Kate Thompson is a journalist, novelist and ghost-writer who lives in Sunbury-Upon-Thames with her husband Ben, two sons Ronnie and Stanley, and an elderly Jack Russell called Twinkle. The Wedding Girls is her third novel for Pan Macmillan.
What are the names and ages of your children?
Ronnie, 9 and Stanley, 5.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I visited Bethnal Green in East London and met up with two great ladies, both in their nineties who told me all about the East End during the Second World War. In their words, ‘just like Call the Midwife, but dirtier and more dangerous’. They opened my eyes to the sacrifices, courage and humour of the cockney matriarchs who ruled the cobbles.
They also took me to see a memorial to the 173 people killed at Bethnal Green Underground in 1943. It was a dark, wet night, when an anti-aircraft rocket went off during an air-raid, causing a panic which lead to all those people getting suffocated to death on the stairwell. It was one of the biggest civilian tragedies of the war, and yet so few people seem to know about it.
When I read down the list of victims, I was shocked to see one of the women who died was called Kate Thompson, this leant such a personal connection to the tragedy and I knew I had to include it in my book. This is what I found out when I researched the other Kate Thompson; her character and life sparked a love affair with the East End.
What was your biggest challenge?
Self-doubt and lack of confidence…
How the hell have you got a book deal when there are so many better writers than you, you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to get found out.
These nagging voices have plagued me on so many occasions, and they stem from the fact that I left school with woeful exam results, and as a result never pursued further education. As an author specialising in historical fiction I find myself constantly comparing my work to my peers. Would my prose be as rich and refined had I done a degree in English literature? Would I be a more successful writer, or indeed a better person, if I had a whole clutch of qualifications under my belt? This is a rhetoric that I try to challenge constantly through my work.
How did you overcome this?
It’s a work in progress you might say, but mainly I try to see negative self-doubting chatter for what it is – a fabrication. I read recently that the voice in your head, is not who you are, it’s an excitable commentator. In otherwords, don’t be held back by your perception of yourself.
I speak with a lot of like-minded, supportive writers and draw strength through humour. Like most people working in any job I have days where the writing seems to flow, and others where I wonder what the hell I’m doing. It always comes down to the same thing though. I want to tell people stories that will transport them to a long-lost world, make them laugh and make them cry. In moments of doubt, I try to remind myself what is it that people want to feel when they read a book. It helps to simplify things. The desire to write, overrides the self-doubt
What time does a typical day begin?
I’m not a great early riser, so usually 7,15am, when I’m plunged headlong into that fractious school-run hour. ‘Teeth, shoes, teeth, shoes, hurry up, teeth, shoes…’ I’m like some sort of demented woman in the morning.
What time does a typical day end?
Usually 11.30pm. I have to end each day by reading in bed. Even if it’s a few pages before the eyelids grow heavy, it’s a must for me.
Lack of time is an issue most mums battle with – how do you maximise your efficiency and/or make the very most of your time?
I try to be ruthless with my time, and do nothing else between school drop off and pick up but work, but for some frustrating reason, I don’t hit my peak writing flow, until about 3pm. Usually I end up tapping away into the small hours after the boys have gone to sleep. I also work a lot on the weekends when my husband is around to entertain the boys and I can lock myself away in my office and write.
Being a writer is not a 9-5 job and I have to accept that at the stage of life I’m at now, where I’m working and raising young children, involves hard work and sacrifice.
What sacrifices have you had to make?
If I’m honest, mainly to my personal relationships. My husband and I joke our marriage sometimes feels like a business meeting, coordinating diaries and working out where the other one is, but we are both working in full on jobs and that is sometimes to the detriment of ‘us time’.
I don’t ever have free time either and I can’t remember the last time I sat in the evening and just chilled out and watched telly, or went out for dinner with my husband. Increasingly though, I see the importance of carving out time spent away from digital distraction, work or housework, where you can simply switch off.
My goal is to try and build a routine that incorporates more free time to just ‘be’ and spend time with my children, husband and friends.
Is there a working mother that you particularly admire? If yes, why?
I try not to look at celebrities, or other high profile women in that way, as I’m pretty sure most of them will have a PA and or nanny, helping them, so for that reason I’m going to embarrass you and say you Jacqui! (EDITED TO SAY: Awwwww, thanks Kate! *blushes*)
As long as I’ve known you you’ve been an incredible mother – your funny, smart girls are testament to that – and you’ve worked so hard to carve out a niche in a career, where when you started you knew absolutely nothing about it. Everything you learnt was entirely self-taught and your motivation and passion is to be admired.
All the mum bloggers I read seem to have followed the same career trajectory and it’s wonderful to see their efforts being rewarded with publishing deals and high-profile sponsorships. The media and public are waking up to the realisation that mums seek advice, inspiration, empowerment and entertainment from a sharing community of women who lead lives just like us.
What kind of example are you trying to hoping to be for your children?
It’s a cliché, but that by determination and hard work you can lead a life of your choosing. Life’s so short, and it’s valuable lesson to learn that you can’t put off pursuing your big dream, whatever that might be. By thinking imaginatively, I hope my boys will lead extraordinary lives.
Every mum can relate to feeling totally in control on some days, and completely out of control on others – how do you cope with those bad days, when everything seems so overwhelming?
Chalk it up as one of those days. Whenever kids are involved, there is always an element of surprise and confusion. I regularly have days where all the balls crash down to earth spectacularly. You’ve forgotten to put something in your diary, you forgot the packed lunch for a school trip, your child gets a temperature and throws up when you’re on your way to an important meeting. You’re a human being, not a machine. All you can do is try your best.
Is it important to you to keep work and family time separate?
Absolutely, unfortunately working from home does tend to blur those boundaries, but I try to remain mindful of that. The best times we ever have is when we pack a big flask of hot chocolate, pull on walking boots and go out for long walks in the countryside, followed by a roast in a nice county pub. We all switch off and reconnect as a family during these walks.
Describe your perfect day at work:
Sit down and nail a scene or an important chapter, and to get that magical feeling where your characters get under your skin. Receive an email or message from someone who has read your book and thoroughly enjoyed it because it moved them in someway and they end the email with ‘I can’t wait to read your next book’. It doesn’t get better than that.
Describe your perfect day out of work:
I think I probably summed it up above, when I’m out for a long walk with my husband, the boys and the dog. It’s also great when we meet up with friends and walk together. I absolutely love being outdoors, walking and running. My husband bought me a paddleboard for my birthday, so I’ve been getting really into stand up paddle boarding lately too.
What are your future goals for life and business?
To keep stretching my writing and discover more about women’s social history. I’d love to do a history degree and I very much hope one day to be able to go back and pursue further education. It might be when my 9-year-old son starts university by the time I can finally afford it, if at all, but that’s the goal!
What’s your best piece of advice for working mums, or mums wanting to set up a new business?
Seek as much as advice as possible from women working in your chosen career, who you admire. People are often incredibly generous with their time and expertise. I’ve always been a big fan of the writers, Penny Vincenzi and Joanna Trollope.
When I was starting out I contacted Penny and she very kindly had a long chat with me on the phone and gave me so much useful, practical advice. Then recently at a Pan Macmillan party I met Joanna Trollope and she was so wonderfully warm and approachable.
When women support other women, powerful things can come of it. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice. And do your research!
Kate will also be discussing her book on a panel event at the Museum of London on Friday 31st March at 6pm; click HERE to buy tickets.
PS: keep an eye on the blog, as I’ll be giving away these fabulous goodies, including a copy of The Wedding Girls, a tin of Cartwright and Butler Earl Grey tea, a Long & Ward white neroli scented candle, and a 30ml tube of Morris & Co shea butter hand cream (tea cup not included).