Kate Weinberg was born and lives in London. She studied English at Oxford and creative writing at the University of East Anglia. She has worked as a slush pile reader, a bookshop assistant, a journalist and a ghost writer. The Truants is her first novel.
1. Who were your literary heroes and influences growing up?
Even as a young girl, I had a twin track approach to reading and authors - I liked mixing the high with the low. There were the classics that I devoured well before I was able to understand their vocabulary, like Thomas Hardy, the Brontë sisters and George Eliot. But then plenty of appalling romance and pony books which I would read in the bath until my fingers shrivelled like prunes.
In my teens, I started to look for books that were character-driven and beautifully written but with clever, and often thrilling plots, like Daphne Du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith, Donna Tartt and John Fowles.
2. Before you were a published writer, you worked as a ghostwriter. What was that experience like?
I found it incredibly liberating. After I did my Master’s in Creative Writing I found myself paralysed with self-consciousness, and kept on making false starts. Ghostwriting novels that were wildly different to the kind of things I would write, and better still wouldn’t have my name on the jacket, meant that I could write more freely. It wasn’t my voice, but my writing muscle was getting stronger, and I pushed through some of that painful self-critique.
I also loved collaboration. Walking around parks with a coffee in hand and brainstorming characters is a lot more fun than sitting on your own in a room staring at a blank screen and a blinking cursor.
3. Can you give us a flavour of your new book, The Truants?
It’s been described by a reviewer as The Secret History meets Agatha Christie. The first half is set on a university campus (not explicitly named, but quite obviously the UEA) and is seen through the eyes of Jess Walker, a first year undergraduate. Jess longs for a life more extraordinary than the suburban world where she grew up, falls in the thrall of various characters, and makes some bad choices.
The second half of the book is set on a remote island off the coast of Sicily, at which point the pace and atmosphere become more like that of a thriller.
4. When did you feel that you had found the ‘voices’ for the characters of Jess and Lorna?
Lorna was easy. I based (all the best parts of) her on a charismatic female professor - and celebrated writer and literary critic - Lorna Sage, who taught me at the UEA.
Jess’s voice is closer to mine, but it came more slowly. I wanted her to be an observer narrator and so she is deliberately less exotic than the others. But I also wanted her to be attractive to the other characters. So I worked hard at trying to get that right.
5. The influence of Agatha Christie is evident in the book. Was this a conscious decision as you were writing?
It was very conscious! I made Lorna a teacher and expert in Agatha Christie, and there is a murder mystery element to the book and plenty of references, buried or otherwise, for die-hard Agatha Christie fans.
But I was also influenced by a real life episode in Agatha’s life: her famous eleven-day disappearance. The idea of people disappearing, both literally and emotionally, became a running theme through the book.
6. Is there anything you can share about your next project?
It’s an idea that I have been thinking about for a long time, about a young woman in search of the identity of her late mother, which - for various reasons - has been erased. It is mostly set in South Africa.
7. Do you have a message for your Suffolk library readers?
Most of the novel is set close to home for any Suffolk readers, and so I hope they will notice some landmarks! In particular a scene amidst the pines at Thetford, which inspired the brilliant cover artist with the book’s beautiful cover.
8. Can you share one thing about yourself that your readers may not know?
I had a very unremarkable time as an undergraduate. And I have a tortoise who, for obvious reasons, is called Agatha.