Secret Library Podcast

Episodes

The Book Dr.

#96 Kit DeWaal

Kit De Waal didn't start writing until she was 40.

I love a hot debut novel from a bright young thing as much as the next person, but there is something I love even more about a late-to-writing career trajectory. Now that I'm on the other side of 40, I feel particularly fired up whenever I read books by those who didn't start as writers the moment they finished school. Kit De Waal is the stuff revolutions are made of. With an article in the Guardian that asked "Where are all the working class writers?" she inspired the launch of the Working Class writers movement in the UK, something we would do well to adopt here in the US. Writing is hard work, and not easily done between all the responsibilities of jobs, home, families, and making this expensive thing called life work. Kit began writing at 40, studied craft with gusto, and published her first book in her 50s. It exploded into a national and international best-seller and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award in 2016. If you feel like it's too late for you to write what you want to, it's not. If you feel like you aren't like the authors you see on the shelves, don't let that stop you. And I expect that listening to Kit De Waal will help you stay focused on the dream of writing and publishing your book. This episode is magic.

Discussed in Episode 96 with Kit De Waal

  • Didn’t start writing until her 40’s.
  • Was a voracious reader in youth but didn’t have dreams of becoming a writer.
  • Started writing short stories when at home with her young children.
  • Wrote two books and a screenplay, got an agent but couldn’t sell any of them.
  • “I very much had gone to a different place in writing that book.” On writing My Name Is Leon, her third book and first one published.
  • “This one came from the gut.” On how My Name is Leon is different from her first two, unpublished, novels.
  • Was surprised that this was the book that people responded to.
  • She was 55 when My Name is Leon came out.
  • “I interrogated the books that I loved.” On being serious about the craft of writing.
  • “It takes a long, long time, many hours of practice to get to where you want to be.” On putting in the time.
  • The Trick to Time is her new novel.
  • Was able to write it in the window between selling Leon and it coming out. 18 months.
  • Started writing her main character as an old woman but had to reassess what “old woman” meant to her.
  • “Hang on. I’ve got stuff left. I’ve got life to live. I want to be loved and I want to love someone.” On writing an older character’s story.
  • “There is life to be lived. And if there is life to be lived, what have I missed and do I want to carry on missing it?” On her main character getting a wake up call.
  • Literary fiction vs genre fiction.
  • Literary fiction at the moment is wary of too much plot, that might get in the way of character development, which is literary fiction’s stock-in-trade.
  • But the literary classics are full of plot. Example, Madame Bovary.
  • She grew up watching a lot of films with her father, particularly film noir. Her use of suspense and plot now comes out of that background.
  • While writing she plots massively. Uses a spreadsheet.
  • After plotting out the entire book, she puts it away and then just starts writing.
  • Plotting it out first allows her to not waste thousands of words on sections that were unnecessary.
  • Puts sun icons throughout her spreadsheet to remind herself to keep some light and warmth in her stories, which might otherwise be very grim.
  • Easily spends 6-7 months on her outlines.
  • Trick To Time has 3 timelines. She wrote each independently.
  • The interweaving comes much later. She commits to each narrative, one at a time, as she’s writing them.
  • Worked in family and criminal law for many years. Was not a lawyer.
  • Took time off work after adopting two children and found herself with time to think about what she wanted to do next.
  • “I thought that I would have enough skill and enough knowledge without doing some of the hard work that you need to do to become a craftsperson.” On starting to write.
  • “It’s such a great thing when you find your joy.” On becoming a writer.
  • Working Class Writers Movement
  • Common People: An Anthology of Working Class Writers
  • For working class writers, the uncertainty of being able to make a living from writing necessitates that writing becomes a smaller and smaller part of ones life, to make room for the first job, the second job, the childcare, etc.
  • Publishers expect working class writers to write versions of their own lives, or a version of hardship. But what if you want to write science fiction? Or vampires? Or historical fiction? Your voice isn’t expected.
  • “Middle class writers can write what they want and working class writers are expected to be constantly rehashing their own narrative.” On one of the many barriers facing working class writers.
  • “We laughed every day and sometimes we laughed because that’s all we had left.” On growing up working class, but growing up happy.
  • “It doesn’t matter how well we’re writing and how much we’re writing if there aren’t people to listen.” On the responsibility of the publishing industry to look for, and actively seek out, the broadest range of writers possible.
  • “The publishing industry needs to recognize that this world is made up of lots and lots of different communities that value literature.” On the need to represent the broadest range of writers possible.
  • “There has never been a more important time for people to understand one another, and for us to investigate and appreciate and understand other peoples’ lives.” On the essential role of fiction now.
Caroline