Thursday, November 20, 2014

Writing is travelling into the unknown: author Katarina West on her inspiration, the "perfect novel" and more

About the author: Born in Helsinki, Finland, Katarina West lives in an old farmhouse in Chianti with her husband and son, and when not writing, she is fully immersed in the Tuscan country life, from jam-making and olive-oil-picking to tractor maintainence. Witchcraft Couture is her first novel.

About the book: Witchcraft Couture is a dark fantasy steeped in Finnish mythology, a cautionary tale reminiscent of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, written in the lush style of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Here is the review on Tabula Rasa. 

Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

In this interview, Katarina discusses her writing process and inspirations, leaving us with her brilliant concoction of the "perfect novel."

Why do you write?
Because it’s the thing I love most to do, because I don’t know how else to exist, and because I have done it – in one way or the other – for most of my life. It’s not the easiest choice for a profession, and in some sense I believe it’s not a choice at all, but something you just have to do, no matter what. There have been dark periods and crises during which I decided I will not write any more. But after a while I was always back writing again.

What do want readers to take away from your writing?
A possibility to escape, in the widest and deepest sense of the term, which is something I appreciate most as a reader. That wonderful feeling when you enter an imaginary universe, complete with its characters, sensory details, little stories and emotions, and when you’re inside that world it feels more real than your everyday life. And after you have finished the novel it still lingers in your mind, and you keep wondering why the characters acted the way they acted, and why the end was the way it was, and what must have happened to the characters after the story ended.

They say, "Write what you know." Do you agree?
Yes and no. Once I read an interview of Somerset Maugham – who is one of my favourite authors – and he said something similar, and afterwards I have often tried to follow that advice, choosing settings and social backgrounds I know well. And in a sense it is true, that you write best about something that you have experienced and breathed in your own life. But then there is also the fact that writing itself is an act of gambling, it’s about closing your eyes and travelling into the unknown, and going beyond the boundaries of what you already know.   

Where did you find the inspiration for Witchcraft Couture?
Two things inspired me. One was the Finnish national epic Kalevala and the magic tool, Sampo, which plays a leading role in it. The Sampo has always fascinated me, and already years before I started to write Witchcraft Couture I knew that one day I would like to write about the Sampo. Another inspiration was my own life, or actually my writing, and the fact that in the past I suffered from creative blocks. So I wanted to write about a man – a fashion designer – who was just as insecure as I was, and destroyed his designs the same way I destroyed my texts. And then one day he found a magic machine that transformed even his worst designs into masterpieces. So this was the start, and it intrigued me.

Which are your three all-time favourite books and why?
My all-time favourite book is Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground, which I read during a summer holiday when I was about sixteen. I read it several times in a period of four, five days, first in a haste and devouring each word, and then slowly, underlining sentences, thinking, studying. It was something I had never read before; it was like falling in love. That was the first time I realised how complex fictional characters can be – and once you’ve started journeying on that road, there’s no turning back. Afterwards I’ve always sought that same earthquake-like reading experience, but sadly, no other book has ever had quite the same effect on me – not even Dostoyevsky’s other, more famous novels.

As for the two other all-time favourites… well, it varies. I have periods when a certain author is my absolute favourite and I try to read whatever he or she has written. But then that period comes to an end, I don’t know why, and I find someone else.

I suppose I'm always constructing in my mind the Perfect Novel. Everything in it is absolutely flawless: its characters have the warmth of John Irving's best heroes, its language the intensity of Toni Morrison’s books, or the sarcasm of Etgar Keret's stories, or the bubbly lightness of Sophie Kinsella's narrative voice, or rich fantasy of Stephen King's thrillers… And yes, I could go on forever with this list, because I really am omnivorous when it comes to reading.

Lovely interview, thanks Katarina! And readers, Witchcraft Couture is available to buy on Amazon. Grab your copy now!

Don't you love the idea of the Perfect Novel? Mine would have some combination of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (like Good Omens) with J. K. Rowling's characters and Stephen King's genre-defiance. What would be the ingredients to your perfect novel?


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