Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Q&A with Katherine Reay




Katherine Reay is the author of the new novel The London House. Her other books include The Printed Letter Bookshop. She lives in the Chicago area.


Q: What inspired you to write The London House, and how did you create your characters Caro, Margo, and Caroline?


A: To be honest, I started reading spy novels during the pandemic and thoroughly fell in love with the idea of secrets, spies, and the slow unfolding of truth — and how it can alter generations within a family. 


It all starts with Margo and Caro, twin sisters in the early days of WWII. I wanted the sisters to be twins, with all the closeness such a bond implies. And it was such fun! The two quickly emerged with such different personalities.


And, through writing letters and diary entries, I was able to explore their relationship with a close lens. We witness what they share and what they withhold from each other.


It was that “immediacy” which helped formed Caroline’s journey. She could react to history in real time, as it came to life through the letters and diary entries. 


Q: What kind of research did you do to recreate the World War II period, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I read everything I could get my hands on from nonfiction books and articles about the war, the time, the fashions, the technology… to everything I could find in fiction as well. It was a remarkable education. 


I was also able to do four days of intense research in London right before Covid hit in February 2020. I am so grateful that trip happened as it filled out the story’s richness.


I also discovered my most surprising detail in that trip — the Special Operations Executive files at the National Archive in Kew. I hadn’t anticipated how extraordinary it would be to touch original typed memos and handwritten signatures. I felt so close to those events and they came alive in a new way for The London House. 


Q: How would you describe the relationship between Caro and Margo?


A: They are twins who consider themselves as one. “We are we,” Margo says at one point. But as they age, a divide grows and the sisters start to hold secrets from each other.


That said, there is this deep thread, a “deep magic” between them. Both believe the other will always be there for her and intrinsically understands her —even when and if the other does not. It is within those gaps of expectation and belief that much of the story plays out. 


Q: As you mentioned, much of the book is told through diary entries and letters. Why did you decide to structure the novel that way?


A: I wanted the contemporary storyline to be immediately affected and altered by the past. I didn’t want two stories working in tandem that couldn’t push and pull at each other in a dynamic way. Letters and diary entries gave me that immediacy and bridged the 80-year gap. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am having a wonderful time writing another story full of intrigue and mystery. This new story will take us from Washington, D.C. to Vienna to Moscow and spans 50 years following the lives and loves of two women. It is the most challenging story I’ve written and I’m loving it. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you for having me here today. And please keep in touch with me via social media or through my newsletter and website. I love chatting with readers and bookclubs — I love sharing books! All the best to you! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Katherine Reay.

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