Novelist Kylie Fitzpatrick was born in Denmark and grew up in the UK, the US and Australia. An epic journey not unlike the storyline of her most recent novel, The Silver Thread, led her to Somerset and the publication of her first novel, Tapestry. Kylie Fitzpatrick talks to Localeyez about her passion for all things medieval, a good historical tale, and a longing to travel back in time.
How did you get started as a writer?
Because of a story that completely possessed me. A friend who was writing a television script about the Battle of Hastings asked if I would be interested in doing some research for him on the female characters of that time. I agreed, and ended up adopting the whole project after he decided to pull out. It turned out to be a twelve-year literary journey and life adventure. It led me from Australia to Somerset in the UK, and spanned stints in acting, television, higher education, marriage, the birth of my daughter, separation and the publication of my first novel Tapestry.
Wow, that's some journey! How did you end up in Somerset?
I married someone that I’d met whilst travelling, who lived in Bristol, and, around the same time, I felt that my first novel was in good enough shape to get a literary agent. I sent it off to about twelve different agencies and, co-incidentally, it was finally a Bristol agent, Kate Hordern, who liked it and wanted to read the whole manuscript. Kate has now been my agent for thirteen years.
What do you love about the area?
Obviously the countryside is very beautiful - people sometimes describe it as a feminine landscape and I can see why. I love the visible history, the old stone walls and the buildings. I like to imagine that it might not have looked that much different hundreds of years ago. In parts it could still look as it did in the time in which I’m writing and that turns me on. Also, coming from Australia, where white history is only two hundred years old and an old building is Georgian, I am still thrilled by ruins. I think this must be one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I feel very blessed to live here. It’s also a place that a lot of creative people are drawn to.
What do you do in a typical day?
I teach Creative Writing to undergraduates one day a week at Bath Spa University and do PhD research on other days. I sometimes take manuscript editing work outside of term time. I try to write two or three days a week and balance that with being a mother. I find that I need quite a long day to get into the writing zone because I usually end up doing a lot of pencil sharpening!
How do you get yourself into the writing zone?
First of all I make sure that everything that needs to be done is done so there are no distractions. I try to get started by 10am and, at the moment I aim to write about a chapter a week. I find the beginning of a new chapter the hardest, figuring out what’s going on with the story and characters, and sometimes writing the first paragraph can be a bit painful. But I’m usually all right after that.
Your latest novel 'The Silver Thread' is an elaborate tale set back in time. How do you research your books and characters?
I do most of my research before I start writing, and keep lots of notes. I buy rather a lot of reference books and one aspect of the research leads into another, so the characters, setting and plot very much work together. Google is great for last minute research and you can now google something obscure such as 1841 shoes and get all the information you need! I need to inhabit the time and the place of the story because I love detail. It’s a little like walking into a room from another century and seeing what a character from that time would see.
What's the best parts of being a writer?
The escapism![laughs]. I love being immersed in the world of the characters and being inventive. I need to use my mind in that way otherwise it gets me into trouble.
It’s fairly antisocial and you spend a lot of time excavating your mind. When I’m writing it can be quite jarring coming out of the zone and having to interact with the world and deal with everyday stuff. And when it’s not going well it’s torturous! Rejection is another difficult aspect, and when someone says ‘we don’t want your book’ it feels like they’re saying ‘we don’t like you’!
When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I don’t think there was ever that moment of realisation. Being a writer just seemed to creep up on me and take over.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your life?
My family. I have a large, creative family and I get excited and inspired by them.
What’s your favourite book?
I don’t think I have one and, at the moment, I read shamefully little fiction. I can tell you about a book that set me on my journey. It was called A Traveller in Time by Alison Utterly and was about a girl who time-travelled to the 16th century and the time of Henry VIII. Whenever she arrived in that historic time she wore a green velvet gown. I was so captivated by this, and longed to go with her into that other time.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a grail quest. A novel set in the time of Thomas Malory in the 15th century. Malory wrote the Mort d’Arthur. This was the first time the Arthurian tales were collected into one edition and translated into English. One of my characters is William Caxton, who was the original printer and publisher of Mort d’Arthur. It’s a story about a genuine historical mystery and a missing manuscript. The quest is for what is potentially a finished version of the story of the grail, which was left incomplete when it was first written in the twelfth century. Hopefully the novel will be published in 2014.
What aspirations do you have?
I’m also focused on the academic side of the writing, which allows a deeper level of research than writing fiction does. I am currently doing a PhD in creative writing. I would love to be more involved in lecturing, and not necessarily just in creative writing. I’m very interested in mythology and the way it’s part of everybody’s life. It fascinates me that we’re so interconnected with stories and storytelling, and this is what I’m partly researching with my PhD. But generally, I just want to stay inspired and excited about exploring new things, and to keep writing. I have ideas for another two novels, so that should keep me busy for a while.
Tell us a secret about yourself.
I once trekked up a high-altitude Himalayan pass and almost died. Actually that's not really a secret. I was once chatted up by the magician and illusionist Derren Brown who came to a party I had in Bristol. This was before he came out!
How do you relax?
I don’t! I find it extremely hard to relax, and often end up trying to get more work done. But when I think about it, I like to walk, especially in the countryside around Bruton. It's very beautiful.
Who would you invite to your dream book club meeting?
The poet, Sappho, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Steinbeck, Mariella Frostrup, Philip Pullman and Marina Warner. But the anthropologist and mythologist Joseph Campbell would probably be my number one guest.
What advice would you give a budding writer?
Try and be around people who are doing the same thing, and whatever you do don’t give up. Of all the creative industries, publishing is often the hardest to break in to and it can take a long time. All that time is not wasted, though, because you’re always learning. Keep writing. Everything that you write will teach you something about your own practice.
When were you happiest?
Becoming a mother was my happiest moment. I wouldn’t call myself a happy person because I’m too often caught up in my head. I think having someone else in my life who is more important than me makes me happier.
Find out more about Kylie Fitzpatrick at her website.