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Q&A with Katherine Reay

Today, my friends, we have a special treat. Katherine Reay has popped by for a visit!

Andrea Cox: The London House is in the new-to-you genre of time-slip fiction (featuring contemporary and the historical eras covering the years 1928-1941). While I’ve adored your contemporary stories and look forward to reading your single nonfiction title, I’m especially intrigued by this WWII-soaked book, as that’s one of my favorite genres. What drew you to time-slip for The London House? How did you decide to set part of the book during the Great Depression and World War II? Was it tricky for you to find the right balance between the contemporary and historical threads for the novel? If so, what was it that finally clicked for you?

Katherine Reay: Some amazing questions here! Slip-time is such an intriguing genre for me. I have previously written contemporary novels because I love looking at literature and the past with an eye to the present — to address our lives and stories in the here and now. Split-time uniquely allowed me to not only explore the past, but draw that intrigue and even those lessons into the present  — in a “real time” fashion. I loved it and found it an incredibly dynamic format, almost creating a conversation between past and present. As for the time period — the Interwar years and WWII simply offered that perfect mix of situation and emotion to address the themes I wanted to explore in the contemporary storyline. It all simply fit together well.

Andrea: Your first novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, was in the epistolary format, and you’ve shared with me that The London House revisits that format for the past-era portions of the story. What is it about letters and/or diaries that begs you to write in that format? Were you a big diary keeper in your growing up years (or now)? What was your favorite thing about penning old-era letters and diary entries for this novel? What was the most challenging thing about it?

Katherine: I love the epistolary format because it is such a personal and close point-of-view. There is no distance between the reader and the writer and, I think, it brought my WWII era sisters to life in a way no other POV could manage. That said, there can’t be a lot of expository prose in an epistolary novel — no letter writer would opine like that. So I had to be fairly focused with the point and purpose of each letter. 

And, while I am not a diligent journal keeper at present, I started keeping a diary at ten and was dedicated to it for at least twenty years.

Courtesy of Katherine Reay

Andrea: Historical settings naturally require a lot more research than contemporary ones (though there is often research required even in current-day books). How was your research process different for this novel compared to your solely-contemporary ones? What was your favorite piece of research to weave into the novel? What was something you wished you could have woven in but didn’t actually find room for? Do you think you’ll end up writing more WWII-inspired books down the road? Is there already another one in the works?

Katherine: You are right. While a lot of research went into each of my contemporary novels, this was a whole new level. In February 2020, right before we all shut down for COVID-19, I was in London for a brief research trip. I am beyond thankful that trip happened because the novel would not be what it is without it. Reading the original SOE documents at the National Archive brought the story to life in my head. It was an amazing experience. 

As for returning to WWII, I am… A little. One character in my next novel begins her journey in 1943 Vienna. That said, she quickly moves through that time and we spend most of the novel in the later years of the twentieth century.

Andrea: We simply must discuss the gorgeous cover. You’ve always gotten really great covers for your books—I cannot think of a single one I dislike—but there’s something so vintage, nostalgic, and WWII-esque about the cover for The London House that completely captured my attention from the first moment I saw it revealed in your newsletter. Did the cover capture the tone and essence of the story you had written? Was it anything like what you had imagined while penning the story? Just for fun, which of your books’ covers is your absolute favorite so far? (It’s okay if you have more than one favorite. I think it’s a tie among London, Emily Price, Mr. Knightley, Lizzy & Jane, and Austen Escape—so practically all of them so far—for me.)

Katherine: Hehehe… I love that you love my covers! Thank you. I really do too. My publisher does an amazing job each and every time. And, yes, this cover is everything I hoped it could be. It exactly captures the story as the London House plays a critical role across three generations and the woman on the cover, Caroline Waite, starts all the mystery. But it’s more than that — I love the blue tones, as the story is saturated in questions and mystery and I love the light shot of gold from the side because, in my stories, there is always hope.

Andrea: The other genres you’ve written in are contemporary and nonfiction. The London House does have a contemporary thread, as I understand it. However, are there plans for any additional nonfiction or contemporary books? When might we expect either of those genres to be revisited? Do you have plans for another series (the Winsome series was delightful, by the way), or will the next contemporary be a stand-alone? Do you have any plans to revisit Italy in a future book? I especially enjoyed that setting for part of A Portrait of Emily Price.

Katherine: So many books to write and so little time…. I would love all that you just mentioned. At present, my next novel is a split-time. After that, I would love to dip back into Winsome or visit another locale with a contemporary story. Unfortunately, I can’t really say more than that as I am truly a one-idea-at-a-time writer and have no idea what’s ahead, in my own head.

Andrea: One thing I’ve come to expect and fully enjoy in your novels is the inclusion of quotes from a wide variety of vintage books, most of which—if not all—could also be classified as classics. Was that inclusion a natural leaning for you, or did you have to work hard at figuring out how the quotes fit into the stories? Did you also include vintage book quotes in The London House? If yes, may we have a small hint as to which one(s)? Which are your top three favorite vintage and/or classic books to revisit?

Katherine: Including quotes, titles and stories within my books is the easiest thing in the world for me — it’s how I think. While I may need to look up the specific reference, I rarely have to dig around for a story or quote that matches the emotion or need of the story I’m writing. All that said, there is only one quote — that I can recall right now — within The London House. A Jane Austen, of course. There is also a reference to C.S. Lewis’s WWII BBC talks that later became his classic, Mere Christianity.

Andrea: Let’s do a little quick-fire thing for this one.

What’s your favorite writing snack?

Katherine: Chocolate

Andrea: Do you prefer music, silence, or something else when you write?

Katherine: Mostly silence. Occasionally bird noises on my Noisli app. 

Andrea: What’s your favorite room in your house to write in?

Katherine: My office. I love my office. And I have a standing desk that can go up and down. 

Andrea: What time of day is most productive for you in your writing?

Katherine: Mid-morning after a good walk is ideal for me. 

Andrea: What’s your favorite non-writing activity?

Katherine: Fly fishing. I know that’s a random answer and I certainly can’t do that all the time — at least not from Chicago — but I love it.

Andrea: If you could revisit any of your previous books and write either a sequel or a companion novel for it, which character(s) would you feature and why?

Katherine: That is so tough… I would LOVE to know what happens to Ashley from Dear Mr. Knightley, Joseph from A Portrait of Emily Price, and go deeper with Madeline and Chris from The Printed Letter Bookshop, as well as Lexi and Liam from Of Literature and Lattes. These characters simply intrigued me and I feel like they each have more to say and the substance to carry their own stories.

Katherine Reay

Andrea: It might be too soon to talk about, but I’m curious, so please share as much as you’re able. What story are you working on next? When may we expect the next Katherine Reay book to come to our favorite retailers?

Katherine: To be honest, my agent made me promise not to talk about it. It has a huge twist within it and, I think, she’s afraid I’ll let it slip. I hope you’ll see this story in shops within 2022… I’ll keep you posted.

Andrea: Much as my curiosity balks to hear that, I completely understand, but I am eager to learn that huge twist! I’ll keep an eye out for those details. Thank you for piquing our interest!

Katherine, thank you so much for visiting with us today! We wish you the very best for the release of The London House.

Katherine: Thank you so much for inviting me here, Andrea. I had a wonderful time with you and sincerely appreciate all you do for books! 

All the best to your readers and you! 

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Friends, which part of the above Q&A intrigued you the most?

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