By Leslie Lindsay
First, the reviews:
“Kate Hamer’s novel is both gripping and sensitive — beautifully written, it is a compulsive, aching story full of loss and redemption.”–Lisa Ballantyne, author of The Guilty Ones
“Hamer’s debut novel poignantly details the loss and loneliness of a mother and daughter separated”~Kirkus Review
“Telling the story in two remarkable voices, with Beth’s chapters unfurling in past tense and Carmel’s in present tense, the author weaves a page-turning narrative.”~Publisher’s Weekly
An Amazon Best Books of February 2016, British writer Kate Hamer’s THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT (Melville House, 2016) has been nominated for a Costa First Book Award, a prestigious recognition in the U.K and there’s already talk of a film. It seems THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is the next literary sensation.
The first few chapters of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT had me completely absorbed and frantically turning the pages to find out what happens next…but I absolutely adored the wonderful world of the bright, sensitive, and slightly dreamy 8-year old Carmel.
While THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT appears, at first blush, your garden-variety tale of child abduction, it’s so much more than that. Recently divorced British mother Beth is working hard at making a life for the two of them. Beth is caring and loving and wants the best for her daughter. They take a train to a children’s literary festival where they become entrapped in the world of fairies and make believe.
And then–poof–she’s gone.
Today I’m thrilled and honored to welcome Kate Hamer to the blog couch. Welcome, Kate! Please, grab a cuppa [tea] (or coffee!) and join us.
Leslie Lindsay: As a writer myself, I often get “the bug” to write through an image that comes to me—from my waking life, a dream, or perhaps just a name. What was it for you that propelled you to sit down and write THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT?
Kate Hamer: It was exactly that – an image. I kept ‘seeing’ a young girl in a red coat. She looked lost and sad but strangely also with a strong sense of her place in the world. She was there for several weeks before I sat up in bed one night and wrote the first chapter straight off. It wasn’t in her voice though – it was her mother’s, Beth. Beth spends the first chapter talking about her daughter – missing, remembering her. Something painful has happened but we’re not sure just what. That was the introduction to that little girl, Carmel, in the red coat – it was through her mother’s eyes.
L.L.: This is your first novel—congratulations! I understand you have two grown children, and I presume, a career before THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT. How did time and perspective prepare you for your breakout novel? Can you speak to that, please?
Kate Hamer: I’ve always written – even at a very young age I was writing my own stories, illustrating them and stapling them together into books! But when you are eighteen or so and deciding what to do with your life the idea of being a writer sounds in a similar league to being a rocket scientist. Over the years I continued to write – short stories and fragments of novels and in all honesty life experience is very good material. I worked for many years in the media and that helped too because in a way it’s still storytelling in a different way. But it was only when my children left home that I really thought, this is my life’s ambition – it’s now or never – and I made the leap.
L.L.: I have to say, I adore the distinctively beautiful prose of both Beth and young Carmel, but I love, love, love Carmel’s voice. Can you talk about how you created those characters? Were they drawn from anyone you know? Personal experience?
Kate Hamer: Once I had the image of Carmel her Mum came very soon – almost like she was chasing after her. I think Beth has a little bit of me in her – she’s a worrier too but Carmel is not based on anyone I know in particular. She was fairly fully formed right from the start almost as if she was telling me what she was like rather than the other way round!
L.L.: I’m interested in structure these days. THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is told in alternating POVs, how did you come to that decision? Did it grow organically from the story you wanted to tell, or was there more thought behind that?
Kate Hamer: Ah, yes! For me structure is a major, major thing too. Happily with this book the structure happened very organically. Once I had Carmel, then the first chapter in Beth’s voice it seemed the only natural thing to do to tell it in both their voices – to hear their stories side by side. Plus I always knew I wanted to tell a story about mothers and daughters and this seemed the best way to put their relationship at the heart of it.
“Keeps the reader turning pages at a frantic clip . . . What’s most powerful here is not whodunnit, or even why, but how this mother and daughter bear their separation, and the stories they tell themselves to help endure it.” —Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You
L.L.: Carmel’s captors are not exactly “bad,” they feel Carmel has spiritual gifts. This is a diversion from your typical child abduction thrillers. Can you talk more about that?
Kate Hamer: It’s hard without too many spoilers! What I would say is that from the get go Carmel is quite an unusual child. Her parents think that she might be on the autistic spectrum or similar. As the book goes on we begin to realize more and more that the key to the mystery of Carmel’s disappearance lies in that very strangeness. To anyone who worries that this might not be a book for them because of the subject matter I say: ‘it goes in a direction you might not be expecting.’
L.L.: A handful of reviews are comparing THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT to LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. Somewhere else I read that you were essentially raised on Grimm’s fairy tales. Was that your intention all along?
Kate Hamer: It’s funny how it worked out. I was steeped in fairy tales growing up. We had lots of old books in the house (my Mum is a second hand book fan) so I had a really old version where the stories are not sugar coated one bit, they were really very dark. While I was writing the red coat was such a potent image for me, but it was only when I’d finished the first draft that the penny dropped. I have an old Victorian print of Little Red Riding Hood hanging in my hall and I looked up at it and thought, ‘ah, of course!’ I find writing works like that because you are working at such a subconscious level.
L.L.: What are you working on now?
Kate Hamer: I’ve such finished my second novel and I’m working with the editor on it which is incredibly exciting. It’s a dark coming of age tale about family secrets set in a forest in Britain and is out in the UK in February next year. I can’t wait to see the cover designs – this time I feel I can consciously enjoy it all more. With ‘The Girl…’ it all happened so quickly I didn’t really know what hit me sometimes!
L.L.: What is obsessing you?
Kate Hamer: Oooh, good question. Does it have to be literary? If so at the moment it’s Elena Ferrante and her wonderful books set in Naples. They’re quite unlike anything I’ve read before and the fact that no one knows her true identity really intrigues me. On a personal note I’m renewing my wedding vows with my husband in October on the West coast of Scotland and I’m currently obsessing about what to wear!
L.L.: What question should I have asked, but forgot?
Kate Hamer: What I’m currently reading? It’s ‘Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down’ by Anne Valente. It’s a proof copy I’m reading as it hasn’t been published yet but I think it’s going to be a very exciting debut.
L.L.: Kate, it was lovely having you. Best wishes on your literary journey!
Kate Hamer: Thank you so much. It’s been great fun. Best wishes on yours too.
For more information, or to follow Kate Hamer on social media, please visit:
Author Bio: Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband. The Girl in the Red Coat (March 2015) is her first novel and has been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and is a finalist for the Dagger Award.
[Special thanks to J. Fleischaker at Melville House. Cover image retrieved from Melville House Publishers, author image retrieved from , western coast of Scotland retrieved from, finally child writing image retrieved from, all on 6.23.16]