At the 2013 Sydney Writer’s Festival there was a quiet buzz around a young debut author. Wanting to discover it for myself I later picked up Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites and read it one weekend at my Out-Laws beach house. It was a cold blustery June, which added to the atmosphere.
2017, 4 years later on a chilly February evening in London I went to Waterstones Piccadilly to hear Hannah Kent talk about her new novel The Good People
Hannah Kent- The Storyteller comes from Adelaide, Australia. Her debut novel, Burial Rites as mentioned above, was translated into 28 languages and was shortlisted by the Baileys Women’s prize for fiction. She is the co-founder and publishing director of Australian literary publication Kill Your Darlings
How did Kent come across the idea for her second novel? Kent came across an odd newspaper clipping, in the middle of research Burial Rites, from 1826 that stated an Irish woman called Anne Roach of advanced age (could have been as young as 40) had been caused of a serious crime. The crime wasn’t what had caught Kent’s eye, but rather her defence; She described herself as a Faery Doctoress and claimed she had been trying to banish a changeling- a child that had been stolen away by the faeries and in it’s place a changeling was left so as not to arose suspicion.
After the success of Burial Rites Kent was asked about a second novel. She thought “what will sustain me for another 3 years? Ah, yes, let’s return to old Anne Roach”. And with that, and only two articles in which Kent could go off, the idea of faeries, folklore and 3 female archetypes- the crone, the mother, and the maid she set off writing.
There are similarities between The Good People and Burial Rites, which told the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. Both books focus on death, grief and women . Kent says “She likes the cold”, she jokes “I’ve been asked if i’m carving out a niche as the writer of miserable climates, but i think i’m attracted to landscapes that are beautiful, but harsh enough to shape the days of people who live in them”
Through out the talk Kent describe taking inspiration from Margaret Atwood’s approach for Alias Grace, on her responsibility on writing historical fiction
“When there are no facts to honour, facts that were conflicting or heavily bias to pick the most likely or obvious scenario and only at times when information was utterly absent could she feel free to invent”
And in terms of her Creative process, how does Kent do it? Kent thinks it’s fascinating too, she loves to hear about other writer’s processes. She starts by researching, getting the beginning of the story and familiarising herself. She will use up to 2-3 notebooks, hardback, a4, sturdy enough to take a beating, and will write notes to self, excerpts of research, what she thinks might happen. Then she starts the writing in a word doc- Scrivener and technology are now too much for her, she says she’s at an age where she doesn’t understand it.
Borrowing Sarah Water’s style Kent writes 1000 words a day. She says she can do this because she understands her first drafts a terrible, it’s about getting the words down on the page and then she can begin the true process- the redrafting. As long as she has 100,000 words down she has something to work with. Getting to the desk ( a standing desk now) early in the morning, and writes full time. Each draft has a focus- character, plot, setting etc then there are post its on a wardrobe, and occasionally prints out sections to physically clip into a binder more or less where she thinks it will fit in the story.
It’s a really long, tedious process involving a lot of paper.
Waterstones did record the event- look on their Facebook page here to see – can you hear me at -3:39 ask my question?
Disclaimer: Featured photos are saved from internet sources and are not the product of my own skills. All workshops/events are paid for by me and all reviews are mine from my own notes, opinions, and experiences.