Monday, July 17, 2023

Q&A with Katherine Reay




Katherine Reay is the author of the new novel A Shadow in Moscow. Her previous novels include The London House. She lives in the Chicago area.


Q: What inspired you to write A Shadow in Moscow, and how did you create your characters Anya and Ingrid?


A: The idea came to me as I finished my last novel, The London House. I wondered what those fantastic women spies did at the close of WWII. I found many went on to work for the intelligence services of their respective nations.


Ingrid and Anya emerged from those stories and the stories of new spies I found along the way as I dove deep into the Cold War. It was also a wonderful bonus that both Ingrid and Anya’s “voices" came to life very early for me in character development. It made them two dynamic characters who became very fun to write. 


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you find that especially surprised you?


A: I did a ton of reading, both fiction and nonfiction. I also interviewed a couple former CIA officers and two women who grew up in 1980s Moscow. While I didn’t visit Moscow during research, I visited the Soviet Union in 1985, the year the novel ends. Really, this book took an extraordinary amount of research — and I loved it.


As for what surprised me most… The passage of time. There are many events we take for granted now as fact, but they were so hidden and shocking 40 years ago. The difference in perspective continually surprised me. It also shocked me how close we came to the Cold War heating up a great deal during the 1980s. 


Q: In our previous interview, you described A Shadow in Moscow as “the most challenging story I've written.” Why was that?


A: There’s a lot going on in this story, both on the surface and beneath it. I had so many themes I wanted to explore. And, in addition to all that, I wanted it to be a character-driven spy story. That meant I wanted to keep a close eye on both the internal and external journeys — a challenging mix of character-driven and plot-driven approaches.


It was a challenge, yes, but writing this novel was also just about my favorite writing experience to date. 


Q: The writer Kristy Woodson Harvey said of the book, “A story that will leave readers examining what they hold most dear and positively brimming with hope, this an important, timely tour de force—and a must-read for anyone who has ever wondered if just one person can make a difference.” What do you think of that description, particularly regarding the book's timeliness?


A: First of all, I am so grateful to Kristy for taking the time to read my story and giving it such a powerful endorsement. I think the description in some ways is apt — I did focus on the courage and sacrifice, and even outcome, one person can exercise and achieve. Although A Shadow in Moscow follows two women, each is very much on an individual and unique journey.


I also think it is a timely question, and theme, in that we look around today and see uncertainty around us. We ask ourselves — How will I respond? How should I respond? That said, I think such questions are not entirely unique to that time nor to ours. Human nature is always asking such questions. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have just finished line edits for my March 5, 2024 release, The Berlin Letters. I am super excited about this story as well. It’s a love story, a spy story, and a story of hope that takes place across both sides of the Berlin Wall from the very day it goes up to the evening it comes down.  


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you so much for inviting me today. I am across all social media and write my own newsletters — I’d love to keep in touch with you and your readers. 


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

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