By Leslie Lindsay
After reading Hamer’s 2016 bestselling debut, THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT, I was eager to get my hands on her forthcoming title, THE DOLL FUNERAL (due out February 16 2017 by Faber & Faber). Ms. Hamer indicates she’s, “Mostly completely happy, but write dark,” and yes, that’s exactly how THE DOLL FUNERAL reads, a little slice of mirth mixed with darkness.
Plus, isn’t that cover (and title!) just deliciously creepy?!
There’s a lot going on in THE DOLL FUNERAL, and Hamer’s writing is so poetic, so poised, and yet so imaginative; for that reason, I adored reading her words. She’s truly a gifted writer. Plot-wise the story is quite simple: 13-year old girl learns she’s adopted and goes on search for her ‘real family.’
Alternating between Ruby in present-day (1983) and also her birth year (1970), the two timelines are braided together in a mostly first-person POV. Note: most of the story is told from 13-year old Ruby’s POV, but she is highly imaginative, mature, and the story telling is not at all ‘softened,’ or abbreviated, in fact there are several instances in which another character will observe, ‘that’s quite a grown-up word, Ruby.’
I’m honored to welcome Kate Hamer back to the blog couch for another book chat. Please join us.
Leslie Lindsay: Kate, it’s a joy to have you back. I’m thinking about THE DOLL FUNERAL and how it compares to THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT. There are bound to be similarities, of course, seeing how you’re sort of the ‘wizard’ behind them both. My first thought is that both stories revolve around a young girl cleaving from her family (either on her own accord, or as an abduction). Can you talk about that, please?
Kate Hamer: Yes, the family relationships are central in both books, it’s something that really interests me. THE DOLL FUNERAL begins by Ruby finding out she’s adopted on her thirteenth birthday. When she hears the truth she runs out into the garden and sings for joy because she always hoped beyond hope that there was something more than the brutality of the family she grew up in. But when she sets out to uncover the truth family secrets begin bubbling to the surface – her own and in other families. I wanted to write a tough character and Ruby does have a certain resilience despite everything. That’s something I enjoyed doing. The young girl characters in both books are a bit off kilter, slight outsiders from the beginning and there are other similarities between the two books. THE DOLL FUNERAL is not conventional crime, as THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT wasn’t conventional crime either. Ruby’s journey does eventually lead to a body, though not in the way you might think!
L.L.: So what would you say inspired your falling down the ‘rabbit hole’ of THE DOLL FUNERAL? What was haunting you enough to set pen to paper?
Kate Hamer: It was Ruby really – her energy and her hope of getting through despite everything. She’s tougher than Carmel (The Girl in the Red Coat) in many ways, less dreamyand acts on her gut instinct. I really fell in love with her and felt as if I was by her side, a bit breathless and anxious about how everything was going to turn out for her.
It was also the Forest of Dean. I’d tried to write the story several times in different locations but it wasn’t until I visited the Forest of Dean one day that everything truly slotted into place. It’s such a mystical, ancient place yet people live and work there. The forest is definitely another character in the book.
L.L.: I know you sort of ‘grew up’ on fairy tales and that THE GIRL WITH THE RED COAT has been likened to LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. This new one is very much ALICE IN WONDERLAND meets SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. Was this conscious on your part, or did it sort of evolve organically?
Kate Hamer: Oooh – I LOVE that description. In fact I think I’m going to adopt it. Yes, if THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is “Little Red Riding Hood” the THE DOLL FUNERAL is definitely “Snow White.” Observant readers might even spot the mirror. Snow White was there from the beginning but Ruby’s beauty is an unconventional kind – she has a large birth mark covering the left side of her face that makes the eye on that side seem extra bright. She is a kind of Snow White mixed in with her hero Siouxsie Sioux. “Alice in Wonderland” came in a bit later. It’s a book I’m a bit obsessed with and my editor very wisely combed a good few of the references out so hopefully the presence is there with a light touch now.
L.L.: Yet you touche on poverty, abuse, adoption, mental illness, and the paranormal. It’s heavy stuff. What do you hope readers take away from THE DOLL FUNERAL?
Kate Hamer: At its heart I feel that this is a book about how the past and the present intertwine, how the past casts its shadows over everything, and YET if the heart is focused enough, if it’s prepared to go through trials of fire the present moment and the future can always be changed. That’s what I really hope readers take away with them by the end of the book.
L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? What’s captured your interest?
Kate Hamer: Many things: ‘The Crown’ on Netflix. Roman remains. Prehistory. Learning French. ‘My Name is Lucy Barton.’ Choosing colours for the living room. Lattice crisps. Walking meditation. L’Occitane creams. Anything by Maggie O’Farrell. Making sauerkraut.
L.L.: What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?
Kate Hamer: What do you wear when you’re writing? Answer: an old battered cardi that is nonetheless beautifully warm. One day it’ll disintegrate and I dread that day.
L.L.: Kate, it was a pleasure chatting with you once again. Thanks for taking the time to pop by!
Kate Hamer: Thank you!
The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)
For more information, to connect with Kate Hamer, or to order your copy of THE DOLL FUNERAL, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 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.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Faber&Faber and used with permission. Author image credit: Mei Williams. Forest of Dean image retrieved from Wikipedia, Alice in Wonderland image retrieved from PopSugar, all on 2.2.17