Interview with Kate Cotoner

Jen: Today we welcome Kate Cotoner to Romancing the Book. Kate, will you please share a short bio with us?
Kate: I live in the north of England with my OH and a demanding bonsai named Mr M. I have a fondness for Asian men tempered with a love of hunky Germanic and Mediterranean types, and manage to combine love for all three types whilst watching Formula One motorsport. I love history, needlepoint, reading, watching brainless blockbusters and meaningful foreign films, staring at US crime shows, and baking French-style bread. I like strong, plot-driven stories and charismatic characters set against a sweeping, romantic backdrop of history, suspense, international locations and whatever else happens to take my fancy at the time.

Jen: Tell us about The Imperial Cat and where it’s available.
Kate: The Imperial Cat is available from Torquere Press as part of their Color Box line. Here’s the blurb:

Matsumoto no Hirotaro hates his job in the Bureau of Ceremonial. For years he’s longed to advance through the ranks of the nobility, but his dreams of becoming an imperial chamberlain are crushed when he saves a tailless gray cat from being drowned by the Empress’ guards. The cat seems to bring him nothing but bad luck… until he meets Katsuyuki, a beautiful, blue-eyed nobleman who’s strangely out of place at court.

Katsuyuki is a shape-shifting ghost-cat who’s lost his tail as punishment for causing a terrible fire. He makes it his mission to ensure Hirotaro is promoted to chamberlain, and as he enjoys the freedom of being human, Katsuyuki falls in love with Hirotaro. But he hasn’t reckoned on the jealous suspicion of Hirotaro’s friend, Lord Narihira, who could destroy Katsuyuki’s newfound happiness forever…

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
Kate: I can’t remember the first story I wrote, so it must have been a long time ago! I used to prefer drawing to writing and entertained my classmates at school with risqué comic strips. I know my limitations with art, though, and I began to write more than draw. There are fewer limitations on writing than drawing, I find!

As for my call story, it’s more of an SMS story *g* My first book was published in Chinese, in Taiwan. My translator friend and I had a popular column on a pan-Asian fiction site, and spurred on by our readers’ comments we sent off a novel to the biggest of the yaoi/BL publishers, Uei-Shiang. The first novel was rejected as too culturally generic; the second novel was too culturally specific… so it was third time lucky. My friend texted the good news as soon as the publisher called her. It was quite a crazy time as OH and I had just packed all our worldly goods into a shipping container and we’d temporarily moved in with OH’s father for a week before we flew from New Zealand to the UK. I’d just said an emotional goodbye to my friends and colleagues, I had a stinking cold, and then came the text. I remember jumping up and down and my father-in-law looking quite bemused by the whole thing!

Jen: Describe your writing in three words.
Kate: Ooh, that’s difficult. I’m going to ask OH (who is also my beta) to do it instead: “detailed, accessible, and involving.” I pretty much agree, actually – I enjoy writing about historical time periods that may be unusual and different to readers, yet I try to keep a lightness to the presentation of my research.

Jen: How do you approach your writing? Do you plot or go with the flow?
Kate: A few years ago I definitely went with the flow. I’d start with a vague idea and know what the final sentence was, and wrote until I hit it. These days I have to plot – I sketch out the major and minor plot arcs, sometimes in detail, sometimes with just a couple of lines, and then I build it up with dialogue scraps or random descriptions, and then write in a linear fashion from there. Sometimes I get bored or stuck and skip ahead, and having the plot arc firmly in front of me makes skipping sections much easier. Of course it’s all pretty flexible, too – characters and events can slip in and gain weight if necessary, or they can be cut back, but I find it easier to have a map of where I’m going.

Jen: What is it about the romance genre that appeals to you?
Kate: It’s a genre I find comfortable. Not so much in a slippers and bedsocks kind of way, but nevertheless it’s comfortable like an old friend, a favourite meal, or a good piece of chocolate. I was on a work trip last week and I bought a bunch of old romance novels from a charity shop and read one every night – you know how the story will end, that’s the comforting part, but it’s the way the characters reach the end that’s so gripping. That’s what I love about romance – the ending is ‘safe’, yet you know the journey can thrill you.

Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Kate: One of my favourite historical eras is the Heian period of Japan (794-1185), a time when relative peace and prosperity gave rise to an extraordinary court culture. Due to the (very uneven) distribution of wealth and the comparative peace of the time, helped by Japan’s increasing isolation from the rest of the world, the nobility had time to write poetry, create perfumes, and indulge in love affairs. For the story, I read a lot of primary sources, especially Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book, Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji and her personal diary, as well as many secondary sources dealing with clothing and the minutiae of Heian court life. The nobility had all kinds of rules and regulations on how to act in every aspect of life, including the colours of clothing, which were restricted by rank. Since The Imperial Cat was for Torquere’s Color Box line, I picked a rank-restricted colour (kikujin, olive green) and built the story around that.

Jen: Do you feel as if the characters live with you as you write? Do they haunt your dreams?
Kate: Sometimes they do. I usually start with a character rather than a plot or a place, and they slot themselves into the story they want to tell. Occasionally I dream an entire story, which is *very* useful – especially if I manage to remember it all! But usually I end up thinking about the characters a lot – you can over-think them, too, of course, which is annoying – but if I let them sit and simmer for a while, they come up with the goods. Those are the characters whose stories I most enjoy telling.

Jen: Is there a genre that you’d like to write? Is there a genre you’ll probably stay away from and why?
Kate: I’ve written in all the genres I’d like to try. Until late last year, I’d always said I’d never write sci-fi, but when Aleksandr Voinov was putting together the Echoes of the Future anthology for Noble Romance, he suggested that I try my hand at sci fi, and I wrote a dystopian cyberpunk tale called ‘Conduit’ that I still hold as one of my favourite stories of the last few years. So never say never, I suppose – although having said that, I know beyond doubt that I’d never write a contemporary medical romance. I don’t like hospitals!

Jen: Who has inspired you as an author?
Kate: In terms of the way he writes and conducts himself, it’s got to be the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature a few years ago and who was prosecuted by the Turkish government for speaking out against the Kurdish and Armenian genocides during the Ottoman Empire. His novels are very complex and melancholic, very beautiful stylistically. I can only read his books every other year because they make such an emotional impact. At the other end of the scale, I love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books – fast-paced, action-packed, no clever wordplay, very little characterisation, but they just work; and Child happily admits that he only writes them for the money. Pamuk and Child stand at extremes, which is why I find them inspirational. I couldn’t be like either of them, but I enjoy reading both of them.

Jen: What did you do to celebrate your first book?
Kate: Jumped up and down for a bit *g* OH and I may have gone out to the pub; I honestly can’t remember, I was feeling so grotty with a cold!

Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Kate: Read! I also love cooking and baking, and at the moment I’m halfway through making a huge tapestry cushion cover. It takes me months to finish one of those as I only sew when I’m watching TV, but it might go faster now the autumn/winter TV season has started and there’s actually something decent to watch!

Jen: What’s next for you?
Kate: Later this month I’ve got a creepy M/M novelette, The Silver Knight, coming out from Torquere Press. It’s a historical paranormal set during the 12th century Anarchy (civil war) in England. A monstrous blood-fiend terrorises the villagers of Kirkfield, but when Sufyan, the Prince Bishop’s chief summoner, investigates the case, he finds more than he bargained for in the shape of the silver knight, Everard de Montparnasse. It’s a sort of classic ghost story based on the old English tales of revenants, which are similar to vampires but also quite different.

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Kate: My website is at www.katecotoner.co.uk

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Kate: As I’m primarily a historical writer, I wonder which historical periods your readers are most interested in, and why?

Jen: Are we holding a contest for you?
Kate: To win a copy of any of my published ebooks (see www.katecotoner.co.uk/books.html), leave a comment and I’ll pick a winner at random. Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you! Contest ends Friday 12 November.