In The Library

‘I really want to time travel’
A Quick Q&A with Kate Williams

We loved The Storms of War, Kate Williams​’ spellbinding portrait of a German family living in Britain at the outbreak of the First World War and can’t wait to find out what happens to the de Witt family as they enter the Roaring Twenties in The Edge of the Fall, out 19th November in hardback, ebook and audio.

Author, social historian, TV presenter and all-round super woman, Kate Williams, dropped by for a chat.

What book do you most often recommend to friends?

It’s hard to know where to start! So many choices. I love an eighteenth century Chinese novel, The Story of the Stone, at heart a family saga and a story of forbidden love…

Do you have any writing rituals?

I don’t – as I do travel for other aspects of my job so I try and write anywhere. Weirdly, I find, the more noisy the place the better – I end up writing a lot on crowded trains and stuck at the back on planes. I do like writing longhand though – even though I can’t often read my own writing. I find it sets me free.

I made a time machine for my brother out of a cardboard box that the washing machine came in. I covered it with bits of foil and shiny cellophane. I used to shake it about telling him he was travelling to Ancient Egypt, Victorian London, now I get to do it at my desk.

 If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

As a child I wanted to be an astronaut – but I really want to time travel rather than space travel now. I’d love to work in museums now but I already do some of that so maybe if I have to do something completely different, I think would work with old people as a gerontologist or a nurse, I think, I love listening to their experiences and stories.

What’s the best thing about being a writer

I get to time travel. When I was a child, I made a time machine for my brother out of a cardboard box that the washing machine came in. I covered it with bits of foil and shiny cellophane. I put him in it when he was about five or so and I used to shake it about telling him he was travelling to Ancient Egypt, Victorian London, now I get to do it at my desk.

What one item could you not live without?

Well if it’s not a person it would have to be the books in which I’m writing my novel and the computer on which I copy it up. I live in fear of losing my writing books – they are true hostages to fortune.

Tell us something that will shock your readers?

Heavens! My friends are a bit shocked by my love of buffets – I try and get to them whenever I can.

What makes you happy?

Writing – except when it’s going badly! But what really makes me happy is laughing…it’s a thing I’m fascinated by, how children learn what is funny, cultural differences in sense of humour. I wish there was more laughing.

The second novel in Kate’s trilogy The Edge of the Fall is out in hardback, ebook and audio 19th November

The Storms of War is out now in paperback, eBook and audio. Read an extract here.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Andrew Motion told me to focus on the detail – to think of a Dutch painting and all the detail in the painting, in the corners, the background. It was incredible advice and one I try to practice every day . . .

And my agent says – say yes to everything! That’s a good one.,, My father has given me one single piece of advice, just before I started university – cheap red is better than cheap white. Very wise!

The members of my dream book club would be . . .

I think I’d have Queen Victoria, George Eliot, Florence Nightingale and the Brontes (including Bramwell). Problem is that most of them didn’t like moving very far – we might have to Skype . . .

The second novel in Kate’s historical trilogy The Edge of the Fall is out in hardback, ebook and audio 19th November.

Listen to an audio extract now. 

Kate Williams

Kate Williams is an author, social historian, constitutional and royal expert, broadcaster and novelist. She has an MA from Queen Mary, University of London, and a DPhil from the University of Oxford. She appears regularly on the BBC and Channel 4. She lives in London.