Before writing her first novel, Kathryn Evans co-managed a strawberry farm with her husband, fenced competitively, and dabbled in poetry. She still does those things, but she is also an award-winning author, now that her first book, “More of Me,” has won two major awards and put up impressive sales numbers in England. The book is set for release June 13 in the United States, where its themes of identity, change, and anxiety is likely to appeal to a cross-section of readers, particularly young adults.
This interview was published in the Houston Chronicle on June 11, 2017.
A: It’s a contemporary novel with a sci-fi twist, and a spoonful of horror. It’s about a young girl, Teva, who doesn’t grow up like normal people. She replicates once a year and previous versions of herself still exist, but they are at home, hidden from the public. The world only sees the current version of Teva, and she knows that if she doesn’t stop the replication process, she will be supplanted by the new Teva, and that means being shut away at home, losing her friends, and her boyfriend. At its heart, the book is about identity, about growing up.
Q: How did you come up with this idea?
A: My daughter went to University, and I was missing her. I began looking at photographs of her when she was little, when she was three, six, and 12, and I was thinking how I mourned a little for these previous versions of her. And I thought of myself growing up. I had an unhappy childhood, and I thought of previous versions of myself. I knew they were me, but I also felt sorry for them in a kind of disjointed way. From there, it was a tiny step to ask, “What if?” What if those previous versions of me or my daughter actually existed?
Q: When did you realize that this is the perfect prism through which to look at the teenage years, a way to capture the angst about identity and change?
A: It was deliberate. Teenagers have difficulties growing up; my daughter certainly did. Indeed, she had mental health issues and many of her friends have gone through challenging aspects of adolescence. Growing up, I read Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” and the idea of using a big image to deal with a difficult topic was something I wanted to do. I have had many people contact me—including transgendered people –and say, “It was like I was reading about myself.” It’s incredibly touching.
Q: Is it a coincidence that your book is about identity, at a time when that is a hot-button issue in today’s world?
A: I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I have my head up, I read a lot, I am on social media, and I talk to a lot of people. If we’re not addressing modern issues when we write, we’re kind of failing, especially when writing for young adults.
Q: How did you capture the language and behavior of teenagers?
A: I have a daughter and a son. My daughter is 22 now, and my son is 16, so I have always had a house full of teenagers. I also have a background in the theater, so there were many acting techniques I could draw on. It’s about observing and being connected to the people you are writing about, and I think it worked.
Q: Teenagers can be dramatic. How do you capture that without being insensitive?
A: I read it with my own “alarm bells.” I’m aware of my readership, and I think about how people will feel when they read it, and I have a brilliant editor! Also, playing characters is something that comes naturally to me. I go for walks with my dog, and we role play. He’s not great at it, but he’s a great listener.
Q: “More of Me” was your first novel, and you had time to develop the idea and the book. You are now in the process of writing a second book. Is it more difficult to develop ideas, now that the deadline pressures have intensified?
A: That’s a good question, and I think there is something to it. “More of Me” has done very well in the UK, and it has been nominated for quite a few awards. And my agent was keen on me getting my next book done quickly. I rushed it. Fortunately, my agent sat down with me, provided some directions, and I then had time to reflect. I thought I was writing a book about family, but I was actually writing about grief, and I needed space and time to reach that conclusion. Now I think this new book will be what I wanted it to be.
Q: Do you feel pressure to match the success of “More of Me”?
A: I said that to my editor, and she said: “Oh, no. It doesn’t have to be as good as ‘More of Me.’ This one has to be better.”
Mike Yawn is the Director of the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics.