Kate Thompson is an author, journalist, and ghostwriter.
Her debut novel, ‘Secrets of the Singer Girls’, became a Sunday Times bestseller and is followed by the recently released, ‘Secrets of the Sewing Bee’. Kate lives in Twickenham with her husband Ben, their two sons, Ronnie (8) and Stanley (4) and an elderly Jack Russell called Twinkle.
1. Describe a typical day for you?
The day begins at 7.30am with the usual frenetic circus of getting two boys up, dressed, fed and ready for school. My youngest has developed a simply ‘hilarious’ game where he likes to hide somewhere in the house before we all get up. Last week I found him squeezed behind the TV set with his hand in a pot of jam.
Once they’re safely delivered to school and my heart rate has come down, I head to the office at the end of my garden with coffee and toast, to write. When I start a book I try to cram in as much research as I can, so on those days I’m usually in libraries, archives and community groups in the East End interviewing women.
Once I’ve done enough (can you ever do enough research?) I knuckle down and write. In the writing phase, I tend to ignore the door and the phone and just get my head down until the boys need collecting from school.
2. What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
The birth of my two sons. I know everyone says that, but it’s true. My first birth was terrible, hours of drawn out labour, every conceivable drug and then we had to stay in hospital for ten days with complications.
I’m an enormous supporter of the NHS, but childbirth in a big, overstretched maternity ward did not work for me. With Stan I was determined to do it my way. I gave birth at home, with no pain relief and an hour later I was sitting up in my own bed with tea and toast, feeding my new baby. It was an entirely happier and healthier experience.
After that, I would say the birth of my third ‘baby’ ‘Secrets of the Singer Girls’. Writing a novel was one of the hardest, most exhilarating experiences of my life. I poured my heart and soul into that book and I still get ridiculously excited when I get an email from someone saying how much they enjoyed it.
In many ways, labour and writing are a very similar experience. Hours of blood, sweat and tears, but ultimately you know something wonderful will emerge as a result!
3. What’s in your handbag?
Makeup, a dog lead, fifty leaking pens, a notebook and at least two books, which I try to squeeze in precious moments to read on trains, buses, at the hairdresser’s or even in long queues. I love reading more than anything and it’s a constant challenge to fit it in.
4. What are your ambitions in life?
To continue to write books that I am proud of, get fitter and challenge myself to overcome my fears.
5. What advice would you give your pre-baby self, that you now know, having had children?
Start sooner! I honestly wish I’d started my family a good few years earlier. I’m 41 now and whilst it’s great that I allowed myself time to have a career and travel, I’m at a stage now where I honestly wish I had more energy to keep up with my sons.
I sometimes wonder whether they just have endless reserves of energy, or I don’t have enough. Either way, there is a reason why our bodies are biologically programmed to have babies younger.
I would also definitely have told myself to spend fewer hours in the office. As a young, childless journalist working as a deputy editor on a national magazine, I used to be at my desk for 8 am every day and take pride in working twelve-hour days, often with no lunch break. Why? It didn’t make me a better journalist, or human being. It just meant I had writers bottom and got stressed more easily.
In the event, when I got pregnant for the second time, I was made redundant anyway, so it goes to show, don’t live for work!
6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I try not to over plan, or sketch out ambitions too much, another trait my younger self would have done! Life can have a nasty habit of turning your best-laid plans upside down, but if I was still writing, and had been on some awesome holidays with my boys, I would be very happy!
7. What advice would you give a budding author?
If you’re writing something you’re passionate about, from the heart, then don’t ever give up. Be prepared, or work out a way, to invest a lot of your time for no immediate financial return. I wrote the Singer Girls over the course of two years, and tried to put getting a book deal clean out my head.
I fitted it around paid work and worked on my manuscript, evenings and weekends. Being an author does involve a lot of sacrifices, but seeing your book on the shelves makes it all worthwhile.
8. Finally, happiness is…
A really good cup of coffee, a long walk in the countryside on a beautiful spring day, a great book and a patch of sunshine to read it in.