Kate Hamer grew up in the West Country and Wales. She studied art and worked for a number of years in television. In 2011 she won the Rhys Davies short-story prize and her short stories have appeared in various collections. Her debut novel The Girl in the Red Coat was published in 2015. It was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Prize, the British Book Industry Awards Debut Fiction Book of the Year, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, and the Wales Book of the Year. It was a Sunday Times bestseller and has been translated into sixteen different languages. Kate now lives with her husband in Cardiff.
Read on to find out more about Kate, her writing process and her involvement in 4 Tales to Save the World.
Why did you choose to get involved in Gwilym Morus-Baird’s 4 Tales to Save the World project?
Gwilym contacted me after reading a short story of mine called ‘Crocodile Hearts’ in a ‘New Welsh Short Stories’ Collection. It’s about a suburban mother who goes slightly nuts after a neighbour moves twenty-four crocodiles in cages into his back garden. It actually came from a newspaper article I read years ago about someone who’d done exactly that, and at the time I wondered, ‘What would that be like to live next door to?’ Anyway years later I wrote the story around it. I’m not sure what appealed to Gwilym about it but we chatted on the phone and straight away 4 Tales sounded like a brilliant project to be involved with. I’ve had my novels and short stories read by actors before (for audio books and once in a live event in Blackwells) and I’ve always loved the transformation that happens. This sounded like it was taking it a step further again with music, performance and sound scape so it was a big yes from me!
Without giving away any spoilers, please tell us a little bit about your tale.
I envisaged a world that was on the point of drowning and the very last person inhabiting it. The world is turning from a cultivated place, a place of humans into a watery one. On this day, the man – Kai – discovers an overgrown garden and glimpses what is about to be lost. Later, he climbs a tree and sees whales sporting in the sea beneath him, the new inhabitants of the earth. Essentially, it’s a story about what the world would be like when all the gardeners – the human race – have left it.
We would love to hear a little bit about your process and how you went about writing this short story.
I always write from a visual perspective. I had a strong image of a young man, one who loved the idea of gardens and at a different time in history would have been a talented and hard-working gardener, holding the last remaining cultivated flower in the world – a yellow rose. Despite himself and despite the rapidly rising sea levels he cannot help but pick it so he can hold it in his hand. I like this character, he is a good and thoughtful person but still that urge to have is so great that he gives in to it despite the circumstances. It seemed to me this is the essence of why we are where we are.
How did you choose the character for your story, is there a particular reason you wrote about someone of that age and gender?
I read Antoine Saint-Exupery’s ‘The Little Prince’ when I was a child and both the story and the imagery have never left me. Essentially Kai is the little prince, he has both an overwhelming sense of loneliness but also a deep understanding of beauty. The rose and the beleaguered planet are both motifs in ‘The Little Prince.’
Did you find anything particularly pleasurable or challenging about writing this story?
I wanted the story to have a slightly ecstatic feel and given the traumatic subject matter of climate change that was a challenge. It’s a chaotic, end of the world sensation I was grasping after so I hope a little of the sense of that does come across.
What is your greatest hope for the future?
That we will find new, creative ways of living that are linked to the natural world, not in opposition to it.
What is your greatest fear for the future?
That the diversity in nature will be severely curtailed. Once something has left this earth it can’t be brought back.
Please tell us how and when you became a writer, for example did you write when you were in school?
I’ve written since I was a child – I used to write stories and illustrate them and staple them together. Later, at secondary school I would always enter the Eisteddfod writing competition. I never won anything – I have a copy of something I entered one year and it’s a very Gothic tale with vampires and all sorts so perhaps that tells me why! I continued to write through bringing up my children and working but it was winning the Rhys Davies short story prize that really helped me. I always recommend entering prizes to people starting out in writing. Even being shortlisted can help with confidence so much. After all, writing is a solitary business and sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re on the right track.
If you were going to give your top tip of how you became a successful writer, what would it be?
Write from the heart.
When you write, do you listen to music and if so, what are your tunes of choice?
No, I can’t stand music being on while I’m writing. I know many writers that like nothing better than loud rock music while they’re writing but I find it very distracting. Oddly though when the writing is going well I can ‘hear’ a score to it, like a film score. Perhaps that’s the trouble, maybe real music interferes with that!
What is your favourite place to be?
A particular outside café, under a plane tree and in the shadow of a church.
Heroes – tell us about anyone or anything that has had a profound influence on you and your work.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the work of David Bowie recently – it’s been the anniversary of his death. I admire the fact that he continued creating through his life, always trying something new, always – it seems to me – responding to the world in a visionary and authentic way.
The photo at the top of this page shows Kate, her writing desk and the view from the window where she writes.