Kathryn Hughes Author Q&A
You’re sat by your own private pool, the sun is shining and there’s a cool drink sat beside you, but there’s something missing – the perfect book! This summer fall in love with Her Last Promise, an award-winning novel that guarantees to be the ideal escapism for your next getaway. As you follow the story of Tara and her heartwrenching journey abroad, you’ll be gripped by its extraordinary tale of how hope can blossom in the ruins of tragedy, absorbed to the very last chapter.
We asked author Kathryn Hughes the inspiration behind her latest page-turner…
What inspired you to write the book?
I’m always on the lookout for a good plot. I think most authors are the same and it’s impossible to switch off. On a family cycling holiday in central Spain in 2017, we stumbled across a derelict hermitage built on a peninsula high above the River Duraton. We decided it would be the perfect place to stop for a picnic and whilst my husband and kids were wondering what they’d got in their sandwiches, I was wondering what made a person want to leave their life behind and come and live in solitude in a place like that. From this gem of an idea came Monasterio de Justina, my fictional monastery and its connection to a young girl in 1970s Manchester.
What research/travel did you have to do in order to write the book?
Whilst it’s true that authors have a vast array of research tools available without leaving their desk, there’s no substitute for actually visiting the place you are writing about. I went to Segovia, Pedraza and the Hermitage of San Frutos twice, once in the summer and again in the winter. It’s important to get a feel for the place and experience the sights and sounds, the smells and the tastes and an awful lot can be gleaned by just sitting in a pavement bar with a chilled glass of wine, just people watching. It’s hard work, but somebody has to do it.
What’s your favourite book to take on holiday?
Holidays are when I do most of my reading and I like to take a book that’s set in the place I’m visiting. For instance, when I was in Crete, I read Victoria Hislop’s The Island and when I visited Venice, I read Us by David Nicholls. This year, I’m going on a paddle steamer from Memphis to New Orleans and will be taking Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, which is quite a departure from what I’d normally read.
What would be your favourite destination to write about?
It would have to be a place I’d actually been to. Pembrokeshire is my favourite part of the world and so unspoilt that I’m reluctant to draw attention to it.
Do you have any advice for writers and authors?
I can only speak from experience and what works for me may not work for somebody else but the first thing I would say is just sit down and write. I know that sounds obvious, but I used to be a master of procrastination and would do anything to put off the actual act of writing anything down, fearing it would be rubbish. It might be terrible the first time but that’s what second drafts are for and you can’t edit a blank page. Try not to get hamstrung by the old adage ‘Write what you know.’ Times have changed and with our well-stocked libraries and unlimited access to the internet, you can write about anything.
If you’re serious about making a living out of your writing, then be firm with your friends and family. I still have trouble convincing my friends that I’m not able to drop everything and meet them for lunch or coffee. Even though I’m writing my fifth book, this is often met with something like ‘Oh, I didn’t know you had a job.’ Don’t be afraid to show what you’ve written to friends and family first. You’ll need to develop a rhino skin and any feedback is welcome. Ask them to read aloud a chapter you’ve written. The emphasis they choose to use or the accent they speak in can make you see your work in a different light altogether. Finally, this is not a tip of mine but one from Elmore Leonard: Try not to write the parts people tend to skip!