think a lot of teenagers are afraid of the future – so much is expected of them and they have no idea what kind of person they’ll be or what they might want to do or even if they can. It’s stressful and difficult and I wanted to write a story that would say look, it’s okay, no matter how bad it feels now, you will be okay. Even if the most devastating thing happens, life goes on, you’ll go on and, it might take a while, but almost always, you’ll be fine.
Teva’s story is very much one of growing up, not growing up, letting go and holding on. It’s about friendship, challenges, secrets, first love and above all the quest for identity. It is, in many ways, a bundle of contradictions, and yet accurately reflects what it’s like to be teenager. How did you tap into all of these aspects and draw them together? To what extent did your own teen years influence you and were you influenced by watching your own children grow up?
Oh hugely, on both counts. I so clearly remember breaking up with my first boyfriend and feeling like the world had ended. Of standing on the brink of my adult life and having no idea what I was going to do or how I was going to do it. The one thing I held on to was that I wanted to act – and it turned out I didn’t really. Way too nerve wracking. And of course, the book is dedicated to my daughter’s school friends – such a warm and wonderful group of people but boy did they have their ups and downs! Thank goodness they were there for each other – that’s why Teva’s relationship with Maddy is so important in the book – when you’re young, boyfriends and girlfriends come and go but your good friends are constant. Wonderfully so.
The one stand out thing for me has always been your remarkable ability to capture “voice”. Your stories are always told in a voice that is truthful, vivid and powerfully alive. Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird: “We write to expose the unexposed. If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must.” The writer’s job, she says, is to see behind the door where the monsters – anger, grief, damage - may be, adding that you can never discover your true voice without peering behind the door even if your parents are reading over your shoulder. How did you find your voice? How hard was it, and, having found it, as you unquestionably have, what do you feel it gives you in creating your stories?
|Kathy and her critique group|
Okay, this is hard to answer. I think, when I first started to write, I mimicked people whose writing I really enjoyed. As I matured as a writer, which you can only do by writing and writing and writing, I gained confidence in my own voice. Our crit group helped with that. I began to see that the way I talk in life, the way I chat and listen, was what needed to go in the books. But there’s another layer to this. Even thinking about it is hard, my heart squeezes and the tears come. You have to let yourself into the horrid places. If you want your books to have depth, you’ve got to be prepared to dive. Writing about Six, even thinking about her now, was painful. When I pictured that little girl on the stairs, I was remembering how torn I was by the death of my own mother. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone but it’s true for me. There are scenes in the book that made me cry when I was writing them, and they still make me cry. There are fun scenes too, that make me really laugh.
To pin it down, I think you just need to free yourself to be you – I’ve said this before on Notes from the Slushpile – Your voice is your voice. Don’t pretend, let it out.
What, above everything else, would you like readers to take away from this story?
Lean on your friends, your first love most likely won’t be your only love, and that almost always, no matter how bad things seem, most likely, you are going to be OK. Better than OK.
Kathy, I wish you all the very best with More of Me and your writing career. If there is anyone who deserves untold success, it is most certainly you!
You can read my Debut Author Interview with Kathryn Evans on SCBWI's Words and Pictures, and you can find out more about Kathryn Evans and More of me in the following places:
More of Me can be bought and/or ordered from: ANYWHERE! Including Amazon.