In conversation with... Kate Davies

Hi Kate! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of In at the Deep End! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you! In at the Deep End is a funny, frank novel about a 26-year-old Londoner who realizes she hasn’t had sex for three years and sets out to change that. After the worst one-night stand in the history of sex, with a man who accuses her of ‘breaking his penis’ – she meets a charismatic artist on a night out, who happens to be a woman, and realizes she’s a lesbian. She thinks, ‘Hooray! Now I’ll have a truly equal relationship and lots of feminist sex!’ But she soon finds herself in the least equal relationship of her life. I wanted to write a novel that was honest about lesbian sex in the way that Girls and Fleabag were honest about heterosexual sex, something funny and true at the same time.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: I started the novel years ago on a screenwriting course, so I plotted it out like a film. When I started writing it as a novel, it was a pure rom com – I wrote as a Bridget Jones-style diary. Then I realized I wanted to say something more serious about controlling relationships so I completely rewrote it. It’s still funny, but it’s much more truthful about the reality and pain of controlling relationships. When I submitted the book to agents, the main focus was Sam and Julia’s relationship, and the subplots were much less prominent than they are now. My brilliant agent, Judith Murray (who also represents one of my heroes, Sarah Waters), suggested that I build Julia’s life out more so that the story would be about more than just her relationship. I added lots of new characters before we sent the book to publishers: Eric, Cat, Julia’s swing dancing friends and all her work friends.

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the roles of Julia and Sam?

A: I think someone like Charly Clive, who starred in Pure, would be brilliant as Julia, and comedian Jen Brister is my perfect Sam. 

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: My favourite scenes to write were the ‘broken penis’ one-night stand and the rave scene, in which Julia takes way too many drugs and ends up stroking a stranger’s face in a toilet cubicle. Those scenes are pretty autobiographical which meant they were very easy (and cathartic) to write. I think my favourite scene might be the Shard scene – I think there’s a good balance of comedy, sexiness and dramatic tension. I wrote all those scenes with my two writing friends – we used to write together every Monday night and now we go away for writing retreats together. We drink wine and write and write and the combination of wine and company really seems to help. 

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: Loads. I wrote In at the Deep End over and over again, and hardly any of the original draft is still in the novel. At first, Julia worked in a bookshop (Daunt Books in Hampstead). The queer swing dancing group used to be a gay choir, then a queer improv group. And Julia’s ex-boyfriend Leon played a much bigger part in the early drafts … there was a whole section set in New York, mostly because I was obsessed with Tina Fey and I wanted Julia to run into her. I cut that out pretty early on.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: My new novel is about being in your thirties and realising you’re running out of time to achieve all the things you want to achieve. It’s about the different ways people go about having children – as a lesbian I’m really interested in how queer people create families – and how having children (or deciding not to have them) affects your identity. 

What are you reading at the moment?

A: Ordinary People by Diana Evans – a really well-observed novel about long-term relationships. Her prose is just beautiful. It’s set in London and she’s brilliant at evoking the atmosphere of the city.

#PrideMonth question: what are your favourite LGBTQ reads? 

A: I’m a huge Sarah Waters fan – I’ve read Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith so many times. I love Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series too and I recently read a graphic novel by Eleanor Crewes called Times I Knew I was Gay which is brilliant. When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri is the perfect lesbian rom com, and Giovanni’s Room by William Baldwin is beautifully written but very sad (not that surprising, as it was published in 1956). There are so many new LGBTQ books out that I’m dying to read and so many wonderful books for kids too. I love Julian is a Mermaid, and Robin Stevens's Death in the Spotlight is AMAZING (one of the best-loved characters in children’s literature comes out as a lesbian!)

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I’m not very good at social media… I love hearing from people who like my book and chatting to them, but I hate self-promotion, and spending too much time on Instagram and Twitter makes me very anxious. To be really good at social media I think you need to devote quite a lot of time to it and I don’t want to do that because it eats into writing time. Plus it’s terrible for my mental health – I end up comparing myself to other people and feeling rubbish. Plus sometimes I realise I’ve been sitting on my bed for 45 minutes, just staring at photogenic terriers jumping in puddles. I use an internet blocker when I’m working to stop me checking my emails every five seconds (emails make me anxious, too).

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Do the work! I’m listening to the audiobook of The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp (an amazing dancer and choreographer) at the moment. She emphasises the importance of getting into a creative routine. I got my first novel finished by writing for an hour every day – sometimes before work, sometimes during lunchbreaks, and sometimes at my friends' house (with the delicious wine). If you put in the hours, eventually you’ll get a first draft, and that’s at least half the battle. 

Thank you for your time!

A: Thank you very much for interviewing me!

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