Featured Author: Kathleen Jowitt!

Author, Kathleen Jowitt, has recently published her second novel A Spoke in the Wheel, following the wonderful success of her first, Speak Its Name. This touching story of finding redemption in yourself is a lovely read for anyone who struggles with forgiving themselves of their mistakes.

You can check out my review of A Spoke in the Wheel here!

img-3956Here’s a Q&A with Kathleen, all about her release of A Spoke in the Wheel, what she has planned for the future of her writing and her experiences with self-publishing a novel!

Congratulations on the publication of A Spoke in the Wheel, back in May this year! This book is difficult to pin down to one genre. There are a few hints at different genres (Morality, Romance) but what genre would you say that this book is? Was writing it in this genre a conscious choice?

Thank you! Haha – I usually try to duck that question by calling it ‘contemporary’! I think that for me it’s primarily a coming-of-age story, albeit one that’s a little belated. It’s about how the narrator finds his place in the world and comes to terms with his past. I wouldn’t say that writing in this genre was a conscious choice, but I do enjoy playing around with the forms and expectations of different genres. There were points where I found myself thinking things like, ‘Well, if this were a romance, this would be about the point where a rival love interest shows up…’.

One thing I really loved about this book is that the characters felt real and raw, not just floating by with everything going right for them. Are they based on people you know?

Not so much the people themselves, but some of the events are based either on my own experiences or on those of people I know. The interminable benefits application form; the scramble to find enough hours of work to make ends meet; the bus that’s twenty minutes late, and so on – they’ve all come from things that I’ve heard about, but they haven’t really remained attached to particular people.

I do have to admit that there’s a lot of me in Vicki: particularly the sense of futile duty that keeps her bashing her head against a brick wall trying to change the world. Having said that, the process of writing this book did go some way towards stopping me taking myself so seriously!

Was making them come across a certain way important to you while writing?

I wanted them to be plausible human beings, not stereotypes. I didn’t want Polly either to be bitter and hopeless or to be a Victorian saint. And it was important to me for Ben both to come to a real understanding of what he had done, and to be able to move beyond it.

A main part of the book is the references to professional cycling. From Ben once being a professional himself, to the shared knowledge of the sport between the characters. Is this something that you’re interested in yourself? Or did you just do a lot of research for the book?

I’m definitely a fan! It started in the spring of 2011 when I stepped off the train home from work and found myself watching a criterium (a town centre circuit race). I love the fact that you can just stand on the side of the road and watch world-class athletes whizz by without paying a penny. There was quite a lot of research as well – I read a whole load of different cyclists’ autobiographies – but it wasn’t too far removed from my existing interest.

Without giving too much away, A Spoke in the Wheel mentions a lot of topical subjects. There’s talk of drugs, disability and even an LGBTQ+ element – what made you want to include these things in the plot? Were they planned in advance or added in as your writing progressed?

The disability theme was in there from the beginning: the initial concept was something like, ‘OK, so what if a disabled character was to meet a professional cyclist? How would that conversation happen?’ The drugs theme followed quite soon after that. ‘OK, so what do disabled people and pro cyclists have in common? They get accused of cheating a lot! What if one of them really is a cheat? Well, it had better be the cyclist… so if the disabled character is a fan, what do they think about the cyclist being a doper?’

As for the LGBTQ+ strand, that came in purely because it was a major theme, and source of conflict, in my first novel. This time around I wanted a same-sex couple for whom it wasn’t a particularly big deal.

I read in another interview of yours that you saw a link between professional athletes and people who have a disability. Can you explain what that link is and why you felt that it was significant enough to write about?

It’s the knowledge that physical energy is a finite resource. If you do this thing (whether that’s a fifty-kilometre solo ride, or walking down the road to the bus stop) today, you might well not have the energy to do this other thing (winning the sprint or making dinner) tomorrow. It was this connection, which my husband pointed out when we were watching the Vuelta a España, that inspired the whole novel. I suppose I was thinking about the importance of empathy: no matter how different two people and their experiences might seem, there will be some connection somewhere. (I’m neither a professional athlete nor physically disabled, so I had to go quite a long way outside my own experience when I was writing both Ben and Polly!)

Your characters in this book all have wonderfully different aspects to their personalities. Did you have a favourite character to write?

I really enjoyed writing Ben. I was a little apprehensive about having a first-person narrator with a bit of a history, not to mention a tendency to be somewhat oblivious to what was going on around him, but actually, his voice came really easily and he was a lot of fun to write.

So, Kathleen, A Spoke in the Wheel is not the first novel that you’ve published. Did you find it easier to write and publish the second time around?

Definitely! My first novel took me about eight years, from putting the first word down on paper to holding the finished book in my hands. This one was more like two years. I had a much better sense of how a plot should work, and of how to tie the timeline of events in with the characters and their development.

Are the themes in this book something that you’d like to revisit? Or are you wanting to branch out into other plots?

At the moment, I think I’ve said everything that I want to say about this particular combination of themes. But then I said that last time…

Do you have another novel in the works at the moment? Is there anything that you can tell us about it?

I’m currently working on the sequel to my first novel, Speak Its Name. That dealt with student politics and the tension involved in integrating a Christian identity with a LGBTQ one. I’ll be catching up with the characters from that a few years down the line when they’ve moved on to dealing with older and more established institutions. Lydia, my main character from last time, is exploring a vocation to ordained ministry (that’s ‘thinking about whether she wants to become a vicar’ for anyone not familiar with Church jargon!); Colette, her girlfriend, is navigating a PhD.

A Spoke in the Wheel is self-published. What’s your experience with this process been like?

It’s definitely been a challenge, although again, it’s easier the second time around! I found it quite sobering to realise that the finished article was going to be precisely as good as I made it, and no better. I had to take responsibility for all sorts of things that would normally be a publisher’s problem: the cover, the typesetting, the proofreading…

Would you recommend self-publishing to other aspiring authors?

I think it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re after fame and fortune, you’d have to be prepared to put an awful lot of work into the publicity part of it. (Mind you, the odds aren’t great in conventional publishing, either.) If you want freedom to do your own thing, then self-publishing is great for that. I can certainly say is that I’ve found the experience to be challenging but very rewarding.

Kathleen can be found on Twitter and on her website, where she posts added extras, snippets and interviews to accompany her books.

You can purchase A Spoke in the Wheel on Amazon here (available in ebook and physical copy). Or you can browse her Amazon author’s page and keep an eye out for her other upcoming releases here.

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