Interviewing a Writer – Ke Payne

KE Payne.jpg

British author Ke Payne has kindly agreed to answer some questions for this blog.

Ke Payne, can you introduce yourself in a few words/lines?

I’m a British YA lesbian author with Bold Strokes Books. I was born and grew up in Bath, in South West England, but now I live in chaotic bliss in the Cotswolds with my partner, one scruffy Jack Russell terrier and two not-so-scruffy guinea pigs.

As a child and teenager what were the books that made an impression on you?

I remember reading Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at school, and it making quite an impression on me. While I had a sneaky feeling that I wouldn’t be visited by ghosts clad in clanking chains in the night if I was mean to someone, I was certainly struck by how important it is to treat everyone equally and with kindness. A book suggesting that one person can be shown the error of his ways, make him stop and think about which way his life is heading, then have a rethink and emerge a better person is as important today as when it was written 160 years ago.

Who are your favorite authors today and do you think their writings influence your own?

I’m a fan of Kate Morton, and love both the intricacies and Englishness of her novels. I like that her stories sway from the past to the present and back again, so that you can see how everything that happened in a character’s past influences everything about their present and, possibly, their future.

I wouldn’t say her writing influences me though. I’d love to be able to write something as complex as she does, but I can’t ever see that happening!

Who are your favorite lesbian authors?

Sarah Waters is a firm favourite. Her descriptions of London – whether Victorian or Second World War – are so evocative I can almost imagine the smog and noise. I love the way she weaves a story, with its various twists and turns too. Even though I’ve read Fingersmith lots of times, I still really enjoy the twist in it.

I also love a good Gerri Hill novel which, on a long summer afternoon lazing in the garden, can be hard to put down.

How many books have you written so far?

I’ve been lucky enough to have four novels published so far with Bold Strokes Books: 365 Days, me@you.com, Another 365 Days and The Road to Her. I’ve just had my fifth, Because of Her, accepted too. That’s scheduled for some time in 2014, I believe.

Why do you write YA fiction?

I write YA because I can remember just how much a book written specifically for a teenager/young person affected me at that age, both positively and sometimes negatively. After I wrote 365 Days, I had lots of emails and letters from teenage readers telling me just how true to life it was, and how much it had helped them personally. I also got lots of correspondence from people in their twenties, thirties and forties telling me they wished they’d been able to read a book like it when they were a teenager and going through the same anxieties that Clemmie, the main character, was going through. As a writer, it’s immensely gratifying to know that something you’ve written might have helped someone, in whatever small way, realise that they’re not alone, and that there are others out there sharing the same worries and confusion.

What other YA authors do you enjoy reading?

Michael Morpurgo who wrote, amongst others, War Horse. I think it’s important not to patronise YA readers and not to write more simply just because your target audience happens to be teenagers and young adults. Michael Morpurgo does that perfectly.

What inspired you to write your first novel?

About five years ago I found an old diary of mine on a visit home. It was one from when I was struggling to work out who I was, and every day’s entry was more anxiety-ridden than the last. Even though it made me a bit sad reading it, remembering a time when I was confused about my sexuality and in love with a girl at school who didn’t even know I existed, it still made me laugh as I’d peppered it with humour as, presumably, that was the only way I could cope with things back then.

After reading my diary I knew I wanted to write something that showed that, although being a teenager can be fraught with angst and unrequited love, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, and that it’s important to find the funny in the most unfunny of situations. 365 Days was borne out of that, written as a diary, about a girl who, to all intents and purposes, is probably me…

Would you say that you write lesbian fiction or novels where lesbians are the main characters?

That’s a tricky question. I classify lesbian fiction as being fiction written exclusively for lesbians, so I would say I write novels where lesbians are the main characters. The plot should be more than just the fact they are lesbians – the fact that they are is secondary (and a bonus!) The main point is that each character is just trying to go about their lives, but inevitably a girl catches their eye and confuses things.

Did you know right from the start that you wanted to write this kind of novel?

No. I started life as a short story writer for UK women’s magazines but when a friend leant me some Gerri Hill books, I immediately realised that I wanted to write the kind of books that I would rather read myself.

I still write short stories (under a pseudonym) as they help pay the bills, but it’s writing YA novels that I enjoy the most.

Does it make a difference to be a British and/or a European author?

Definitely. 365 Days and its sequel, Another 365 Days are as British as afternoon tea and biscuits. My humour, too, is very British, and not everyone gets it. As I’m published by a US publisher, they do sometimes ask me to write things that are more universally understood, especially when it comes to brand names which could be exclusively British. Of course, I’m always more than happy to do that. However, I do still read comments from reviewers who complain that they can’t understand my English “slang”, and that, for them, it ruins the book.

Whilst that’s disappointing, it’s still slightly better than the comments I receive complaining about my “English mistakes”, when what they mean is “non-American English”. I guess you can’t please all the people all the time, can you?

How did you conceive the plot for The Road to Her?

My favourite British soap recently had a lesbian storyline, which was a first for that particular soap. It got me thinking: how would the two actresses playing these characters react if their on-screen chemistry spilled over into real life?

So I wrote The Road to Her, where my two main characters are well-known soap actresses who fall in love on screen, only to start to fall for each other off screen too. I wanted to know what they would do. Would they just see it as blurring fiction with real life, and ignore it, or would they act on those feelings? Maybe their careers would be more important to them? Or maybe they’re both just confused. So many questions needing so many answers…

Do you draw your inspiration for your main characters from real life? Or do you totally invent them?

They’re mostly figments of my imagination. However, there is a lovely character in me@you.com called Joey who might just be a little bit like my partner.

Do you have a favourite character? Which one and why?

I’ll always be very fond of Clemmie Atkins from 365 Days and Another 365 Days, possibly because she was my first ever character but more probably because she’s a total klutz and I love her for it.

Are you currently working on a new book? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

As I mentioned earlier, I recently found out that I’ve had another novel accepted for publication in 2014, so I’m really excited about that. It’s called Because of Her and features a main character called Tabby Morton whose life is turned upside down when she has to move to London when her father is headhunted by a major finance company. She’s enrolled in an exclusive school in the hope that it’ll finally make a lady of her, but she hates it. It’s only when the kind and lovely Eden Palmer walks into her classroom one day and catches her eye, that Tabby begins to think that life in London’s not so bad after all.

I’m also currently halfway through writing a sixth novel, provisionally titled Once The Clouds Have Gone, about a girl who has to return home after many years when father dies and she inherits his business. It’s another YA romance, so of course there’s a stunning girl waiting in the wings to stir things up a bit…

Thank you Ke for your availability and your time!

The Road to Her.jpg

Alastair’s Photo Fiction – Orphaned

Once again, thanks to Freya for pointing out this writing meme.

Alastair is both a writer and a photographer. The idea of Alastair’s Photo Fiction is that a photo that he has taken is used as a prompt for flash fiction – a short story – or poem of around 150 words.

13-06-june-23rd-2013.jpg

The waves were licking Ailsa’s toes. She took another step into the water, then another. The sea was grey and rough, the beach empty. She was shivering, despite the navy pullover she had kept on. She bit fiercely on the hair she had been chewing all along and froze when she realised her shorts were wet.

She rubbed her nose, the sand only making the tears and snivelling worse. All she could hear were the waves and her sobs coming and going in unison.

Ever since Mum had come back with the silly baby boy, nothing was the same. Where was the fun she had been promised? It was all about him, him. She might as well be swallowed by the sea, nobody would ever notice.

Then Ailsa heard her before she felt whisked off her feet in a swift embrace of Chanel, silk and red hair.

She was a daughter again.

Three Months Later

Wordle: ilana-davita

It’s already been three months since I resumed blogging after a four-month hiatus. In fact, in hindsight, the pause was a good idea which helped me focus on what I enjoy about writing this blog.

It is also five years since I started blogging altogether – in January 2007. I had of course no idea then that I’d still be writing and loving it five years down the road.

I now seem to have found a rhythm: two posts a week and an extra if I feel inspired. How do you organise your blogging time? Has it evolved since you started?

Just for fun, I have created a Wordle of the most read posts in the past 90 days. Click and enjoy!

Reading, Writing but no Arithmetic

danishlibrary.JPG

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about studying (excerpts of) The Hobbit, and writing about Bilbo Baggins in my literature class. Since then we have examined some love sonnets. But as the main objective of this course is to instill the love of literature in English, I thought it would be nice if my pupils could read large chunks of writing without having assessment in mind – at least for a while.

So when I saw a message on a forum for English teachers from a colleague in Morocco who was looking for people to read and appraise her pupils’ short stories, I jumped on the occasion and suggested my own students could be part of the jury – her original idea was for teachers to rate the stories.

My colleague was quite enthusiastic about it and sent her pupils’ works via email. I printed the short stories and gave them to my pupils to read. Their task was to read them and pick out their favourite piece. It was a pleasure to see them read and discuss their choices for two hours.

My colleague’s students had been set a common topic through a question ‘What does a Moroccan think when he drinks mint tea?’ They were to write a maximum of three pages. Twelve students volunteered and submitted their works; their stories include a variety of themes such as child sexual abuse, drugs, sexual identity, childhood, memories, culture clash…

When my own pupils marvelled at the other students’ abilities to write in English, I thought that maybe I could challenge them and suggest they write their own short stories. My school has writing competitions in French but not in English. Next year, with my colleague, we have plans for a contest that will include several schools but I’d like my pupils to have confidence in their writing abilities first.

Have you ever taken part in a writing competition? Do you think that a set topic reins in writing creativity?

My Week in England

england1.jpg

The title of this post is no reference to a recent trip but to the title I gave to my first visit to England in the 1970s.

When I was 11, my parents took me on a journey to England. We spent three days in London (I remember that the hotel was near Piccadilly Circus). Then my parents drove to York where my father had a business meeting and I spent a week in the Midlands with the Brown family: my mother’s pen friend, her husband and their two sons – Alan and Steven.

I was in the first year of middle school but Alan, who was a little younger than me, was in primary school. I went to school with him for a week and more generally shared their family life.

Mrs Brown was a French teacher and she made sure I learnt new things every day. At the end of my stay, she made me write a short diary of my time with them. I had only learnt the present tenses and she had to teach me the past so I could write the following lines.

I had enjoyed this trip so much that I kept this little booklet which I found again a few days ago at the bottom of a drawer. Apart from a short daily account of my week, there are also photos and postcards and a few lines about English meals. Can’t you just tell that even then I liked writing better than art?

It was a fantastic idea and I am glad I still have it after so many years.

england3.jpg

Sunday: We went to Coombe Abbey. We played on the swings and slides. We went on the nature trail.

Monday: I went to school with Alan. I went swimming.

Tuesday: It was Alan’s barbecue. We put up his tent in the garden. For tea we had hot-dogs and beef-burgers. We made a trail to the woods and we played hide and seek.

Wednesday: I went to Kenilworth Castle and Coventry Cathedral in a coach. I had a picnic. After school I went swimming. I visited a big school.

Thursday: At school I drew a Kenilworth Castle. We talked about Coventry Cathedral. We did athletics. I ran and I did long jump and threw a cricket ball.

Friday: I went to school and won a badge for athletics.

Saturday: We went to the Battlefield of Bosworth. We saw the film Richard III.

england2.jpg

Not Quite Farewell

mysteryphot.JPG

As you probably noticed – well I hope a few people at least noticed – this blog has been very quiet for the past few weeks. I have certainly been busy but I also feel a total lack of inspiration and ideas.

The school front is much quieter, which is a very good thing. I have not read many books worth writing about recently and my spiritual life is not worth sharing right now.

After much thinking and worrying, I have now decided that I will write whenever I feel like it rather than fret about I can possibly write about.

Still a few posts are already scheduled: at least two book reviews I promised to write (even though I have not received the books yet), a few recipes and JPiX in March.

Meanwhile I may or may not post on this blog but will still visit yours; I am subscribed to a lot of your blogs.

I suppose saying goodbye is a bit hard so I will end this post with a question. Can anyone guess what the photo above features?

Blog Musings

versaillescastle.jpg

– I recently read an article about blogs and bloggers. It seems that a peak has been reached and that bloggers now tend to post less often than they used to. This is certainly true for me although I am not quite sure why: lack of ideas, different priorities, a different schedule…

– The number of spams I get has rocketed. Fortunately they are blocked in the spam section of the blog but the number is still impressive. Am I the only one?

– WordPress has a wonderful feature which enables the readers of a blog to subscribe and get an email each time a new blogpost has been published. It is much more comfortable than checking RSS feeds. The unfortunate result is that I probably read non-Wordpress blogs less frequently.

– What about you? Do you find that your blogging activity has evolved?

P.S.: Upcoming change on this blog.

Who We Are

chaimpotok.jpg

On Being (and Not Being) A Jewish American Writer

I have just finished Who We Are – On Being (and Not Being) a Jewish American Writer, an anthology of 29 essays compiled by Derek Rubin. While some of the selections are re-edited essays, others have been written specifically for the anthology.

Most essays are quite insightful, even if I was more interested by what the authors I knew – such as Tova Mirvis and Allegra Goodman – had to say on the topic.

Grace Paley shares fond memories of her family. Philip Roth, whom I don’t always appreciate as a writer, wrote an engaging essay. Erica Jong‘s own contribution is amusing.

Some of these writers are the sons or daughters of Holocaust survivors; they were children whose parents were reluctant to deal with the past and who, unlike most of their friends, had no grandparents. They all acknowledge that the Shoah impacts their writings in one way or another.

Rebecca Goldstein explains the development of her relationship with philosophy. A few essays later, her daughter Yael Goldstein deals with her personal connection with Judaism while casting a new light on her mother’s relationship with religion.

Lara Vapnyar was born in Russia where she was branded as a Jew by her classmates. As a result she viewed her being Jewish as a burden. She longed to move to America and discovered, much to her surprise, that she had a different view of her Jewishness once she was there. She is proud to be called a Russian born American Jewish writer and recalls that she cried when she learnt that her stories had been translated into Hebrew.

Who We Are is a fascinating book even if the format means you need some time to read it as each new essay means a different style and approach.

American Jews, Jewish Writers

chanukah3.jpg

I finished the book about American Jews on Shabbat and have found it captivating and well-documented. After a chapter about the various waves of Jewish immigration to the US, the author tries to explain the roles, real or imagined, American Jews play or have played in different areas of American life.

He concludes by envisaging a future where American Jews will be less numerous – because of assimilation and inter-marriage but also because other groups are getting more numerous – and will thus not count as much as they once have.

In a recent post Shimshonit blogged about an issue which fascinates her, namely the choice writer make or don’t make to write as Jews. She mentioned a book that deals with this issue through a series of essays written by various Jewish American writers, Who We Are – On Being (and Not Being) a Jewish American Writer. I then decided to order it and have just received it. I hope to be able to start it soon – school isn’t quite over yet – and will probably share my thoughts on this blog. Stay tuned!

Unwelcome Comment: A Blogger’s Dilemma

irises2.jpg

A few weeks ago I reviewed the Koren Sacks Siddur which was due to be released this month. The editor kindly told me via email they had linked to my blog on the Press/Reviews page of their new siddur website, which rather pleased me.

On Friday morning, however, a completely different comment was added to the post mentioned above. It read Buy it here and linked to an online Judaice store. Apart from this there was nothing else, not even an email indicating who at the store had posted the link.

I found the procedure rather distasteful and indelicate. Therefore I visited the site, found the contact page and left a message indicating that since they had neither bothered to ask me beforehand nor left an email address I had chosen to spam the comment.

Do you think I overreacted? How would you have responded?