Episode 133


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Host: Julie Strauss

Kim Sherwood

Discussed in this episode:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (book 2 in the Wolf Hall trilogy)
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (book 3 in the Wolf Hall trilogy)
A Wild and True Relation by Kim Sherwood
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Double or Nothing: A Double O Novel by Kim Sherwood
From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
(This one also exists in graphic novel form!)
George Baker
Spare by Prince Harry
Waverly by Walter Scott
Testament by Kim Sherwood
Greenway House – the Home of Agatha Christie
V.I. Warshawski Novels by Sara Paretsky (There are, to date, 21 novels in this series.)

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Julie Strauss: Hi, Kim. Welcome to the Best Book Ever podcast.

Kim Sherwood: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

JS: We have a lot to cover here, but I really want to start with your newest release, A Wild and True Relation. When is it going to be released here in the States? Because I’m an extremely selfish person and I am dying to read this book and I can’t pre-order it yet. 

KS: I don’t know. It’s here in the UK on the 2nd of February. And for, for US listeners, please do order it from the UK.

JS: Will you tell our listeners what it’s about?

KS: Sure. It’s a feminist literary historical smuggling tale. It opens in 1703, on the night of the Great Storm, which was this storm here in the UK. It was so fierce, people thought that God was wiping out Britain. The wind spun windmills so fast they caught ablaze. Cows ended up on roofs. It was really apocalyptic. So it opens during that storm, as a smuggling captain called Tom West comes ashore to his lover Grace’s house. He believes that she’s betrayed him to the revenue, and they have a conflict, which ends with him leaving her house in flames, her dead, and him carrying her daughter out, who he raises as a boy aboard his ship. That’s all Chapter One. The rest of the book is the consequences of that. As Molly, Grace’s daughter, grows up, she believes that Tom is this loving, heroic father figure. The story follows her as she grows up and learns more about the past. And then that timeline is, I call it interleaved, with these sections with real life historical figures like Celia Fiennes and Daniel Defoe, Dr. Johnson, George Elliott, and Charles Dickens, who visited or lived in Devon, where the novel takes place. They pass on these rumors, these stories of Tom, Grace, and Molly over the centuries and, and together they’re trying to solve the mystery of Molly’s life. And I’ve been writing it for 14 years now, so it feels pretty amazing that it’s coming out into the world.

JS: You chose the name Orlando for her pseudonym? 

KS: She’s born Molly and then has to live disguised as a boy aboard Tom’s ship. Tom gives her the name Orlando, which is my nod to Virginia Wolf’s Orlando. He’s a character who lives over centuries and changes gender. In lots of ways, the book is investigating two central ideas, gender and genre, and how those things interact. The history of the novel is, in some ways, a gendered history. Read two ways. It’s often been reported as a male form, invented by men. Daniel Defoe is typically called the First Novelist. But there’s another story, a kind of hidden story, where you could just as easily say that Aphra Behn is the first novelist, and that the first novelists were women who wrote historical fiction, and they were edited out of the story So with this book, I hope to illuminate their contribution to our culture and bring them from the margin into the center where I think they should be.

JS: Now your other branch, I guess, of writing – speaking of gender – is sort of about the alpha male of all modern alpha males: James Bond. Can you tell our listeners about that?

KS: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been a James Bond fan all of my life. I’ve always loved adventure fiction, adventure stories, action. It was always my dream to write James Bond, and I’d say it to anybody who would listen to me. And one day I, I said it to the right person. I said it to my agent who said, you should do that in this very serious voice. And you know, I was half joking, but it came around. The Fleming estate were looking for a new writer because Anthony Horowitz’s tenure had come to an end. They wanted somebody who was a real fan. And my agent said, you know, here’s an opportunity. Could you write to them, explain your love for it? And, and I wanted to kind of evidence that I was a fan, because that’s really important to them. You know, this is their family legacy. So I found this school report I’d written when I was 13. It was homework; you had to write about an author you admire. And I’d written about Ian Fleming. I’d made this whole booklet with flaps and pullouts and so I scanned that and I sent it to the Flemings and I just said, you know, this would be a dream come true, and here are my ideas. They liked my ideas; they had liked my first book. And it all took off from there. And you’re completely right that Bond is in many ways that sort of the archetypal alpha male. And when Ian Fleming started to write Bond, he said, I’m going to write the spy story to end all spy stories. And in some ways, Bond is the male hero to end all male heroes. And I’ve always been really interested in that heroic archetype and what we celebrate in men versus what we condemn in women. I think my love for Bond is partly out of that interest. In A Wild and True Relation, it was an opportunity to kind of explore those ideas. That was where the book began. Back when I was studying for my undergraduate degree, that was sort of what was on my mind.

JS: I’ve never read a James Bond. Are they considered mystery novels or are they adventure? What genre would you call them?

KS: Well, theuy’re spy fiction, which, as a genre, kind of really took form towards the end of the 19th, early 20th century. But Ian Fleming, in many ways, reinvented the genre by infusing it with elements of adventure fiction and by making the spy professional. Previously, spy stories, which had been these kind of classic adventures, they had featured an amateur hero, you know. It would be a gentleman whose shoulder was tapped by the government, you know? “As you’re in Switzerland anyway, could you go get those secret papers for us?” Ian Fleming, who was in intelligence in the war, made his hero a professional spy with a license to kill. So the ethics of it, in some ways, were shifted. And there are different ways to write spy fiction, of course. John le Carré and Ian Fleming are very different writers, for example. But, but Ian Fleming, I think really invented that genre. And when you look at, say, even action films today, I’ve heard Barbara Broccoli say they don’t mind the competition from something like Mission Impossible because they invented the genre. And  I think you can say that’s a really fair claim.

JS: Given that your background with Bond is in the books and in all the novels, do you have a movie that you feel captures the literary sensibility the best? Or does one of the actors capture the books the best? Or do you feel like they exist in absolutely different planes?

KS: That’s a really good question. I think they come closer at points in the franchise and they move further apart at points. I think From Russia with Love, which is my favorite book and my favorite film, tonally are quite similar to each other and structurally as well. And Ian Fleming’s really interesting writer with structure. He would often withhold. For example, in From Russia with Love, Bond is withheld from us for quite a while, and that’s played with in the film. There’s a kind of caper to that film as well. They were borrowing a bit from Hitchcock. And I think that captures some of the fun of the book as well. But there are later ones as well that almost come back around. So if you look at Casino Royale, although that’s modernized, and we open quite near the beginning, Judi Dench is talking about 9/11. So I remember in the cinema thinking, oh wow, this is our world, you know, almost being shocked by the modernity of it. I think the tone of that film really captures the book because the book is about heartbreak and how Bond’s identity is shaped by losing this woman who he loves, and shaped after that, all of his relationships with women. So I really felt like they captured the essence of the book in that film.

JS: What kind of reader were you that you were, as a child, writing essays about Ian Fleming? 

KS: I always read in a huge variety and across genres, across forms. I was lucky that nobody told me that you had to be a fan of one thing or to that you sort of would pigeonhole yourself as a reader. And I was really lucky that my mom really encouraged reading. My granddad really encouraged reading, and so did my grandmother. There was a lot of love of books in our family. I was taken to the library at a young age, and taken to the secondhand bookshop, and just encouraged to get whatever interested me. So I would be reading James Bond and I would be reading romantic poetry, and I would be reading Levy and just hoovering it all up and wanting to talk to people about it. I was desperate to talk to people about it. I was always glad when my granddad visited because he was he was self-educated, but one of the most educated people I ever met in terms of his love of language, his love of literature. He’d left school very young. He was an actor, George Baker. He’d left school very young and the school thought he was stupid. In their words. But he’d come to England during the war and kind of struggled to get on at school. But he loved literature, loved learning, loved poetry. And I was always glad when he’d visit because I’d say to him, have you read any Ben Johnson? What does this poem mean? Or what does this play mean? What do you know? And I’d love having these conversations with him. Have you read Walter Savage Landor? Is this as flirtatious as I think it is? And he would always talk to me about those things. So, oh yeah, I was always really grateful for it.

JS: What kind of reader are you right now? What are your go-to genres?

KS: I suppose I the genres I visit most often would be, broadly, crime fiction, historical fiction, and literary fiction. Although I think in some ways genres aren’t that useful as categories because they can silo things out. But that, those are sort of my most beloved, I guess. And it’ll often be that I don’t tend to keep up. This is maybe terrible to say, but I don’t tend to keep up that much with contemporary fiction. You know, like the big new book that’s out, I’ll often not have read it yet, because I’m reading something from the 18th century, because it’s inspiring me for what I’m writing. So whatever I’m reading will be led by what I’m writing. I’m searching for company. E. M. Forster said that we write in an echo chamber, and I think that kind of governs my reading because I’m looking for a writer to be in dialogue.

JS: Do you remember how you came across this book that we’re talking about today? 

KS: So I first read Wolf Hall towards the end of my undergraduate degree, applying to my MA in creative writing. And I was writing A Wild and True Relation at the time, and I was searching for historical fiction that resonated with me. And I was searching for, I think, really, a guiding light and a sense of permission for the kind of themes, or language, that I wanted to attempt. So, to me, the reason I’ve chosen this book is because it was an epiphany reading this book. This is what prose can do, this is what fiction about the past can do. It was so alive. So I read it, and then I read it again when I was on my M.A., and I took a module in historical fiction. And actually, I mean, this is a not a visual medium, so this will be nothing to listeners, but I’ll show you. I brought along my notes that I made for my M.A., just to kind of give you a sense of what it meant to me. So for those listening, it’s a big bit of brown wallpaper that I folded up so that I could write all of these different color coded notes and brainstorms, thinking about characters together. I really was trying to map out what this book was doing. I wanted to get inside it. I wanted to get inside its mechanics, inside its bloodstream. So that’s what all of these lines are, kind of connecting up ideas of identity, ideas of power, ideas of death, of memory, of history, of language. I was so inspired. I wanted to get it all down. And I’ve kept this since then. Because, well, one, because I love the book. But also I think these notes are just a memento, I suppose, or a testament, to just how inspired I was by Wolf Hall. You know, it was an important moment in my development as a writer and as a person reading that book.

JS: Can you tell our listeners what it is about? 

KS: So, yeah. For those who haven’t read Wolf Hall, what are you doing with your lives? Get on with it. It’s not long. (It’s very long!) So, Wolf Hall is about Thomas Cromwell, who might not be a household name to people outside of Britain, but growing up here in primary school, you would learn the story of Henry VIII and his six wives. You’d learn the rhyme about who was beheaded and who was divorced. And you would learn that Thomas Cromwell was this thug and zealot and bully, and that Thomas More was this saintly thinker. And that was kind of the received wisdom. And what Hilary Mantel does in this book, is she turns it upside down. She in some ways reinterprets or rewrites history and gives us Thomas Cromwell as this modern progressive man who came from poverty and rose to be one of the most powerful figures, if not the, after Henry, in the UK, and changed our politics, our relationship with the church, our laws. And the, the first book, Wolf Hall, follows the first section of that, from his childhood on to Henry’s divorce from Catherine. So it’s about Cromwell versus More really, and it recasts More as this zealot, obsessive. And you have Henry in the middle, and you have Catherine, and Mary, and Anne Boleyn in the middle. So it’s about really, I think, history, memory, identity, power. The state played out through these real historical figures.

JS: It was really funny to me because I read Spare for the podcast the week after I read Wolf Hall to talk to you.

KS: Oh, funny.

JS: But there is no amount of money you could pay me to be in one of these families. Reading Wolf Hall and then reading Spare – it has not changed.

KS: You know, these, these power structures are still so relevant today. And I think that Hilary Mantel, in grappling with these stories, she is writing really about the heart of our country. She always talked about how history isn’t settled. Going over history isn’t going over dead ground. It’s animating the soil; it’s bringing it to life. There’s no one fixed version of events.There’s just the accepted version of events. And you could see that in what I was saying about in primary school learning of these two figures in the opposite way to how they’re now conceived of popularly, because of the success of Wolf Hall. So you see with the Wolf Hall trilogy, how history can be rewritten, and is rewritten, by our interpretations of it, if they seize the public imagination like this.

JS: So many of us were so bored in history classes. I have a lot of Henry VII related books and when I try to pass them on to people, they think, ugh, history is so dull. What do you think is the magic of her writing?

KS: I think it’s two things. Well, it’s more than two, but two come to mind. The first is the visceral, bloody nature of it. Hilary often talked about how to be a writer. She had this fantastic quote, and I’m gonna muddle it now, but it was something like, drink bone marrow and howl at the moon. She was this very embodied person, and her writing is very embodied and has this sense of pounding blood through it. So, we have a line like, this is Thomas Cromwell thinking about his wife who’s just died, he thinks, “If I had seen your death coming, I would’ve taken him and beaten in his death’s head. I would’ve crucified him against the wall.” There’s a visceral nature to that that makes grief corporeal, and it gets us into the character’s interiority. That’s something that’s so interesting and is one of the most talked about points of this book. So I won’t talk too much about it, but the point of view, how we’re so closely vocalized through. We are so interior, and yet Cromwell thinks of his heart as a private book. He thinks people shouldn’t try and read it. This is somebody who, in some ways, we are in his mind. But it’s always looking out. It’s looking out at the world, and his identity is made up of identities that he assumes. He takes the Cardinal’s identity, or people presume things about him, about his childhood and, and he goes with it. So this is at once a deeply interior character, but also a private character. And there’s a muscularity to him. And this visceral nature. And the other thing I think is, the way Hilary used language in this very self-conscious way. You can almost call it metafictional. Not that it’s wildly post-modern, necessarily, but this is a book that’s very aware of itself and aware of the power of language. So when you have a moment like Thomas Cromwell and More debating, and they’re talking about dictionaries and words. They say, you have to say some words. That’s all they are, just words. You know, they’re kind of battling over definitions with each other. Cromwell thinks it’s our dictionary versus his. And to me that moment is really interesting because the word ‘dictionary’ doesn’t actually arise until about 20 years later in the dictionary. But Hilary talked about how she would give herself a 20-year window, so she would look up when a word appeared in the English language. And if it was 20 years later, she would think, okay, well maybe it hadn’t been written down yet, but maybe people were saying it, and she’d let it slip in. And it’s really interesting to me that in a moment where she’s reflecting on the power of words to shape reality, she’s also almost ducking under the wire of the dictionary. I think she’s showing us how fluid language is and how we have the power to create meaning. We have the power to shape narrative in our lives and the narrative of history. There’s this bristling, alive nature to the language that’s constantly animating the soil, bringing up the bodies, and there’s just a power to that. It’s like an electric current.

JS: By definition, if the language is fluid, then the history is fluid

KS: Exactly, and that’s the great battle in Wolf Hall between Crowell and <ore. Who going to end up the victor here? Who’s going to be listened to, whose book is going to count? And I think that what Hilary did rwas a gift for the genre because, as I said, historical fiction is right there at the beginning of the history of the development of the novel form. It waswritten by women novelists. It was a kind of evolution of medieval chivalric romance. It evolved into the gothic. It was using the past as a fantasy space to work out present problems. It was then, in some ways, co-opted by male writers. So if you look, for example, from the transition from Anne Radcliffe to Walter Scott, in Waverly, Walter Scott says the romance of the past is over now. Now he’s living his real life. Scott’s kind of saying romance is gone. The fictional, the fantastical, the made up, the invented is gone, and this is all going to be real now. And that’s been interpreted critically as a kind of rejection of the sort of evolution of historical fiction. And I think that that played a part. I’m not saying Walter Scott necessarily meant that, but that interpretation has played a part in how historical fiction has often been dismissed or derided as women’s fiction or escapist. This idea that it’s somehow not real; it’s romantic. It’s a fantasy. Historical fiction written by men has often been considered literary and important, and written by women has often been considered romantic and frivolous. And I think what Hilary does is take that division, and that derision, and just sort of bang its head against the wall and show us how important this genre is, and how important it is when it’s written by women. And you could see that. When the book came out, I remember there was a review in The Guardian that said Hilary Mantel has made a derided genre respectable again. She saved it from bodice-ripping romance. Which, you know, is an insult to bodice-ripping romance. An insult to Georgette Heyer and all who ride behind her. But I think that, for me anyway, one of the reasons this book is so important is because it showed people the power of this genre.

JS: Have you read the other two? Because it is eventually became a trilogy.

KS: Yes, that’s right. It’s a trilogy and yeah, I read them as they came out. I read The Mirror and The Light in lockdown. Which of course is strange, you know, because that book is so much about being contained. And so to read it when we couldn’t go outside was strange. But it also was a lifesaver. I heard a lot of people saying just how grateful they were that it came out then, especially because it is a big book, so it will keep you company for a while.

JS: I haven’t read the next two. Are they both continuing with Cromwell?

KS: Yeah, that’s right. So it’s his life from start to finish. I mean it’s history, but I won’t do spoilers just in case people don’t know the history. She won the Booker Prize twice, which is our major prize for literature, the only British to have done so. And I really think that she changed literature. We’re at a loss, in some ways, without her.

JS: Now you have a personal connection to her?

KS: Yeah, so that’s what I should have said – hat’s why I’ve been calling her Hilary. I don’t do that with all writers I love! I was very lucky, very lucky, to form a personal connection with her. When my first novel came out, Testament, in 2018, I was doing the kind of literary festival circuit and one festival that I went to Budleigh Salterton in Devon, which is where Hilary lived and was patron of the festival. She was running this day long masterclass. I was so excited and nervous to be in the room with her. I wrote literally every word she said, four hours, however long it was. And I didn’t look down at my page because I didn’t want to miss anything.

I was just fixated on her. My notebook is like this weathered cliff of a margin, you know, cause my handwriting was going all over the place. But she was so, wise and generous and just wickedly funny. And she was talking about the process of writing, and she was doing it all, you know, for the benefit of the festival. That’s why she was doing the event. And I really wanted to ask a question, but I was really nervous as well, just to speak in front of her, because I just loved her so much. So I spent the whole four hours, or whatever it was, honing a question, you know, practicing, what will I say. Finally, at the end, I  put my hand up and I asked my question, which was about the body and historical fiction, and she said, that gets to the heart of what historical fiction is. And I felt like, you know, my blood was suddenly pumping in my brain. I managed to write down the answer. She talked about how important it is to know the fabrics and the textures and the medicine and the scars, and to get into characters, to get into their bodies to bring the time alive. And I wrote it all down. And then afterwards there was the signing queue. So I had my book ready to be signed, and I was queuing up. And I also had my novel Testament in my bag. I really wanted to give it to her, but I was also really scared. I didn’t want to impose or anything. So I got to the front of the queue and before I could say anything, she said, you’ve been luminous all day. And I hadn’t done anything! That was so kind that I got my courage up. I said, oh, well, you know, thank you so much because you are, you are my inspiration and I’m a writer. And she said, what have you written? And I said, well, I have my book here. I got it out of my bag, you know, so nervously, and I handed it over to her. She looked at it and then she said, well, how will I get in touch with you? And I almost said, why would you want to? But then swallowed it back inside. I said, well, I could give you my email address. I wrote my email address down. But I thought, I’m never going to hear from Hilary Mantel. She has better things to do than email me. And then I got this email. I was just looking back through my emails before we spoke. I haven’t actually looked at these since she died.  But she wrote me this email, and when her name appeared in my inbox, I just squeezed my eyes completely shut and grabbed Nick, my husband’s hand. I was like, oh my God. Hilary Mantel’s name is in my inbox. And we started up a sort of pen pal relationship. She was always so generous. Any time I was in the newspaper, she would write to me and say, well done. I saw you up for this prize, or I’m cheering you on. And anytime I had a question about a publisher or a cover, she would give me advice. And she was so open with her experience and her process. And I’ve heard this from lots of people, that she was just so kind and so generous with her time, and she had absolutely no reason to be. That was just who she was. I think that was one of her gifts to young writers. She wasn’t beholden to do that, you know, but I think she really wanted to encourage people. And I wrote to her when I, when I finished A Wild and True Relation. I finished it at Agatha Christie’s house, Greenway in Devon. Which is a weird sentence, I know. But they it’s open to the public. It’s operated by the National Trust, and they let writers go and stay there in the attic for residency. So I had a 10-day residency there, and I finished writing the book. I got to the end and I thought, I just want to tell Hilary that I finished, and I want to thank her for the role she played in inspiring me. So I wrote to her and I said, thank you for everything that you did. And she wrote back such a kind email. I’m just looking at it here. Just kindly recognizing, I suppose – I mean, I’m hesitating because I’m not comparing what I’ve done to what she did. But just the length of time it took, you know? So she said, I know myself what it is like to sustain the effort when circumstances change all the time, when you, yourself, change, when technique evolves, confidence ebbs and flows. There was just an understanding in that, that I found really touching. And then she told me to rest and she said, your body will react if you don’t rest. Which is a lesson I’ve not yet learned. As we were talking about before we pressed record, I’m just finishing another book, and my body’s saying, for God’s sake, lie down. That’s a good lesson. She told me about finishing The Mirror and the Light and just what the process was like finishing it. And she said that the morning that she was going to write what would be the last chapter, she found that her picture of Henry VIII had fallen off the wall. I really feel this was a person connected to something divine. And she talked about this book, this trilogy, being her life’s purpose. That she always knew it would be her magnum opus, and that she actually waited until she was in her forties to start writing it, because she felt like she needed the life experience before she could get into Cromwell at that age and time. She shared with me her creative process and what it was like for her finishing it. And I was just so grateful for that. I was so grateful for that generosity and that openness and the light, you know, that she gave. And then when the book was ready to send out, I was really nervous to share it with her. And my editor said, let’s send an early proof, because you know Hilary’s very busy, so we’llgive her more time to read it. But that would’ve been a proof before it was copy edited. And I said to my editor, if you think I’m gonna send Hilary Mantel a book that might have a typo…

JS: you are out of your mind.

KS: So we copyedited it and then sent it. And I was so, so scared, you know? What she’d think. And then when she sent through those amazing words for the cover, I just actually cried. I

JS: That was my next question. Did you cry? I would’ve just wept.

KS: Yeah, I did just weep. I was at work, doing tutorials with students, and my editor called me up just in a break. So then I opened the door to the next student, who looked aghast. You know, losing her was such a shock for everybody. Everybody was sort of talking about that, because it really did just feel like we were in the middle of a conversation. I don’t want to overstate; it was just a few letters over the years. But it just meant so much to me, and that she took that time, and that she would reach out to me if she saw my name come up for a prize or something, that she would reach out to me. And I know that she did that for lots of people, because she was, she was just so, so generous. So I’ve been thinking a lot about her legacy, now that we don’t have any more work from her. She was somebody who believed in presences in that way. Her presence lives on, as well as her impact in literature. The book’s coming out in a few days and I feel excited and scared in equal measure. But I sort of hear her voice in my head, you know, in some way, every now and again. I just say, oh, thank you Hilary. When I see her quote on the cover, I think it’s kind of a blessing.

JS: Does having a personal connection to her change how you read her books, or change your reaction to her books?

KS: I think so, partly because, not to put myself in her league or in a sentence with her, but just that there are things in our experiences, as writers or, it seems this way to me, that are similar. I have a disability, and when I read her memoir and how she talks about her relationship with her own body and her relationship with pain, trying to find language through that, it really meant a lot to me when I found that out. And I read that memoir because I suppose it felt like good company to be in. And that she was articulating something that I found hard to articulate to myself. So then having got to know her a little bit and, and hearing about her work through ups and downs, It gave me a sense of courage and a sense of how to look after myself in some ways. I mean, I guess I’m still trying to learn that.

JS: Except for getting rest.

KS: Yeah. Yeah, except the rest. The key part. Oh, but she often, in her email, she would say, you must look after yourself now. And she would tell me how busy she was and what she was trying to cope with. I guess it just felt like a lesson, and probably one I’ll spend a lifetime learning. People might be listening to this and thinking, oh, poor writer! Deadlines! But I guess it gave me a lesson in longevity, and how to think about yourself over the long term rather than a short term. 

JS: I’m so glad you had that. There’s just nothing like good mentorship from someone you trust.

KS: Absolutely. And I think that’s the key thing. It’s someone you trust. She really inspired that confidence. I try and do that for students, as I’m a little bit down the road from them. Because I think it does really help to have somebody who’s been there before you and can say, not here’s a roadmap, but can make you feel, I suppose, not alone? I think that’s the key. Writing, in some ways, is a kind of solitary pursuit, and I think that’s probably why a lot of writers do it, because we like being alone . But for me, anyway, I also really like being part of a community, and to have somebody welcome you that much into their creative process and to make time for you is a real gift.

JS: And there’s such a magic to the creative process, as well, that I think we forget sometimes that people who are creating art, that are creating the things that we do in our free time – there is a divine to that, I think, and being allowed into someone else’s process of that is incredible.

KS: Mm, absolutely. We were talking earlier about who I read now and, and where I kind of gravitate. Certain writers become totemic. You’ve turned to their books because you are looking for an answer or you are looking for some company in your creative process. When talking about the creative process, J.M. Barrie likened it to playing hide and seek with angels. I think there is something to that. And there are certain totemic writers who become those angels for you, and you’re kind of searching for them and when you find them, you think, oh, this is the kind of writer I aspire to be.

JS: So tell me what is on your nightstand right now? 

KS: Well, I don’t know if you’ve read any of the Sarah Paretsky V.I.Warshawski Mysteries?

JS: I never have. Are they good?

KS: Yeah, I very much recommend them. I’m probably butchering how to pronounce Warshawski, and I’m, I’m sorry if I am. But yeah, Sarah Paretsky, for those who don’t know, really pioneered female-led detective fiction. And I love her books. I love what she did with bringing a female character to center stage in that genre. So I’m reading that at the moment because I am writing, oh, I’m just finishing, it’s due in a few days, she says nervously, the second in the Double O trilogy, and I’ve been thinking a lot about main female characters and bringing women center stage. So I’ve been, yeah, looking to Sarah Paretsky for inspiration. 

JS: Hang on. Are you telling us we’re going to get a female bond? Did you just reveal that?

KS: No, no. But for those who haven’t read Double or Nothing, the first of trilogy, James Bond is still, James Bond, but the idea of the trilogy is that he’s missing. So the start of Double or Nothing, which comes out in the States April 11th, there’s this kind of ensemble cast of other Double Os who are looking for him, and also trying to avert a climate catastrophe. But what that’s allowed me to do is to keep Bond as Bond, because I love his character. I wouldn’t want change him. But also to bring in some new heroes. So to have female heroes, to have heroes from other backgrounds with other kind of lived experiences, that’s been really exciting for me. But it’s also a challenge, because I’m operating in, as we were saying earlier, in a space that’s in some ways dominated by male heroes.

JS: . Well, I cannot wait to read this now, and I’ve never been a James Bond reader. Not that I wasn’t a fan, I just didn’t know it. 

KS: Well, one of the nicest things about the Double O trilogy coming out is that a lot of people have been saying to me, and especially women, saying, oh, yours will be the first Bond book I’ve read. Which feels like such an honor. And, you know, I love Ian Fleming’s writing, so if I can be a kind of gateway to people reading more Bond, you know, that’s very gratifying.

JS: I will admit, I have had Wolf Hall, and the entire trilogy on my shelf since they were all released, but I have never read them. I am a book hoarder. And so it was a delight to read this, and I am thrilled to talk to you about it. And I want to thank you for joining me today. Will you share with our guests where they can find your work?

KS: Absolutely. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram. I have a newsletter, The Girl with the Golden Pen, it’s a kind of window into my writing life. Through that I run Zoom Book Club socials, and meetups. So yeah, if anybody wants to listen to more of my inner monologue, that’s where to go.

JS: Kim, this has been so fun. I want to thank you for joining me today, and I hope you’ll come back anytime you have a book you want to tell me about .

KS: Yeah, absolutely. Please. 


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