Kathryn Evans on Fencing, Acting, Strawberries and Everything Else

Kathryn Evans’ book, More of Me, came out in the U.S. this year. The book follows a young girl who splits in two each year and leaves her younger self at home to hide with the rest of her former selves. Is her predicament real? Is Teva going insane? Read this unique YA thriller to find out. And check out our review for more information!

This interview is abridged, because Kathryn was such a wonderful interviewee that a 30-minute call turned into an hour and a half. Her funny, insightful answers made the call special, and we hope you enjoy our Q&A below:


So, I’ve read that you’re a runner, belly dancer, fencer, fruit farmer, you run an online chocolate company, and you write. Am I missing anything?

[Kathryn laughs.] I have two kids. I just like to be busy. Yesterday, I finished my second book and sent it to my agent, and I thought, “I’ll just take the afternoon off.” Have you read any of Teri Terry’s books? She wrote a series — the first one was called Slated — she writes really pace-y sci-fi thrillers, and she’s got a new book that’s come out called Contagion. So I thought, ‘I’m gonna read Terry’s book and take the afternoon off.’ I read the book, the book was brilliant, and by about 8:00 last night I was itching to do something. I’m not good at sitting still.

How did you get into fencing?

I’ve always wanted to fence. I used to be an actor, and in the olden days, you used to have to join equity in order to get any acting work. You’d fill in a form and it has tick-boxes of all of the things you can offer — so, if you can ride horses, or dance, or sing — and one of the boxes is fencing. It’s completely different, actually, to competitive fencing, but I didn’t know that. So, stage fencing. And I love Errol Flynn! The film in which he plays Robin Hood and he’s doing a sword fight going up round this staircase on the inside of this castle wall, and I just thought — “I want to be able to do that. I really want to be able to do that.” And then, just by chance, there’s a fencing club in our town, and they were doing, like, a ‘have a go’ day, and my son was quite young at the time, so he was with me and we had a go. And I thought, ‘I have to do this.’ It was so much fun. But he also loved it, so I had to wait for him to be old enough to stay for the senior session later in the evening before I could start training. So, as soon as he was invited to join the seniors, when he was 11 or 12, so about five years ago, I could do it. I waited, but I absolutely love it.

How does a writer and actor manage to run a strawberry farm?

Well, you fall in love with a farmer. I actually met him at university, where I was studying acting and he was studying agriculture. When we left, I had a job at Chichester Festival Theatre — I wasn’t acting, I was working backstage — and he was working in the area, and I had a massive overdraft and couldn’t pay it off working at a theatre, so he got me a job. I was working at the theatre in the evening, and working cutting celery during the day. And I loved it. I really loved it. I kind of had a choice to make — did I want to pursue a theatre career, which would take me away from him, away from this life that I was living that I really loved? And I just didn’t want it enough to leave, so I sort of put it on hold. I never entirely gave up on it, I still did bits and pieces. I did some film work with my kids, with a thing that was filmed locally. They were both… not interested. More interested in the catering wagon, really, than the acting. But yeah. I kind of missed it, but I think some of the stuff I do is really theatrical. And that kind of fills that hole, really, for me.

[Editor’s note: Kathryn’s husband popped up quietly in the background at this point. Kathryn: “There he is now — there’s the real-life farmer.” We then proceeded to go on a 15-minute tangent about different types of strawberry plants.]

How long have you wanted to be a published author?

I started writing seriously, trying to get published, when my daughter was about three or four and she’ll be 23 this year. So it took me about 15 years to get published. I’d always written bits and pieces, but never very seriously. So, when I started, I started trying to write picture books. And they were so awful — I mean, I know that now. At the time, I thought they were fantastic, and it would be a piece of cake, and I’d send the stories to a publisher and they’d snap them up and it would be brilliant. But that isn’t what happened, of course. I was very lucky, because Natascha Biebow, who runs SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) in the U.K., said after I’d sent her about three or four of these terrible manuscripts, “Look, you’re quite funny, and you can write interesting characters, but there’s no story here. If you want to get published, you need to learn what you’re doing.” And she suggested I join SCBWI, which was a tiny organization in the U.K. then — they only had about 30 members. But I did join, and I learned how to write. It just took me a long time. But I don’t regret any of it. I think every manuscript that I’ve written that’s been put in a drawer has contributed to making me a better writer. I’m sure of that. Absolutely sure of that.

Do you travel much?

I came (to New York) for the SCBWI conference, but I also met up with my publisher at ABRAMS. It was a nice, serendipitous thing that sort of happened at the same time. It was nice — really nice — and I’d never been in America, ever. So it was really exciting. I got hustled at the airport. I’ve been to Africa a few times, but I wasn’t expecting that at JFK, being hustled the minute I stepped out of the concourse. So, yeah, it was interesting. I loved it. I was really surprised by how much I loved it. I love the way the streets are laid out, because I have no sense of direction. Even I couldn’t get lost in New York, because it’s just numbers. I had the best time. It was fantastic. I walked a lot, because I wanted to see as much as I could and I had so little time. I had one day, basically, to myself. So I went to Ellis Island, and then I walked all the way up to — I got as far as 7th Ave. I had the best day, it was great — and I shopped, yeah.

What’s the easiest way to brighten your day?

To brighten my day? Tea. Proper English breakfast tea. Strong. Quite a lot of milk, no sugar. I can’t live without tea. I have about four cups of tea before 8:00 in the morning. That’s bad, isn’t it? I’m drinking one, and I have the kettle on ready to make another one. My ideal day would be time to read  —  I love to read, and to not feel guilty that I should be doing something else is a big, big treat for me. I still love to read. I think YA is just an explosive, exciting area where fantastic stuff is being written. It just thrills me all the time to be reading what other writers are producing. It’s great. And of course, now, with the book coming out in America, there’s a whole new raft of writers that I’ve never heard of. I met Adam Silvera at this SCBWI party. I didn’t know who he was — I had no idea that he was this very famous writer. He said he had a book coming out in the U.K., and I said ‘Look, if we can do anything to help, just get in touch with me, SCBWI is quite big now in the U.K.” And my friend, afterwards, said, “Did you not know who that was?” And I said, “Yes! It’s Adam! He’s lovely, he’s been showing me pictures of his boyfriend and his boyfriend’s dog, and we had a lovely chat!” And she said, “Yeah, Adam Silvera, New York Times bestseller.” And I went, “Oh.”

Do you think there’s a bit of a stigma around writing and reading YA?

I think there’s a huge amount of snobbery. And I think it’s starting to diminish in the U.K. We had Frances Hardinge — whose books, I know, are now out in the states, because she’s published by Abrams as well —  she won a really prestigious award in the U.K. out of all of the adult and children’s authors. Her book, The Lie Tree, won the award. And that was a bit of a turning point, I think. People are looking at (YA) in a different light, I think, which is exciting! And my book won the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award — the first YA book ever to have done so — last year, which is absolutely thrilling for me, and I’m delighted to hold up the banner for YA. I do sometimes read grown-up books.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, especially since I just finished my second book. I think a lot about why I write the way I do, and for me it’s a lot about layers. I think YA writers, we don’t feel bound by genre at all, really. We’ll experiment in all kinds of ways, and that gives you a freedom. To write what you want, how you want, and to give your books depth. I think it’s pretty obvious that More of Me is a n allegory — the book is about identity, but it’s also got this fast-paced, thriller-type sci-fi story over the top of it. I mean, I’m sure there are adult books like that, but I see it so much more in young adult books. So much more.

You know, Twilight got knocked a lot, for the writing. But I read all of those books. And I was turning those pages. The story just — whoosh — pulls you along. And that’s the other thing I think about YA — you do not get away with padding out your story with prose that doesn’t need to be there. You just don’t get away with it. The pace of most YA novels is exciting, it’s dynamic… but, you know, I’m biased.

What’s your most fail-safe way to get inspiration?

Ultimately, I don’t have the luxury of waiting to be inspired. Obviously, I’m busy, so when I’ve got time to write, I need to sit down and write. And I think, usually, you can do that. Even if what you produce isn’t very good. But what I do when I’ve got a problem is, I walk the dog. And always, always, always, it solves the problem. I might have to do several circuits, and now (the dog’s) getting a little bit older, I might have to actually leave him at home if ti takes a very long time, or he’ll just lie down and wait for me to come back. We just go round and round one of the fields. But it’s never failed me yet, just to walk it off. I also have a treadmill in my office, so I don’t know what it is about movement. You can see, I’m standing up now, so I’m just a fidget. Yeah, walking is a great mental un-blocker. There’s some quote, I can’t remember it, but it was something about inspiration being a bit of a luxury — waiting for it to strike. I think you could wait forever, couldn’t you?

I did a tour in the UK with some other debut authors last year — you probably won’t know them, but they’re all doing quite well in the UK — all of them have got their second books out, and I’ve just finished writing mine. So, I am a bit slow, but I don’t know whether that’s because I fill up my time with other things, or whether I just need that time to think and mull things over, and… [Kathryn looks down] Oh, that’s my dog making a very strange noise. He’s woken up and now he’s making disgusting noises and smells, bless him.

Do you like doing events, signings and conventions?

I love doing events. I LOVE it. I do lots and lots of school visits, as much as I can. I mean, I love being around young people. My children are now growing up, so my house is no longer full of young people, and I miss them. My book is dedicated “to all of the honeyz in the hun club,” and that is basically my daughter’s group of friends who were at my house as much as I could have them here. So, getting into school and spending time with kids is great — I love it. And I’m a bit of an over-excitable showoff. I mean, I feel like — I came from, not a tough background, but I went to a school that was a bit rough… it wasn’t a good school. So, I always feel like I have something to say, especially at schools like that, that wherever you start from, you can still achieve things if you’re prepared to work. I really want to share that with people, and I do a lot of talks about it, so yeah, I love it.

Do you have any events or signings in the works?

Yeah, I do. I can’t tell you about some of them, because they’re embargoed for a bit. I work with an organization called Authors Abroad, and they organize my school visits, and they’re organizing a tour on the south coast of England, and in October I’m doing a tour in Liverpool, and I think I’m going to Holland on a little tour, and I’ve got some festivals lined up that I’m really excited about, so, yeah, lots of exciting things coming up.

Have you met any other YA authors that you’ve gotten along well with?

So many. So many people. So, I joined SCBWI years and years ago, but I am now co-regional adviser. I feel like it’s my time to give something back, because I don’t think I ever would have been published without them. So now, I help Natasha run SCBWI in the UK, so I know huge numbers of writers, and it is such an amazing community of writers. They’re just so friendly. I don’t know whether it’s just children’s writers or whether it’s the same in all areas of writing, or whether it’s because we don’t get out much, so when we do it’s just so nice to see people, but yeah, I’ve got lots of writer friends. I love to see them flourish and do well, and whenever anyone gets a book deal it’s exciting.

I have a face-to-face (writing) group, and we’re a real mix of published and unpublished writers, and I think that’s really important for me, having spent so long being unpublished. You kind of think you’re not worthy of all of these people who’ve produced lots of books, but it’s really important to remember that at some point along that journey, everybody was an unpublished writer. We’ve all had to learn, we’ve all had to fight our way to get published. There’s two people in the group, my friends Viv and Liz, and they’re just bullies — they bully me. They say, “Just get to writing that book! Stop Skyping!”

What would you say to someone who doesn’t think adults should read YA?

Try it yourself, and then tell me that. Because the depth of the subject matter, emotion, the importance of the subject matter being dealt with — everything from terrorism to death to love. I mean, what’s more important than love and relationships and family and all of that? The book I’ve just finished writing — I mean, I don’t know if it’ll ever be published, but — it’s about grief. That’s the center of it, how we deal with grief. I mean, it’s not obvious, it’s another fast-paced sci-fi thriller, but at the heart of it… that’s what’s in common with all good YA. There’s something at the heart of the book that matters. So, in More of Me, that was about identity, about discovering yourself. And I’ve had responses from all sorts of people, not necessarily teenagers — I’ve had responses from transgender people, anyone who went through a difficult time growing up. Yeah, so I’d say try it yourself. I think I’d recommend some books. And that would be quite a long list. I often recommend to people who say, “Oh, I don’t really read” — because I get a lot of that in schools — to try Sarah Crossan’s books. Her book one won the Carnegie last year, and it’s so lightly told, this tale of these Siamese twins. It’s almost like lace, it’s so delicate a story, and it’s written in verse, but you forget about that while you’re reading it. I think anyone who picked it up would race through it, whether you’re a big reader or not. So that would certainly be up at the top of my list. Yeah, I could list a lot of YA books. There’s so many.

I actually read a really, really great book recently, and I’m not sure where it fits. Because it follows a young protagonist, so you’d think it was middle grade, but it was dealing with teenage pregnancy from the boy’s point of view. It’s an american book, actually, by a guy called Gary D. Schmidt. The book is called Orbiting Jupiter, and it’s beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful book.

Have you noticed the line between YA and adult blurring at all?

The only distinction for me is that YA needs a young protagonist. It needs a teenage protagonist. I think as soon as you hit 20, it’s not a YA book anymore. For me. But it’s so arbitrary — how do you define (YA)? I don’t know. It’s such a weird thing in the UK, because I know loads of people who read YA books, and they don’t know that’s what they’re reading.They think some of the stuff they’re reading is for adults, and I think if you told them it was YA, they would be a bit embarrassed. I think there is a lot of snobbery about it in the UK. And we have this culture in schools about “reading up” — I mean, you hear it, actually, in bookshops. Parents saying to kids, ‘Oh, no, that book’s too babyish for you. You should be reading something longer.’ And I’m thinking, ‘You’ve got a child there who wants to read. Don’t embarrass them or humiliate them! Let them read what they want to read!’ It doesn’t really matter what they’re reading, as long as it’s age-appropriate in terms of content, they’ll read up when they’re ready. I think we send out some strange mixed messages in the UK. It’s going to be interesting for me to figure out what kind of readership I have in the USA, when the book comes out. I’m quite excited about it. Really excited.


Buy More of Me from Book Depository, or check out our review!

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