Published by Picador
Ebook & Hardback | 27 July 2017
When the invitation came to be part of the blog tour for this, I jumped at the chance. It really does look like the type of book I would enjoy, I have a copy from Netgalley to read which I am saving for my holiday. In the meantime, for my turn on the tour, I’m delighted to welcome Kate Murray-Browne to the blog, who has kindly agreed to answer a few questions.
It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the blog Kate, would you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
I’m a writer, artist and editor from London – I was born in Islington and moved further and further north-east until I ended up in Clapton. I worked in publishing until I decided that I wanted to prioritise my own creative work, which at the time was painting. Then I started writing and The Upstairs Room came into being.
Without giving away too much information, can you please tell us a little about your debut novel, The Upstairs Room? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
The Upstairs Room is a ghost story set in contemporary London: it’s about a young family and their lodger who move to a Victorian townhouse in Hackney and find it has strange physical effects on them… The inspiration came from a colleague, who told me she’d had to move out of her house because it was making her and her family ill. I was fascinated by her story, not least because I was buying a house of my own at the time and thinking a lot about what a charged space the home is, that peculiar mix of the emotional and functional, the fanciful and concrete. A house that made people ill was my starting point – my first ‘character’ – then I found people to live in it, and then the story took shape and I ended up in quite a different place from where I’d started.
How useful was your publishing experience to you in writing the book? Did it give you a different perspective, particularly from an editing point of view?
It was useful in some ways but not others. I had to learn to switch off the editing side of my brain: you have to write badly in order to write well and it was very tough to allow myself to do that, to let the first draft be a first draft, and nurture the kind of fancies and curiosities that an editor might stamp out. That said, my job meant I’d had years of thinking about prose and narrative and character, and spent a lot of time talking to authors. I’m sure all of that helped.
When it came to trying to get published, it was helpful to have some understanding of how the industry worked (as much as anyone can understand a world as mysterious and opaque as publishing), but working in a job for ten years is quite a laborious way to get that information – I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
Do you research and plan in detail beforehand or do you just ‘write and wing it’?
I was very much winging it. It was my first sustained attempt at writing; I learnt on the job and the curve was steep. My subject was close to home, in all sorts of ways, so research wasn’t difficult: I could just step outside my house or have a conversation with a friend. Sometimes I wonder if I ought to have thought a bit more about what I was doing beforehand – the reshaping process ended up taking far longer than the actual writing – but then, it might have lost some of the excitement and urgency in the planning.
What is the best writing advice that you have received? And what advice would you give to anyone trying to get their novel published? Is there anything that you wished you had done differently?
I think there is really only one piece of writing advice: to write. So many sticking points – lack of inspiration, failure of nerve – can work themselves out just in the act of writing. It’s simple but not easy: I have always found getting into the mental space where I can sit down and make work much harder than actually doing it.
My advice to anyone trying to get published is to persevere: every writer, no matter how successful, experiences some form of rejection and you only need one yes. I was lucky enough to have a very smooth path to publication, so I don’t really wish anything had been different, except perhaps that I’d had more confidence. I wince when I think about the times I nearly scuppered myself by being too timid. When I first met the agent who ended up representing me, I almost didn’t mention that I was writing a novel because I was too embarrassed; for obvious reasons, I’m very glad that I did.
Is there any part of the writing process which you enjoy (or find the most difficult) – i.e. researching, writing, editing?
I enjoy it all. Having the germ of an idea is thrilling, but also nerve-wracking because you don’t know how it’s going to pan out. Getting towards the end of something is satisfying, but a little bit deadening because you now know how it panned out and it isn’t as perfect as the novel in your head. I remember a particularly lovely moment during the rewrites when I felt so comfortable with my fictional world that I could conjure up new scenes effortlessly – perhaps that was the perfect midpoint.
Do you have any favourite books or authors which may have inspired you? What type of book do you enjoy reading for pleasure, and what are you reading now?
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters was a direct influence: I loved the ambiguity around the haunting and the way the characters’ emotional states become entangled in the physical reality of the house. I re-read it during the writing process, as well as a lot of other spooky books, from classic ghost stories – M R James and The Woman in Black – to the more subtly unsettling: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
I like all kind of books, but I’m wary of writing that is too self-consciously clever or anything that leans on plot more than character. My favourite books tend to be character-driven and the kind you really savour your time with – for me, that’s Curtis Sittenfeld, Nick Hornby, Junot Diaz, Zadie Smith, Tana French.
I’m currently reading and enjoying The Power by Naomi Alderman: it’s an amazingly complete vision.
When you’re not working or writing, what do you do to relax?
Right now, I don’t do much working, writing or relaxing because I have a five-month-old daughter! But pre-baby, swimming (ideally outdoors) and cycling – I worked through a lot of plot ideas on my bicycle.
If you could take 3 books to a desert island, which ones would it be and why
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James – I first read this when I was seventeen and haven’t stopped thinking about it really. I also think island life would be the right pace for savouring all those clauses.
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters – I love this book and I’d be happy to spend serious amounts of time in the emotional world of the characters, as well as having time to work out how she managed the incredibly clever construction.
Right Ho, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse – I’d need probably need cheering up on the island, particularly if I’d just finished Portrait and The Night Watch, and I can’t imagine a scenario where I wouldn’t find the prize-giving scene at Market Snodsbury Grammar School funny.
About the book:
The Upstairs Room is a thrilling, atmospheric novel from debut author Kate Murray-Browne.
Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters recently stretched themselves to the limit to buy their dream home, a four-bedroom Victorian townhouse in East London. But the cracks are already starting to show. Eleanor is unnerved by the eerie atmosphere in the house and becomes convinced it is making her ill. Whilst Richard remains preoccupied with Zoe, their mercurial twenty-seven-year-old lodger, Eleanor becomes determined to unravel the mystery of the house’s previous owners – including Emily, whose name is written hundreds of times on the walls of the upstairs room.
A brilliant observed and darkly witty ghost story for the house crisis, with echoes of The Little Strangers by Sarah Waters and Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
About the author:
Kate Murray-Browne was born and lives in London. She studied English at Cambridge University and worked in publishing for ten years, previously at Faber & Faber, before becoming a freelance editor. She is also a visual artist and has exhibited work in a number of different galleries. The Upstairs Room is her first novel.