[Interview] Kate Rigby, author of ‘Thalidomide Kid’


In addition to writing novels, Kate Rigby has also had several short stories published in various publications including several in Skrev’s magazine for experimental fiction, Texts’ Bones.

Her novels include Fall of The Flamingo Circus (Allison & Busby 1990); Seaview Terrace (Skrev 2003); Sucka! (Skrev 2004); Break Point (Skrev 2006) and Thalidomide Kid (Bewrite 2007).

In a recent interview, she spoke about her writing.

How would you describe the writing that you are doing?

[I write] contemporary literary fiction, mainly [for] adults, although as I sometimes have teenaged or child protagonists, I like to think there’s crossover appeal too.

I’ve often be told that my writing doesn’t easily fit into one genre.

Do you write everyday?

I try and write as often as possible, but my personal circumstances and health are making it difficult at present to write as much as I used to. I’m hoping this will change in the next few months or so.

When I’m working on a novel, say, I try and jot down notes or phrases as cues for the next session, so that I can pick up the flow where I left off. I try and end a session at an inspiring point so it’s easier to pick up the thread next time!

What is your latest book about? How did you chose a publisher for the book?

My latest book is about a boy called Daryl affected by the Thalidomide tragedy (he has no arms) and the way he copes with his disability through humor (he calls himself ‘Thalidomide Kid’). At the heart of the story is the burgeoning romance between Daryl and the deputy head’s daughter, Celia, and the pains and prejudice they face in a 70s school setting.

It took me two or three years to write it, and when I submitted it to Bewrite [Books] they accepted it for publication. It was published in 2007. My sister designed the cover, and my brother worked on the graphics side so it was a joint family effort. This is one of the things I liked about Bewrite. They also offer more opportunities for writers to get published while still being selective.

I was a bit cautious at first because there are some Print on Demand publishers who should be avoided but the Bewrite team were very happy to go through any queries/concerns I had and I am very pleased with the professionalism and production shown by the team. Some people might find it a disadvantage not appearing in book shops, or not having the heavy marketing that often comes with a new release but Bewrite’s books can be ordered from most book shops, and they’re also one of the few publishers at the forefront of the new technology, publishing all books in an electronic format too.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I did find it a challenge writing about a disability about which I have no direct personal experience, and was a bit worried about what the reaction might be. But part of being a writer is getting under the skin of a character who may be a different gender, age, sexuality or dis/ability to yourself.

Which did you enjoy most?

The way Daryl’s jaunty character and upbeat attitude to life took over the momentum of the book.

What sets Thalidomide Kid apart from the other things you have written?

I think there’s a stronger plot line in this novel than some of my others. A lot of my work tends to be character-driven.

In what way is it similar?

That’s difficult because I do try and make each piece of work different from what went before, but I think the retro setting and the teenaged protagonist with some problem to overcome is a common theme.

What will your next book be about?

That’s still under wraps until it’s completed, but suffice to say it has another teenager at its heart with a very unusual upbringing! I’ve also drawn on my psychology background for parts of the story.

What are your main concerns as a writer? And, how do you deal with them?

The decline in independent publishers, book sales and fiction reading as a leisure activity concern me. Nowadays your work has to be commercially viable and fit easily into a market.

Fifteen or twenty years ago it was much easier to get a book published and to find an agent. Now you are lucky if they reply at all. This is in part due to more and more writers chasing fewer traditional outlets. These challenges face all writers, but the internet has opened up new and different opportunities for writers.

I think it’s important to hang on to the positives and keep having self-belief. There are such things as positive rejections when editors take the trouble to give you constructive feedback rather than a standard letter. Support from other writers is also essential for beating off demoralization and isolation.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

For me personally I’d say getting to grips with technology and overcoming my natural technophobia is one of my biggest challenges! The other is having the right conditions and a quiet place to write which has been very difficult in the last few years.

How do you deal with these challenges?

Not very well! Technologically I’m probably several years behind most people — I don’t have state-of the-art equipment, more like state of the ark. But making money from writing (in order to upgrade my Mac) is another challenge that all but the most successful writers face.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I never consciously decided to be a writer, although I always enjoyed writing stories as a child. When I was eighteen or nineteen I decided to write a novel as I had something I wanted to write. My mother had written at least one novel, and so it didn’t seem a daunting thing to do. She was a member of a writing group so I used to pick her brains for tips and techniques!

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

There’s no one person, but a few of the authors who’ve inspired me include Paul Magrs, Jane Gardam, Ali Smith, Daithidh MacEochaidh, Mo Foster, Nick Hornby and Helen Dunmore.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

They say write about what you know and I think this is also true for me to some extent, but a lot of writing is about the power if the imagination and imagining possibilities which may not be directly from your own experience.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I think there’s nothing like getting your book accepted for publication for the first time and seeing it in the shops.

How did you get there?

I suppose it comes down to that well-worn adage: 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration.

Tell us a little bit more about the five books you’ve published.

Fall of The Flamingo Circus (Allison & Busby 1990) is told in diary form and is about a troubled but feisty young girl growing up in the punk era. (Also published in American Hardback 1990).

Seaview Terrace (Skrev 2003) takes place in a seaside resort one sizzling summer and is about the fragile relationships between neighbours, and the passions and prejudices that arise when so many disparate personalities live in close quarters.

Sucka! (Skrev 2004) is about a life long and mutually-dependent friendship between two men, beginning in Liverpool in the sixties when they are children: one recently bereaved and looking for a substitute brother, and the other a trouble maker from a violent background but looking to improve himself.

Break Point (Skrev 2006) is not only about an obsession with Wimbledon but the game of tennis itself becomes a metaphor for the other matches taking place at old Gwen’s house, where carers fall like seeds, and only those with the deadliest return of serve may survive to the final.

Thalidomide Kid (Bewrite 2007) is (hopefully) a life-affirming tale about coping with disability and the passage of childhood into puberty in a 1970s school culture.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

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