Kate Bradley worked for many years managing services for people who are marginalised by society. Her work has taken her into prisons, mental health hospitals and alongside the homeless. She holds a first-class degree in English Literature in addition to qualifications in creative writing and teaching. Her debut novel, To Keep You Safe, was recently published by Zaffre and is available to reserve from the library, or to buy for £8.99.
1. When did you first realise that you wanted to be a writer?
I think I always have – I used to make up stories a lot as a child; when I was ten, I created a village in the wild part of my back garden, a village full of animal characters. I remember when I was 16 or 17 telling a friend I was going to write a book.
I got serious about it about 13 years ago after I took an evening course at Sussex University. It’s been a struggle, but I love writing and of course, am now thrilled that I never gave up on my dream of having a book published.
2. To Keep You Safe is your first novel. What is it like to see your name in print and your book on library and bookshop shelves?
It hasn’t happened for me yet… my paperback comes out in March 2020 [we interviewed Kate in February!]. The eBook is already out though, and to see people reading and reviewing my book online has felt both scary and exciting in equal measures. I think it might be an indescribable thrill to see it on a bookshelf… I will try not to tug on a sleeve of a random stranger and say – ‘look! I wrote that!’ but I cannot guarantee it.
3. For anyone who has not picked it up yet, can you give us a flavour of To Keep You Safe?
A teacher, Jenni Wales, realises that her most vulnerable pupil, Destiny Mills, is at risk of being abducted by a gang. Jenni tries to do the right thing, even though to others, it can only be the wrong thing.
I wonder what you, dear reader, would do if you were faced with saving a child when no one else would. We live in scary times, a world of trafficking and gang violence, but thankfully most of us can just turn off the news and forget about it. But what would you do, if it wasn’t your child but someone else’s that needed help? How far would you disrupt your own life to save someone else’s child?
4. Throughout the book you tell the story from multiple perspectives. Was this the plan when you started writing, or did it just work better that way?
I always plan before I start writing. I like to have a clear idea of who my main characters are and their motivations. I spend a lot of time thinking about the novel’s structure, viewpoint, time frame etc. as well as having an idea of some of the key events. But I don’t like to know everything – I certainly get a few surprises on the way.
In this novel, there is not an absolute truth and I think that each character gets to tell their own truth – and it’s up to the reader to decide for themselves about the right and wrongs of what Jenni did.
5. A lot of psychological fiction depends on unexpected twists. As a writer, is it a pressure to keep the reader guessing?
I think storytelling should always keep a reader guessing. Anything too predictable is at risk of being abandoned – by me, at least. I used to always stay with a book to the grim end, even if I wasn’t enjoying it, but now I’m older, I won’t – there are too many great stories out there to bother with the ones that aren’t keeping me engaged, keeping me guessing. Personally, I love nothing more than when I am stuck into a good book or a good film – or something I’m writing myself.
I think the ‘twist’ is a way of keeping the reader surprised, and although I suppose there’s a certain pressure in making it feasible but not guessable, it’s great fun when I’m writing and I have that ‘Nooooo!!! I did not know that!’ moment. I try for about three twists, but I only know one when I set out, so I do like discovering one or two along the way.
6. What is on your ‘to read’ pile at the moment?
Golly, so much. At work, I’ve been teaching Jekyll and Hyde and Animal Farm again. I love that moment when a text I’ve read many times gives me a ‘wow’ moment; I doff my hat to such brilliant writers, in this case, Stevenson and Orwell of course.
I like to read as many thrillers as I can, with a fair sprinkling of literary novels and classics, with anything dystopian my absolute favourite. I like a book that tries to say something, rather than just entertain. I want to think about the world a little differently, if only for a while. The best books do that, I think.
7. Do you have a message for your Suffolk readers?
I’m thrilled that you might be reading To Keep You Safe; I loved writing it and the characters are still talking to me now.
I’d love to hear from you when you’ve finished it. You can find me on Twitter.
8. Can you tell us one thing your readers may not know about you?
I love baking bread! I inherited an Aga with my house; it’s baby blue and was installed in 1972. I’m a total convert to Agas, and the constant heat is great for getting the yeast going. I wish I could say I was adventurous with my bread, but I don’t venture far from a granary loaf or a white roll, but my favourite is cinnamon buns. I have a great recipe for cinnamon buns with a caramel icing. They take three rises, but are worth the effort.
I wish I did more baking, but writing is so greedy, I’m more likely to be found sitting on a stall with my back against the Aga, with a laptop on my knees, than I am baking cinnamon buns – sadly.