Welcome back for the second part of our interview with Karen Katchur and Stephanie Butland! If you missed part one you can read it here.
Also, if you haven’t yet heard, we are partnering with the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance (SIBA) next month to host Triangle Reads, a first-of-it’s-kind readers event in Raleigh, North Carolina. We hope you’ll come, and that you’ll bring your book club as well, so we can finally have a chance to meet you in person. The ticket price (all proceeds benefit SIBA) includes lunch, a $22 voucher to buy books, and an afternoon spent with two dozen of the most amazing authors you’ll ever meet.
Karen: The book was originally released with the title SURROUNDED BY WATER. What was the reason for changing the title to THE SECRETS WE KEEP?
Stephanie: Ah, that’s only the half of it! ‘Surrounded by Water’ was the original UK hardback title in the UK. It was my title; I thought it was beautiful and poetic and would make elegant sense to readers when they’d finished the book. When my UK publishers were looking at the paperback publication they pointed out, very gently, that maybe a title that makes sense after you’ve read it might not make a lot of sense, marketing-wise! So they changed the paperback title to ‘Letters To My Husband’. Meanwhile the German title translates as ‘The Truth Of The Water’, and the US decided on ‘The Secrets We Keep’! My second novel, which is out in October in the UK, is called ‘The Other Half Of My Heart’ – but it had at least six titles before we fixed on that one. I’m going to stick to what’s inside the covers from now on and leave the outside to publishers!
Karen: What was the inspiration for writing this book?
Stephanie: After writing two memoirs about my dance with cancer, I really wanted to try my hand at fiction. I started on a comic novel about a committee but got stuck. The feedback I got on that was that the standout element was the letters Elizabeth wrote to her dead husband and so I started again from there. It took a few goes to find the story, but I enjoyed every stage.
Karen: The image of water is a significant theme throughout the book. What made you choose water as a theme or was it something that came out organically while you writing the story?
Stephanie: Water is such a powerful thing. It cleans us, it sustains us, it’s a danger to us, we think it can be controlled and then it bursts banks and wrecks our worlds. You could say the same things about love and grief; water felt like the perfect image for Elizabeth’s journey.
Karen: You previously described your writing as emotionally intelligent. It absolutely is. The grief experienced by each of your characters was as individualized as the characters themselves. What type of research helped you identify the way your characters grieved or did that come straight from the characters themselves?
Stephanie: I think it came from the characters. Elizabeth grieves the way she does partly from the directness of her loss, of course, but also because she is far from her native home and has lost the thing that anchored her to the world she’s living in. Kate is young and has only the coping strategy of the teenage girl: close your bedroom door, cry, take it out on your parents, ignore things and hope they will go away. Patricia has experienced deep grief before and so she recognizes it and allows it to walk alongside her, with a spirit of endurance, without fuss. Michael’s colleague Blake is stoic about loss but it has a quiet, transformative effect on him and his life – you’ll see more of that in the next book!
Karen: What do you want your readers to take away from THE SECRETS WE KEEP?
Stephanie: That’s a really good question! I didn’t write it with a moral in mind but I suppose it’s about remembering that everything we do, however thoughtless or insignificant at the time, can have repercussions later. Life is complicated. Books like mine and yours help us to explore and remember that.
Karen: Two of your characters meet over pumpkin jam. I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds delicious. Do you have a favorite recipe for pumpkin jam that you could share with us?
Stephanie: In the UK we are terrible with pumpkins – we only really use them to make Halloween lanterns and, if we’re brave, we might make the innards into soup. I think the characters joke about it because it’s out of the ordinary! So no, I don’t have a recipe – but I do have one for the ginger cake mentioned at the same point in the story. It’s my mother’s recipe and it really is delicious. (So delicious that it turns up in the second book too, eaten for breakfast, spread with butter!)
Helen Breeze’s Gingerbread
You will need:
2 sticks of butter
1 1/4 (one and a quarter) cups of soft brown sugar
8 tablespoons of light corn syrup (we use Golden Syrup in the UK but I don’t think it crosses the Atlantic!)
4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 heaped tablespoon ground ginger
3 level teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 beaten eggs
10 fl oz warm milk
2 level teaspoons baking soda
Baking pan 7 inches square and 3 inches deep, base lined with baking parchment. (The mixture is very runny so you will need a solid pan, not a loose-bottomed one.)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Farenheit/ gas mark 3.
Melt the butter, sugar and light corn syrup together in a pan, gently, over a low heat.
In a large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, ginger and cinnamon.
Add the melted ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.
Add the eggs, warm milk and baking soda and mix well.
The mixture will be very runny – that’s OK!
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for an hour and a half.
Leave it to cool in the tin.
Store in an airtight tin.
(Also freezes well.)
* * *
Mike always walks the dog in the evening while Elizabeth relaxes in the bathtub―but one night he doesn’t come back. Mike has drowned while saving a teenage girl named Kate, his dog standing on the bank barking frantically as the police pull his body from the water.
But despite her husband being lauded as a hero, Elizabeth can’t wrap her mind around the fact that Mike is gone―and Kate won’t reveal the details of what really happened that night.
Elizabeth finds herself facing the unfathomable possibility that she may not have known her husband at all. Does she really want to know the truth? Or will the weight of Mike’s secrets pull her under?