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Katherine Webb

A bit about me.

I was born in 1977 and grew up in a village in rural Hampshire, in the south of England. I had a love of reading and storytelling from a very young age, and often wrote stories and (terrible) poems. I even started to write a novel at the age of fifteen, but stopped after the first chapter when I realised how hard it was going to be! I went on to study History at Durham University, and started another novel soon after graduating in 1998. I realised at that point that there was nothing else I wanted to do for a living.

During the subsequent decade I wrote seven novels, whilst living in Venice, London and Newbury, and working in a variety of day jobs from au pair to library assistant, housekeeper to seller of fairy costumes, until I found a publisher for my seventh novel, The Legacy, in 2008. The book launched in 2010 and featured on the TV Book Club, where it was voted the viewers’ favourite summer read, and it went on to be a bestseller, published in twenty-seven countries around the world. It also saw me shortlisted as Best New Writer at the Galaxy British Book Awards that year.

Since then I have published six more novels, several of which have been Sunday Times Top Ten Bestsellers, and all of which have also been published overseas. I have been a full-time writer for a number of years, and currently live in a quiet village near Bath. I have two cats (with whom my Instagram followers will be familiar) and when I’m not writing I’m usually reading, gardening, walking, cooking and travelling as much as I can.

 

Author photograph ©Adrian Sherratt/Diana Verlag

Testimonials

'Katherine's writing is rich, vivid and evocative and her characters breathtakingly real.'

Iona Grey

‘Katherine Webb's writing is beautiful’

Elizabeth Fremantle

‘I've loved all of Katherine Webb's books’

Kate Riordan

‘Webb has a true gift for uncovering the mysteries of the human heart’

Kate Williams

‘A truly gifted writer of historical fiction’

Lucinda Riley

‘An enormously talented writer’

Santa Montefiore

Q&A

Do you enjoy travelling?

Yes I do - almost as much as I love coming home again afterwards! The more I travel the more I realise how much more there is to see, but I'm not a competitive traveller who counts the number of countries they've been to, or never goes back to a place they've already visited, even if they loved it. So, if time and money allow, I try to visit a new country every couple of years or so, and to revisit places I love in between - Thailand, Ibiza (the quiet part), France and Italy. I've been lucky enough to travel to a few places on research trips for my books, and Oman, where I went to research The English Girl, was stunning. I'll definitely go back there in the future, if I get the chance. New Zealand, Argentina and Bhutan are still on my wish list...

We're coming to your place for dinner. What are you cooking?

I'm a pretty good cook, and I make great cakes. My grandma taught my mother, and my mother taught me, and I think if you get the basic skills early on in life you're then not afraid to try different things, and improve. I still have notable disasters (my first attempt at panna cotta last year resulted in inedible rubber balls you could have played squash with, and I recently made the world's blandest paella), but that's all part of the fun. If you were coming for dinner it might be coq au vin with duck fat chips, or something Mexican, followed by something involving cream and meringue - you can't go wrong.

Do you have any hobbies?

I love hiking, cooking, and I'm an avid reader - I read all sorts of fiction, from crime to literary to fantasy to historical. I've got quite good at DIY, though it's more of a necessity than a hobby. I do enjoy sprucing up old bits of furniture though - I've furnished the house almost entirely with secondhand things found in junk shops, charity shops and reclamation yards. I was a pony-mad child, though I never had my own horse, and competed a bit in my teens - mostly in show jumping. I continue to ride when I can, and I'd love to do one the world's great long distance rides - across the Patagonian Andes maybe, or along the old silk road across Mongolia.

How would you describe your dress sense?

I've always been a bit of a tom boy, not a girly girl at all. Sometimes I only remember to get my hair cut when it starts getting down towards my elbows… I'm far more at home in wellies in a pub than in heels in a cocktail bar, and I have no fashion sense whatsoever - my sister is great for buying me the sorts of things I should be wearing as birthday and Christmas presents. She's far more sartorially gifted than I am! I occasionally have a sudden yearning to be more stylish, and I buy a few new things, but when you work from home it's easy to finish another week and realise you've been wearing the same jeans and jumper since Monday.

What do you enjoy watching on TV?

I'm a bit addicted to TV detective shows - especially good old fashioned British ones. I think it started in my early teens, when I would watch The Inspector Wexford Mysteries and Inspector Morse with my mum. I love the skill of the storytelling, the trail of breadcrumbs the writers lay towards the big reveal - and seeing if I can get there first. Now a detective show is my favourite thing to curl up in front of on a night in - Lewis, Silent Witness, Vera, Unforgotten, Line of Duty. TV drama is so good these days! I'm not a fan of reality TV, though I make exceptions for Strictly and The Great British Bake Off.

When did you finish writing your first book?

I completed my first novel while living in Venice, working as an au pair, in 2000. I was twenty-two years old, and I'd started writing it the year before but stalled at what I now know was merely 'the wall' - that difficult middle section of a novel when it all starts to seem like the worst book ever written! In Venice I found the time and the will to pick up the manuscript again, and there was a marked improvement to the second half I then wrote - I'd already developed as a writer. I'll never forget the feeling of accomplishment in finishing that first draft. It was called A Pestilent People, and it was about witchcraft, which I'd studied during my degree. I think the idea was more or less sound, but the execution of it rather less so. It was the bottom mark of a steep learning curve!

Do you have a favourite place to be?

I have to say home! I spent almost two years slowly doing up my house, which is in a village not far from Bath, and now it is cosy and comfy and feels like a real haven - extra important when your home is also your place of work. I do like to travel, and get so excited when we're planning a trip somewhere, but coming home is also wonderful. Having grown up in the countryside, I love being outdoors as well - going for a long walk or a ride on a blowy day. The English countryside feels like home to me, too, and I will always love the landscapes we have here.

When did you first start writing?

I started to write at a very young age - I can remember writing stories about my toys when I was about seven, but my mum claims it started even earlier than that. At secondary school and college I wrote short stories and bad poetry, as well as factual pieces for newsletters and things like that. I started to write a novel when I was about fifteen. I had the whole story mapped out in my head, but only managed to write the first few chapters. Years and fourteen novels later (I wrote six before I was published) this pattern still forms the basic framework of my working 'method' - the thinking and plotting and research is still the most fun and exciting part, the actual writing takes grit and focus that I clearly didn't have at the age of fifteen! And nothing beats the euphoria of actually finishing a book. I get a sense of mad freedom, if only for a few weeks before thoughts of the next one start to gather.

 

Do you have any fears?

I really hate public speaking - particularly reading aloud. I lived in terror of it at school, and dreaded having to present a seminar paper at university. I wrote a poem about it at school, and it won a competition. I had to go up on stage in assembly to collect the prize and give a speech… I'm getting better - it's part of an author's job these days. Now I'm fine being interviewed in front of an audience or talking about one of my books, but I still hate reading aloud and avoid it if I possibly can. It is such a particular skill, I feel - it's a performance that requires acting ability to do well - not something I have in spades!

Do you keep any pets?

It's a bit of a cliché for an author to have cats, but I have two. We always had a cat when I was growing up, and now a house just doesn't feel quite like a home without one. I have a tiny, stripy little madam called Meg, and a fat, black mog called Pole. Both were rescues and couldn't have more different personalities - Meg's into everything, the nosiest creature imaginable, and will eat literally anything she can steal; Pole sees danger in every shadow…

FAQ

1: How many hours a day do you write?

I tend to focus on a daily word count rather than a length of time - I aim between 2000 and 3000 words a day, for at least five days of the week. That way I can get a first draft completed in four or five months, ready to be edited and rewritten.

2: Do you have any writing rituals?

Not really. I keep a very tidy desk, and I'm easily distracted, so it helps to have all my other errands and paperwork etc done before I settle down. I have my workbook of notes and research scribbles open beside me, even if I don't look at it for hours, and I like to have music on - it helps me not to listen to noises from outside etc. But it has to be music of a certain slowish tempo, and it has to be music I know well enough to hear without having to listen to, if that makes sense! Other than that, all I need is tea.

3: Where do you get your ideas from?

This is always so hard to answer! I've come to believe that an author is just a person who happens to have stories pop into their heads, apparently from nowhere...at least that's how it seems to work for me. That said, there are certainly things that help to inspire my novels. I love history, especially hidden histories, things that have been half-forgotten, and the history of small, everyday lives that weren't recorded for posterity. In a similar vein, I have always loved old buildings - ruined, dilapidated or still inhabited, they have a unique, almost magical atmosphere. I love landscapes, the English countryside, and the change of seasons - all of my stories are linked to a particular season; and I love folklore and the possibility of magic. And, of course, I love to write mysteries to which nobody can guess the ending...

4: How did you first get published?

I started writing my first novel in 1998, after I'd finished my History degree at Durham University, though I didn't manage to finish it until early 2000. In the subsequent decade, I wrote another five books, and all the while I sent out submissions to literary agents, hoping for a breakthrough. I got some good feedback, and even had an agent for a while, though it didn't work out. Then, in 2007, I joined a peer-review website for aspiring writers funded by The Arts Council. There was a monthly chart, and the highest placed books each month went on to be critiqued by someone in the industry. In this way, my first published novel (the seventh I had written), The Legacy, came to be spotted and subsequently signed by Orion Books in 2008.

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