Today I welcome author Kathleen Whyman of Hera Books to the blog. Her debut novel, Wife Support System, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s prestigious Joan Hessayon award. I’ve put her on the spot to ask her Ten Questions about herself and her writing career. Here we go!
- What’s your story? You live in Hertfordshire, England, near Bath, the setting for two of Jane Austen’s novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Are you inspired by your surroundings (and your famous literary antecedent)?
My home town in Hertfordshire is about three hours away from Bath, so it’s not right on my doorstep, but is close enough that I can visit every year for a mini break. In fact, I was there last week for a couple of nights with my mum.
The city is breathtakingly beautiful and so vibrant. It’s impossible not to be inspired by it. While we were there, a new adaptation of Persuasion was being filmed, starring Dakota Johnson. I’ll definitely be locating my next novel in Bath, if only to have an excuse to visit more often to research the area!
Jane Austen is a huge influence. If I could resurrect one author, it would be her. There are so many questions I’d love to ask her, but I’d also like to show her what she’s achieved.
Her books are still read and loved 300 years after she wrote them. She’s the first woman, other than Queen Elizabeth II, to have featured on a Bank of England banknote. She has a fan club, museums dedicated to her and numerous films and TV series adapted from her books.
She could never have imagined any of this when she was secretly writing in her parlour and I’m sure she’d be blown away by it all. Especially the scene where Colin Firth comes out of the lake in Pride and Prejudice. That would give anyone the vapours!
- Tell us about your new book, Wife Support System.
Wife Support System is humorous women’s fiction featuring three friends who are frustrated by the lack of support they get in their family homes. They decide they’ve got the balance wrong. Instead of living with their partners and struggling with careers, childcare and housework by themselves, they should live together and help each other out, and date their partners.
At first, life’s easier when the childcare and workload is shared, but over time resentment builds, as they judge each other’s parenting styles and bicker over cleaning, cooking and whose turn it is to buy toilet rolls.
Can Erica, Louise and Polly keep their friendships and relationships strong, as one has her head turned by a handsome colleague, one resorts to spying on her husband and one fights to keep a dark secret? Or will their perfect mumtopia fall apart?
- What prompted you to write this particular story at this particular time?
My husband works long hours in the city. His working day got longer over the years to the point where I stopped hoping he’d be home in time to help with the bed and bath routine (for the children, not me!) and accepted that I had to get on with it by myself.
I was working, doing all the running around that comes with young children, desperately trying to retain some sort of social life and squeeze some sleep in.
Lots of my friends were in the same position. When we got together for playdates, we’d all automatically pitch in and help with making snacks, putting out dinner, clearing up, looking out for the children. No one needed to be asked to help, we just automatically did it and everything was much easier and calmer. I flippantly said that it was a shame we couldn’t live together as life would be much easier. The idea took hold and so many women who I’ve talked to have said how much they’d love a wife support system.
It wasn’t a viable or financial option in reality (which is a shame, as never have I needed a wife support system as much as I did in lockdown!), but the idea grew and I started imagining scenarios that would lead women to take such drastic action and what would happen when they lived together. I added an element of mystery to Polly’s story and threw in an attractive colleague for Erica to give it all a bit more drama and fun!
- What drew you to humorous women’s fiction? Any favorite authors?
I find it very hard to write without humour. (Readers of this interview may disagree!) I’d describe my style as chatty banter. I write as though I’m having a conversation with my friends.
Women’s fiction appeals to me because I can relate to the characters and scenarios I write about. It’s a great way of venting frustrations if my husband or children have annoyed me. I can channel how I’m feeling into an argument my characters have and say all the things I wish I’d been quick-witted enough to think of at the time!
Authors I love are ones who make me laugh, but there’s also more to their books than a traditional romance (not that there’s anything wrong with a traditional romance. There’s room for all books in the world!)
Among my favourites are Marian Keyes, Jane Fallon, Catherine Bennetto and Kirsty Greenwood. There are loads more, but this interview would go on forever if I listed them all!
- Are you a “pantser,” a “plotter,” or a bit of both?
I’d like to be a pantser because that sounds spontaneous and fun, but I’m actually a planner. I need to know where I’m going.
Before starting a novel, I write a brief description of what needs to happen at each point in the story. I don’t know how it’s going to happen though. That comes to me as I write, which is the fun bit.
- What’s your typical writing routine? I’m at my best in the morning, so I like to start early. Is it the same for you, or totally different?
I’m also at my best first thing in the morning. However, because I’m addicted to chocolate, I have to use that early morning slot to exercise to try and burn off the calories I scoffed the day before! If I don’t exercise first thing, I don’t do it at all, as I convince myself that I’m coming down with a cold so had better not overdo it!
Consequently, instead of writing first thing, I do it during the school day. Or I try to do it! My “day job” freelance journalism work takes up quite a bit of time and it’s easy to get distracted by all the crappy jobs that need doing at home – laundry, cleaning, life admin, chauffeuring my children to orthodontist appointments etc.
To escape these, I write at my local library. It’s so important to support libraries. I don’t know what it’s like in the States, but in the UK, libraries are almost an endangered species and if we don’t use them, we’ll lose them.
At home I write in what used to be my youngest daughter’s bedroom, but is now a study/dumping ground for things my children no longer want but aren’t ready to get rid of. I haven’t redecorated the room and claim that this is for sentimental reasons, but really it’s because I can’t be arsed!
- Do you have any rituals when you write? A lucky tea or coffee mug, or a particular pen or pencil you favor? Do you prefer quiet when you’re writing, or can you write anywhere?
I like to write in a tranquil, well lit, purpose-built studio where I can work for hours without interruption. The only time I’m disturbed is when Regé-Jean Page* pops in with a hot mug of green tea, a freshly prepared tasty and nutritious meal or a bar of calorie-free chocolate, before informing me that he’ll be waiting in the hot tub with a chilled glass of champagne when I’ve finished for the day.
However, what I like and what I get are two very different things! In reality, while I prefer quiet, it’s rarely possible when working outside the home. I’ve become good at zoning out the sound of people around me in a café or at the library. Although it can be hard to completely tune out ‘Sing and Rhyme’ time when the toddlers are running around!
I don’t have any rituals as such, but I do need to know that there’s chocolate in the house! (I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’ve just had to clean chocolatey fingerprints off my keyboard. And I can’t blame the kids for this. They’re mine!)
*In case you don’t know, Regé-Jean Page plays The Duke of Hastings in Netflix’s Bridgerton. If you haven’t watched it yet, then you’re in for a real treat. Swoon!
- Who, as a writer, most influenced you?
Lianne Moriaty is a brilliant writer. Her books are full of wit and always have an air of mystery and a twist.
I don’t have time to read all the books I want to, so I listen to a lot while I’m exercising or doing housework (yawn). I was listening to Lianne Moriaty’s Big Little Lies (before I watched the TV series) while I was out running and I actually stopped and gasped out loud when the twist was revealed. That’s powerful writing.
I’m nowhere near Lianne’s league, but I do like to include a mystery and/or twist in my novels and I’m sure that’s been inspired by her brilliant books.
I also need to give my friend Zoë Folbigg a shout out. She’s a writing machine, but her books are beautifully crafted romances with so much heart, loveable characters and relatable scenarios. To be able to write with her talent at the speed she does is incredible. I’m truly in awe.
- Like the heroines of your book, you’re busy! As a multitasking journalist/writer/mom, with all of the demands of work and home, how do you find balance?
I’m not sure I do!
I view writing as my reward when I’ve done everything else that needs doing. As a freelance journalist with two children and a husband who works long hours, the list of things that need doing never ends!
When I’m given a publishing deadline, I have to prioritise my writing. I force myself to ignore non-essential jobs (we don’t eat off the floor, so cleaning it quickly falls under the non-essential category) and write during every available moment. And unavailable ones. A full night’s sleep is deemed non-essential at times. I actually finished at 4.10am the day my second book was due in. I wouldn’t recommend this as a sensible way to work. I felt and looked terrible for days afterwards!
- Give all of the aspiring writers out there your best advice.
Don’t worry about refining your work as you go along. Your first draft – be that a short story, novel, blog or article – is for your eyes only. Once you’ve got the story down, you can go back and change it.
Wife Support System took me seven years to write and one of the reasons is that I kept tweaking and perfecting each chapter before moving onto the next one. Many of these chapters ended up being rewritten or cut, so I’d wasted a lot of time when I could have been doing much more important things, such as writing the next book or rewatching Bridgerton.
It doesn’t matter what you write to get you started, just write. You can edit a page of words, but you can’t edit a blank screen. Go for it and have fun!
Thank you so much Katie for interviewing me for your blog. It’s been great fun. Let me know if you’re ever over in the UK and I’ll give you a tour of Bath. Although you’re such a Jane Austen expert you could probably give me a tour!
It’s been such a pleasure, Kathleen! I enjoyed reading Wife Support System and look forward to future books. Thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule to answer my questions . . . and for providing such excellent writing advice!
Wife Support System by Kathleen Whyman is available as a paperback, ebook and audiobook from Amazon, Kobo and Apple.
About Kathleen Whyman
Kathleen Whyman is an author, journalist, knackered mum and Espresso Martini fan. (These may be linked).
Kathleen wrote her first novel, The Ghost of Cripple Creek, when she was 10. Despite the accompanying illustrations, it was never published. Jackie magazine also rejected the short stories she submitted in her teens. Possibly because they were crap.
Kathleen’s debut novel, Wife Support System, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Joan Hessayon Award (it’s not technically a romance, but it has romantic elements in it). Kathleen’s novel Second Wife Syndrome was shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print prize in the Unpublished Comic Novel category. Although very pleased to have been nominated, Kathleen’s still gutted that both awards evenings were cancelled due to Covid. There were going to be party bags and everything!
You can follow me on social media or sign up to my newsletter at https://www.kathleenwhyman.com/contact-me
I’d love to hear from you!