Author interview: Kathryn Gauci

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Interviewer: Savannah White.

Kathryn Gauci was born in England and studied textiles where she specialised in carpet design. After graduating, she spent a year in Vienna, Austria, and then moved to Athens, Greece, where she worked as a carpet designer for six years. Following another move from New Zealand to Melbourne, Kathryn ran her own design studio for over fifteen years. Her work has led her all over the world, giving her the pleasure of exploring many cultures. It was her work in design and experience in travel that inspired her first novel, The Embroiderer. Kathryn’s interest in WWII began when she lived in Vienna and has continued to grow ever since. It is this interest that inspired her second novel, Conspiracy of Lies; a novel set in war torn Europe.

To start, let’s get to know a little about you. Firstly, the classic tell us about yourself. I know you studied textiles at the Art College in the UK. Tell me your favourite part of school, and how this time influenced your writing career.

Thank you for inviting me, Savannah. It’s a pleasure to talk with you. I enjoyed my school years immensely, especially the last two. It was the time when I was wondering what to do with my life. Art was always a first option as I had drawn and painted ever since I could remember. The turning point came when a bright young teacher fresh from Art College, came to teach sewing and embroidery. It was she who encouraged me to take a G.C.E. certificate in embroidery as there was a resurgence in this art, especially for ecclesiastic commissions with a modern slant. Because this was a new subject, we had to get special permission from The Education Authority in Leicester. So for the last year, the two of us would sit together in the class – with no-one else around, which was wonderful – and I worked towards the examination. This was the catalyst for me going to Art College. I must mention another important person here. The head of the Art Dept. at Kidderminster College was a dynamic woman who gave us lectures on the history of carpets. I never forgot those lectures. She had such a way of transporting us to other worlds and was definitely instrumental in me wanting to combine history and textiles, although at that time I never knew I would end up combining them into novels.

In the little spare time you have, what do you like to do?

Apart from reading and watching films, I am a homebody so love to cook. I also enjoy relaxing in my garden, listening to the sound of the birds whilst sipping a glass of wine or ouzo and ice.

What have been the highlights of your writing career so far?

Being picked up by a good Greek publisher and seeing my books in Greek. First The Embroiderer, with two more set to follow. Being accepted and promoted by the Greek community in Melbourne has also been gratifying. They have been very supportive.

If you could give your younger self some writing advice, what would it be?

I am not sure. There are always things you can do better and each new book presents its own unique challenge. Of course, confidence in your abilities is essential, as is perseverance. Perhaps I would have to say, double check the editing – even the best eyes can miss the odd blip here and there, and be wary of the many promises publishing houses give you. Read the fine print. Your book needs to be readily available in both hardcopy and Ebook and you need to have it at a price that gives you a reasonable profit.

Did you have a particular audience in mind when writing you’re novels?

Whenever I write about Greece and Turkey, it is primarily aimed at Greeks themselves and then at readers worldwide who want to know more about this area and era of Modern Greek history after 1821 and The Greek War of Independence.  With Conspiracy of Lies, it is aimed at those who enjoy a WWII setting.

Your novels are very rich in scenery. When you write setting, do you rely on one sense heavily over the others?

When I write, I have the setting firmly in mind. Because of my background as a designer, I think visually and cinematographically. At the same time, smells and sounds permeate the setting. I must feel that I am there myself or I can’t write the scene.

What are some common misconceptions about a career in writing?

That it’s easy, which of course is completely wrong. It requires dedication and hard work – and a vision of where you want to be. The research is never ending, but that’s fine as it’s enjoyable. If it’s not, you are in the wrong job! Being a designer was much easier for me. As with any work, you have to give 100% of yourself – maybe more to succeed, and like any of the arts, you must have that passion. If you don’t, it will show.

Did your 6 years of work as a carpet designer in both Turkey and Athens heavily influence your first novel, The Embroiderer?

Very much so. Firstly because I became steeped in the Greek culture, and secondly, because I learnt what the Asia-Minor refugees went through as at that time there were still many survivors who told me of their experiences. The design part was always there and it was easy to draw upon. My current WIP draws on my experience as a carpet designer even more than The Embroiderer. I never worked in Turkey but have visited the country several times and have an understanding of their history and a great love for their arts.

Do you think it’s important for aspiring writers to write what they know or to write what is in demand in the industry?

It would be nice to do both, but you must write what is inside you first and foremost. That’s where the passion is. The goalposts keep changing in the publishing industry and what is popular today might not be in a few years time. Having said that, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on publishing trends. This is a business after all. But definitely start with an area you know something about and then expand on it.

Being that The Embroiderer is based on true events, how much research is involved in your writing process?

The research was enormous: never ending in fact. When you span 150 years and go through six wars, you have to get it right. Everything evolves during that period: the voice, fashions, way of life, etc.

Can you always see yourself writing historic novels set around war time? What fascinates you about this era?

I have always loved history, especially modern history. For me it’s a tangible period and we are still seeing the repercussions of events. I like the drama and settings of war and the way it brings out a side of our nature we never knew existed.

Your latest novels, Conspiracy of Lies and Seraphina’s Song, were both released in the same year. Does writing get easier the more frequently you do it?

Seraphina’s Song is a novella and I began to work on it when Conspiracy of Lies was being edited. I am not a fast writer and often walk away from my work to mull over it. Perhaps it does get a little easier yet at the same time each new story has its own set of problems. Seraphina’s Song does not cover a broad time span. I found that easier. When you are working to a series of events with a timeline, you have to make sure everything adds up and that takes longer. With Seraphina’s Song, it is essentially a story about two people over a short period of time and there was far more introspection which allowed me to imagine the conversations and thoughts taking place without the constraints of a timeline.

Is your favourite genre to read different to what you like to write?

Apart from the era and places I write about, I also like to read the Classics and biographies. I only wish I had more time to read a wider variety of genres and eras – Classical Greece in particular.

While reading another authors work, do you find it difficult to switch from writer to reader?

If a story is well-written, no it’s not difficult. When I read, I don’t really want to find myself looking at a novel through a writer’s eye, even though there is a part that automatically does this. I just want to read a good book written from another perspective and lose myself in that world.

Your novels are often written through the eyes of women. What do you think is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

I think I started out with female protagonists because I was able to imagine myself in that role. Seraphina’s Song is written through a man’s eyes and I didn’t find it difficult. If you see the character as a human being first and foremost, you can have empathy for them regardless of which sex they are. Then there are no barriers.

Following this question, who, man or woman, has been your favourite character to write?

Sophia in The Embroiderer, and Claire Bouchard in Conspiracy of Lies. I love all my characters though, regardless of how small a part they play in the story.

What do you think would be the hardest part of adapting one of your novels to the silver screen?

With The Embroiderer, it would have to be the time span because we are covering 150 years of events. That would be better as a TV series. Conspiracy of Lies would not be difficult at all. Neither would Seraphina’s Song.

What do you think is the most important writing device when writing a compelling story?

Passion and drama. It must be a page-turner.

Your novels are often based around war time. Being a time period that is so heavily written about, how do you make your stories stand out among the rest?

I try to find an aspect that I care about. I don’t like to follow what other people write about. I also like to bring in my background, either as a designer or through travel and experience.

Your blog largely consists of topics surrounding Greek or Turkish subjects; do you use your blog as a way for your readers to see the historic background to your novels?

Yes, that’s important to me. Blogging is a marketing tool – and fun too – and I want my readers to understand the world I inhabit and my interests. I purposely don’t blog about writing because I feel there are others who do that much better than I would, and I don’t want to tell others how to write.

People say everyone has a story to write; have you written yours yet?

There are snippets of my life in my books. I suspect most authors do this.

While negative reviews can be very disheartening, have you ever learned anything from them?

It depends on who writes the review and whether I think it is valid or not. Not everyone will enjoy your book and readers vary in the styles they enjoy. It is the overall reaction to your work that is the most important thing.

Can you tell us what you’re currently working on? Any hints about the story/stories you’re willing to share?

The WIP is a novella set in Anatolia, Turkey, mainly between 1914 and 1922. It is about the close friendship of two women in a carpet weaving village – one Greek, the other Turkish. The tumultuous events that take place during this time have a devastating effect on a way of life that has, until this point, been mostly harmonious for several centuries.

Finally, what is a question you wish someone would ask you about your books? Write it below, and answer it yourself!

What is the driving passion behind your writing? Answer: To recreate a lost world and to step back onto the soil of places that resonate with me.