If historical, extraordinary telling fiction is your thing, then this weekend is your chance to meet one of the genre’s most talented authors, as Saturday 27th February will see local writer Kate Riordan appearing at Stroud Bookshop between 11am and 12.30pm.
There to sign copies of her latest book, The Shadow Hour (Penguin £7.99), Kate is no stranger to historical fiction. Her first novel, The Girl in the Photograph was published in January last year to critical acclaim, with the Sunday Express describing the story as 'a prickly story full of tension'. In fact, so sweeping and haunting is Kate’s writing that her books have been labelled as perfect for fans of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.
So what of Kate? Well, a writer and journalist, Kate started out as an editorial assistant at the Guardian, no less, followed by a stint as deputy editor for the lifestyle section of Time Out. She now works as a freelance writer, as well of course creating amazing, best selling novels. So, I asked Kate just what her new novel, The Shadow Hour is all about. Said Kate, “The book is a dual narrative, Gothic mystery, set in a big crumbling house on the outskirts of Cheltenham. The two strands of the story are told by Harriet and her granddaughter Grace. We first meet Harriet in 1878, when she’s in her early twenties and just about to become governess to the daughters of the Pembridge family. Nearly half a century later, Harriet’s granddaughter Grace finds herself about to take up the same position for the same family. There are lies and secrets a-plenty!”
In fact, it’s this mystery the era in which Kate writes so beautifully that forms such an interesting plot premise. When asked why, amid the modernity of today’s lifestyle, she wrote her new book, Kate said, “I still lived in Cheltenham when I started the book and I wanted to set a book in a house hidden away on Leckhampton Hill. I also wanted to write a story about governesses. Although they crop up in literature occasionally – most famously in Jane Eyre, of course, which I reference in my story – they were almost invisible in Victorian society.”
Indeed, it’s this Victorian society and beyond which forms the backdrop of her story-lines. “Most of the governesses came from good, respectable families that didn't have much money, and this meant that they fell between two stools – higher than the servants and lower than the family. In a story with some Gothic elements, they’re the perfect heroine because they’re so isolated and vulnerable, as Harriet – the book’s heroine - in particular turns out to be.”
It’s the influences, not only of time, but of location and, of course, our glorious Gloucestershire county, that have had a significant creative impact on Kate. “It’s more the wider county of Gloucestershire that influences me,” she said. “My first novel for Penguin, The Girl in the Photograph, was set in a fictionalised version of Owlpen Manor, near Uley, and this second novel is obviously set near Cheltenham. I love the landscape in this part of the world – the hills and valleys, the greens and golds – I’ve lived in quite a few places and this is easily the most beautiful. I love the industrial history of the place too, and find it fascinating that we have the rapid decline of the cloth trade to thank (in part) for such gorgeous villages – because there wasn't enough money around for people to rebuild in later fashions.”
Talking to her, it’s clear just why where we live influences Kate so much, and not only that, but how it shapes just how she shops – including at our local book stores. Indeed that, for Kate, is something, not only very dear to her heart, but calming, too. “I've always found bookshops such restful places to be, especially independent ones. You can almost feel your blood pressure going down as soon as you step inside! It’s lovely to build up a relationship with your local bookshop and as a reasonably new arrival to this area – I live in Chalford – I'm looking forward to getting to know Stroud Bookshop even better.”
So, if you fancy a step back in time this weekend – and a calm one at that – then Saturday 27th February at Stroud Bookshop is the place to be, and Kate will be ready to meet you. Kate and, of course, her haunting historical characters. Governess stern-like stares optional.