Reader Q&A with Katherine Webb

Last week, we asked you what you would most like to know about bestselling author Katherine Webb – and you answered!

Today, Katherine will be answering twelve questions from readers – and the questions we chose have won a beautiful paperback copy of her latest novel, The Night Falling.

The Night Falling, Katherine’s powerful new novel of secrets and feuds set in 1920s Italy, is out in paperback, eBook and audio now.

How do you feel when you finish a book? (Asked by Anne Davies)

A mixture of exhilaration, liberation and total collapse! Mostly liberation. By the time the final touches are put to a book it will have been occupying about 80% of my mind for well over a year, so it’s satisfying to have it finished – and a relief to be able to think about other things.

What are your favourite books, written by yourself and written by other authors? (Asked by Einar Sand)

My favourite one that I have written: The next one. Always. The next one will be the best ever. Of other peoples’, my favourites include: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by de Bernieres; The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney; Case Histories by Kate Atkinson; The Siege by Helen Dunmore; Atonement by Ian McEwan.

What books do you recommend? Who are your Top 5 favourite authors? (Asked by Julia L Grey)

I often recommend The Count of Monte Christo by Dumas to people who say that classic literature is heavy and dull. It’s such a fun, engrossing story. I also often recommend Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell to people – it’s unique, touching, and fascinating to read.  Top 5 favourite authors – that’s a tough one – there are so many that I love! OK, here are 5 in no particular order: Rose Tremain; Kate Atkinson; Ian McEwan; Sarah Waters; Jim Crace. But straight away I can think 5 more I should mention…

Historical Mystery is not an overly common genre for an author these days, so what and/or who inspired you in your works and how did you get involved with writing in the first place? (Asked by Martin Turner)

I’ve always written, from when I was a small child. Stories and poems and bits and pieces; as soon as I left university, I knew that writing was what I wanted to do for a living, so I got the first of many unrelated day jobs and wrote my first novel. It took another five unpublished books after that, written across ten years, but then my seventh was published and I’ve been lucky enough to write full-time ever since. The first five books I wrote were wholly contemporary. I’ve always loved history, and studied it for my degree, so I don’t know why it took me so long to put the two together – writing and history. I think my books really came alive when I did. Nothing in particular influenced the decision – it was more like a slow dawning! And perhaps my love of mysteries is tangled up with my love of history as well – it’s all about the secrets and the lost lives, the real-life hidden truths, and the thrill of finding them out.

Is there a special place in the world that you gain extra inspiration? (Asked by @club75ers)

Not one specific place, no. To me, inspiration had always felt like it comes from within, rather than from my surroundings. I do love being out in the wilds, though – in a huge landscape, with no signs of human interference. I think it puts a lot of things into perspective. So perhaps it’s just that I then have the space and quietness of mind to let creative thought happen.

What inspires you when writing a new book? (Asked by Anne Faulk)

My ideas always seem to come from nowhere – they start small, as an idea for a setting or era, a scene or character or historical event, and grow from there. As I mentioned above, this seems to happen entirely of its own accord, with no input from me or my surroundings! But it is important to have room in my head in which to let those thoughts grow. So, walking out in big, natural landscapes helps, as does manual labour – I do a lot of cleaning and decorating while I’m letting an idea grow. And furniture upcycling. Nothing in my house is safe. If it isn’t fixed down, it’s in serious danger of being sanded, lime-waxed or painted!

What book or books inspired you to start writing? (Asked by @JackTHolden)

Hmm, tricky one to answer. Truthfully, I don’t think anything inspired me to start writing – I think I was born with the urge to tell stories. But my mum was an avid reader, as was my grandma, so I was introduced to books and reading very early on in life – they would read me fairy tales and other children’s classics, and I would be completely riveted. Whether that fed my love of stories and story-telling is hard to say, but I would think so. I learnt very early on how much fun it is to disappear completely into my imagination.

How long did it take you from sitting down to start writing to getting a book published? (Asked by @club75ers)

Ten years! Almost to the day. Well – there were ten years between starting to write my first novel after my graduation from university, and Orion offering me my first book deal in 2008.  My debut – The Legacy (actually the 7th book I’d written) – wasn’t actually released until 2010. So it was quite a long road, but a very useful time now that I look back – I think my writing grew and developed an awful lot during that decade.

When you finish writing a book do you think about the characters afterwards? I imagine them being part of your life for the time it takes to write a book and they must almost seem real so do you ever feel sad to leave them at the end? (Asked by Paula Doyle)

They are definitely part of my life while I write the book! I wake up thinking of things they’ve said and done, but I have to say that once a book is finished it’s like everybody moves on. I stop hearing their voices, and rarely think about them anymore. I call this the point when the book has ‘gone quiet’ – and it’s crucial to get all edits and alterations done before it happens! Pretty soon after that the next lot start to appear in my head…

How do you discipline yourself to write every day? When does your day start and finish and when do you best write? (Asked by Susan Gilley)

I procrastinate a great deal before I actually start writing a book – there’s lots of research and thinking and sanding of furniture (see above!), because I know that once I start I won’t let up until it’s finished. So no discipline is needed, really – I am generally desperate to get the thing down on the page, and to reach that point of being liberated from it! I work quite intensively – I average about 10,000 words a week once I’m under way, and mornings are definitely better than afternoons. I start between nine and half past, and write until about two, usually; during which time I try to write between two and three thousand words. I don’t do that every day – I have a day off every two or three days. I try not to have two consecutive days off, because I can lose the thread of the story.

Have you ever had a dream of a story or well part of it, like an epiphany? Greetings from cloudy, rainy Germany! (Asked by Brit Ratajczak)

No, I have to say I’ve never dreamt part or all of a story! However, that dozy, half-asleep time after the alarm has gone off but before I get up is a precious time – it’s then that I’ll often think of a better way of handling a scene I wrote the day before, or the solution to a plot hitch, or a piece of dialogue. I don’t need to keep a notebook by the bed – as soon as I have an idea, it stays in my head. I did once wake up from a dream thinking ‘That would be an amazing idea for a book!’ I was completely convinced it would be fantastic, but when I was fully awake and I thought back, it was a terrible idea!

Do your characters develop as you write or do you have a clear idea of how their emotions will guide the story from the outset? For example, in The Night Falling, did you decide what would happen to Ettore before you wrote anything? (asked by Jacky Green)

It’s a mixture of both, I think. I start with an idea of my characters and plot; and while the plot stays largely the same in terms of the big reveals, and the outcome for each character – Ettore included – sometimes the characters definitely develop during the writing. Some characters I feel I know inside out before I start to write, and they are clear and fixed; but some I feel I get to know by writing them – in which case their backgrounds, actions, emotions and even names will often change as I go along. It’s fun – it’s an interesting, organic process, and I’m always pleased to see it happening, even if it means I have to go back and rework the early chapters of a book.

The Night Falling, Katherine’s epic new novel is out on 26th March in paperback, eBook and audio.
Read an extract of The Night Falling here.

Katherine Webb

Katherine Webb was born in 1977 and grew up in rural Hampshire before reading History at Durham University. She has since spent time living in London and Venice, and now lives in rural Berkshire. Having worked as a waitress, au pair, personal assistant, book binder, library assistant, seller of fairy costumes and housekeeper, she now writes full time.