Talk about a girl . . .

It’s been quite a year for Kate Hamer: shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and the Costa First Novel Award; making it to number three on the Sunday Times’ Best Seller List; into paperback in the UK and hardback Stateside. Not bad for a first-time novelist.

Since February 2015, Kate’s clocked up many miles by train, car and even ferry boat, crisscrossing the UK to talk about Carmel, the abducted girl heroine of her debut novel The Girl in the Red Coat.

I caught up with her early on, in West Sussex, when she appeared as a featured author at Crawley’s WORDfest, my local festival of all things wordy. This was a brilliant opportunity to touch base with Kate, who I got to know as a fellow student on a three-month novel writing course, run by London’s Curtis Brown literary and talent agency.

Looking forward to observing my former classmate engaging in the art of public speaking, not to mention swapping notes afterwards, I hot-footed it to Crawley library, where Kate shared the platform with fellow debut novelist Alex Hourston.

This was a well-chosen pairing: not only did they share the platform, but these two were also both listed by The Observer as new faces of fiction to watch in 2015, both published by Faber and both worked with the same in-house editor – yet this was the first time they had ever met! Hats off, then, to WORDfest for bringing them together.

Their novels also have something in common, focusing as they do on the relationship between an older and younger woman: The Girl in the Red Coat divides the narrative between Carmel and her bereft mother, Beth, in alternating chapters which chillingly chart Carmel’s abduction; Alex’s novel, In My House, examines Margaret Benson’s response to a stranger’s cry for help, and the unlooked-for consequences that arise from teenage Anja escaping her trafficker.

Under the astute chairmanship of Festival Director Marianne Lindfield, and some canny questioning from the well-informed audience, Kate and Alex divulged their approach to writing and reflected on their passage from aspiring writer to published author.

Kate described how her story started with an image that came to her late one night: a little girl in a red coat, alone in a forest. So taken was she with the desire to know more about this lost soul, she jumped out of bed and wrote the whole first chapter there and then, in one go. ‘With writing, sometimes the next step is unclear. If this happens when I’m working on a manuscript, I don’t panic. For me, it’s important to have faith that the answer will reveal itself.’ This approach has certainly worked well for Kate.

The evening came to an end all too soon, with the added bonus of having booksellers Waterstones at the event, giving us the chance to linger afterwards over book signings and refreshments before making our way happily home.

Read Kate’s short story The Cherry Stone in our anthology, The Book of Unwritten Rules.

Follow Kate on Twitter @kate_hamer.

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