Kate Hamer is the author of the new novel The Doll Funeral. She also has written the novel The Girl in the Red Coat. She lives in Cardiff, Wales.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Doll Funeral and for your character Ruby?
A: Like my first book, the original catalyst for the story was a strong central image that somehow I just couldn’t get out of my head.
This time it was a girl running through a house at top speed towards an open back door. She bursts out and looks to the sky and starts singing with joy.
The image wouldn’t leave me. I wanted to know why she was so happy, what had just happened. Then it came to me, the girl’s name was Ruby, it’s her 13th birthday and she’s just found out she’d been adopted as a baby.
The reasons why she’s so happy to hear this news is part of the core of the book.
Q: What do you think the book says about families and the connections they share?
A: It’s twofold, really. I was really interested in how the past intertwines with the present and the hauntings that occur in the book are all from family, whether from way back or nearer in time. I also love writing about survivors and Ruby is definitely one of those.
The book asks: if we are really brave, if we go through trials of ice and fire, do we get to choose who are real family are – who to love - whether they happen to be related to us or not?
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: I realise it’s quite a quirky title but it came to me very early on in the process of writing. There’s a scene in the very heart of the book which explains it.
There’s a Japanese practice of actually performing funerals for dolls. The logic being when we lose someone we love, their dolls need a send off too because it’s felt they are somehow imbued with the spirit of the person that owned it.
For me, the significance lies in “what do we leave behind?” It’s a major theme of the book.
Q: The book takes place partly in a forest area. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting in this novel is particularly key. In fact, I tried to write the story in two other different locations before this version. Somehow it was always just a little off kilter; something was not working.
It was on a day out that we visited the Forest of Dean, which is close to the border of England and Wales. I’d heard of it before but strangely had never been there even though it’s only about an hour away from where I live.
As soon as I went under the canopy I knew my story had found its location. I think I cried! In the book the forest becomes more than a location, it’s almost like another character in the book.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m nearing the end of the first draft of my third novel. I’ve had a huge amount of fun with it.
In many ways its theme is the slipperiness of thought, but it centres around that age – late teenage – that with the wrong mix of personality and circumstance, things can go very wrong – and without giving too much away I can say they most certainly do!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Well, I could say a little about my writing process. I like to write a minimum of a thousand words a day and try and stay at my desk until I do. I also like to dream up what I’m going to write the next day in bed the night before. I drink a ton of coffee and get going.
On a good day I can have achieved my target by lunchtime and carry on. On other days any little distraction like the phone ringing or the postman delivering a parcel can feel like a blissful release. I find I never know what sort of day it’s going to be!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Kate Hamer.