I’m delighted to have Kathleen Jowitt in my hot seat today, chatting about new release, A Spoke in the Wheel, as part of her blog tour.
We’re chatting about Kathleen Jowitt’s inspiration for the story, finding out a little about her characters, scenes she enjoyed writing the most and more.
The first thing I saw was the wheelchair.
The first thing she saw was the doper.
Ben Goddard is an embarrassment – as a cyclist, as an athlete, as a human being. And he knows it.
Now that he’s been exposed by a positive drugs test, his race wins and his work with disabled children mean nothing. He quits professional cycling in a hurry, sticks a pin in a map, and sets out to build a new life in a town where nobody knows who he is or what he’s done.
But when the first person he meets turns out to be a cycling fan, he finds out that it’s not going to be quite as easy as that.
Besides, Polly’s not just a cycling fan, she’s a former medical student with a chronic illness and strong opinions. Particularly when it comes to Ben Goddard…
Read an extract on Kathleen Jowitt’s website.
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise A Spoke In The Wheel in 20 words or less.
Disgraced cyclist meets disabled, disappointed fan. They’re both going to have to move past their preconceptions.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
We were watching the Vuelta A España (that’s the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France) a couple of years ago when my partner remarked that professional athletes would be some of the few people who would intuitively understand the ‘spoons’ analogy of disability – because it’s all about having a sense of limited physical capacity and the need to preserve energy for when it really matters. I started wondering how that conversation might happen, and the book came from there.
Please tell us about the characters.
Ben Goddard is a professional cyclist who’s just been caught out using performance-enhancing drugs. He’s essentially good-hearted, but he’s got a lot to prove and all the self-awareness of the average house brick.
Polly Devine used to be a medical student, but ME put an end to that. She’s a cycling fan, and she isn’t impressed by what she knows of Ben. On the other hand, her friend Vicki Whitaker is an over-committed charity worker with a nasty habit of seeing people as projects – and Ben looks like a really interesting one.
What scene did you enjoy writing the most Kathleen?
Every now and again a scene just pours itself into my head and out again onto paper, and I just hang on for the ride. Those are my favourite sorts. With this book, this mostly seemed to happen with scenes where Ben was on a bike – in dreams, in a flashback, and in the finale. It’s a bit ironic, really, given how much he’s come to hate cycling.
Did you do any research? What resources did you use?
I read a lot of autobiographies by professional cyclists, and watched a whole lot of cycling… what a hardship! (It’s a good job that this household has a Eurosport subscription, that’s all I can say.)
I also had a lot of help and advice from friends who are wheelchair users themselves, and who were able to talk me through the pains and pitfalls of dealing with the British benefits system. Then they read through the manuscript and told me what I’d got wrong – and one of them took her wheelchair to bits for me to get a photo of its wheel for the front cover. I’m immensely grateful. (you have fabulous friends!) 🙂
How have you tackled the social barrier in your story Kathleen?
A Spoke in the Wheel looks at disability – specifically, chronic illness – and the experience of being disabled in Britain today. I wanted to move away from the somewhat sensationalised treatment that disability usually gets in fiction, and just show an ordinary disabled person getting on with her life. I hope I’ve succeeded in doing that.
Do you have a theme for your book covers? Who designs them?
I do my own. My day job involves a little bit of graphic design, so it’s drifted into my skillset.
My books tend to be about very different things, so the covers are very varied as well. I try to make them consistent by keeping my name in the same typeface and including some kind of circular device – a flower on the last book, Speak Its Name, and wheels on this one.
The best advice that I ever had on covers, by the way, was ‘Consider from the start that the design looks like a black and white postage stamp on a Kindle and a colour postage stamp on the phone’. It helped me keep in mind that I needed to go for high contrast and a simple design – which are not bad principles even on a full-sized book.
Do you have a favourite place you go to for inspiration or a favourite activity?
If I’m stuck, I go for a walk; I find it clears my head and helps me think things through. I think it’s something about the fact that I can’t write anything down: I just have to work the problem, or the scene, through in my mind.
Pantster or plotter?
I’m becoming more of a plotter the more I write. I spent literal years going nowhere fast with Speak Its Name before I figured out that actually what I needed to do was to work out what a satisfactory ending would look like and head in that direction.
Even with A Spoke in the Wheel, however, I was still finding that huge chunks of plot were coming to me after I’d got several thousand words down. I don’t mind – I hope my books keep on surprising me!
Finally, what has been the best part of your writing journey so far?
Last year Speak Its Name was shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize, which is awarded to the best debut novel by an author under the age of 35. It was the first self-published book ever to be recognised in that way.
Being shortlisted was a huge, wonderful, surprise, and, while I didn’t win the overall prize, I did come away with a Betty Trask Award instead. Self-publishing can be very lonely, and it’s been wonderful to have been given that credibility. Every writer has to learn how to stop caring what other people think about their writing – but it becomes an awful lot easier when you know that someone whose opinion you respect has judged yours as being worth reading! (Kathleen has recently used her prize Interailing around Europe – check out Kathleen’s Instagram)
Thank you for being my guest today.
Wishing you success with all your writing projects Kathleen.
Kathleen Jowitt was born in Winchester, UK, and grew up deep in the Welsh Marches and, subsequently, on the Isle of Wight. After completing her undergraduate degree in English Literature at the University of Exeter she moved to Guildford and found herself working for a major trade union. She now lives in Cambridge, works in London, and writes on the train.
Her first novel, Speak Its Name, was the first self-published book ever to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize.
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