Katie Bishop: The Girls of Summer

In Katie Bishop’s debut thriller The Girls of Summer  we meet Rachel, shy and desperate for adventure, whose intoxicating summer affair with an older man changes the course of her life. Exploring the dark ambiguities of control and consent, truth and lies, The Girls of Summer  is published on May 25 by Bantam.

Hi Katie! Many congratulations on the publication of your debut The Girls of Summer! How will you celebrate your big day, and what plans do you have to promote your novel and meet your readers?

Thanks so much! I’ll be having lunch with my publishing team on publication day to celebrate, and then in the evening I have an event planned at my local independent bookshop - ‘The Heath’ - in Kings Heath, Birmingham. It’s such a brilliant bookshop, I can’t imagine a better place to celebrate publication day! Then I’ll be eking the most out of publication month with a launch party a couple of weeks later with family and friends.

In terms of plans to promote the novel and meet readers, I’ve got a busy couple of weeks recording podcasts and doing interviews to spread the word about The Girls of Summer far and wide. I’m also always happy to hear from readers who’ve loved the book – connecting with book bloggers who got early copies has already been so lovely and rewarding, so hopefully there’ll be more of that to come from other readers post-publication.
What inspired you to write The Girls of Summer, and were you influenced by your experiences as a journalist?

Certainly as a journalist you’re hyperaware of cultural movements and shifts, and my journalism focused heavily on feminism, so I think that I always knew that when it came to writing my first novel I’d be drawing on some of those themes. But really my inspiration for The Girls of Summer came from life more so than my work.

I’d been thinking for a while about writing a book based around a “One That Got Away” story, and with it being lockdown, I was drawn to setting the story in a beautiful, far-flung location that felt a million miles away from being trapped indoors in the UK. At the same time, I’d been thinking a lot about stories emerging from the #MeToo movement and, in particular, conversations that I’d been having with other women about how the movement had reshaped our understanding of early romantic and sexual experiences that we were now viewing in a different light. All of these ideas really came together to form one of the central questions of The Girls of Summer: how would it feel to realise that your “One That Got Away” story wasn’t the big, life-defining romance that you remembered it as?

What came first for you – plot, characters, setting, or something completely different?

Settings are so, so important to me. I personally love to read a book with a really evocative setting, so figuring out what that setting will be in my own work is a really key way into the novel for me. I like to start with a central idea, followed by a setting, and I find that the plot and then the characters usually follow on from there. So, with The Girls of Summer, I started with the idea of a “One That Got Away” story with a #MeToo angle. I then settled on a beautiful but isolated Greek island – somewhere where there’s a sense of tremendous freedom, but also entrapment. Once I had those elements, the plot and the characters fell into place.

Your narrative is split between teenage Rachel (naïve, fully embracing the freedom of a holiday on a Greek island, and deeply embroiled in a love affair with a mysterious older man) and adult Rachel (upon whom the truth of her summer adventure gradually dawns). Which Rachel did you find the more difficult to write, and why?

They both had their own challenges! I enjoyed writing the adult Rachel most, because I felt that the slow-burning pace of that storyline really lent itself to the unfurling of her character, and I enjoyed exploring the psychological elements of memory, nostalgia and trauma as we see Rachel come to a slow realisation that that magical summer that she experienced in her youth wasn’t quite as it seems. As a reader, I really enjoy complicated, difficult female characters, so I loved writing a protagonist who is initially quite spiky and difficult to warm to, but then is gradually peeled open to us so that we leave with a greater understanding of why she is the way that she is.

Which aspects of getting published have you found the most rewarding and the most challenging, and can you tell us how you secured your agent Ariella Feiner at United Agents?

The Girls of Summer was actually the second novel that I finished, so I’d already tried to secure an agent before and not succeeded. I think that that’s always going to be one of the most challenging elements of getting published – writing is a career that inevitably comes with a lot of rejection, and I remember being completely heartbroken when I had to make the decision to scrap a project that I loved, but that ultimately wasn’t finding representation.

But, on the flip side, getting that email from an agent to say that they love your book and want to offer representation has got to be one of the best feelings ever! When I finished The Girls of Summer I submitted it to about seven agents, one of whom was Ariella. Because I’d been through the process before I didn’t necessarily have high expectations, but about 10 days after I submitted I had a flurry of interest, with a number of agents asking to read the full manuscript. Ariella read the manuscript overnight, and I got an email from her the next day to say that she loved it. She offered me representation on a video call that afternoon.
What does a typical writing day look like for you – if there is such a thing! – and would you describe yourself as a disciplined writer?

When I was writing The Girls of Summer, I had to be incredibly disciplined because I was working two jobs, so my writing time was pretty limited. I would usually get up early and write for an hour before work. It was also lockdown, which helped, because I was suddenly working from home and no longer had commute time or any social plans, so I was free to work on the novel at weekends too.

Now that I write full time I’m still figuring out my writing routine! I’ve learned that I find it hard to concentrate on writing for hours on end, so I have to mix things up a bit more. When you’re under contract there are also sometimes lengthy periods where you’re waiting for feedback and don’t necessarily have something concrete to work on all day every day, which I’ve found very hard to adjust to having always worked 8 to 5, Monday to Friday. All that to say, there really is no such thing as a typical writing day, and that’s still something that I’m trying to adjust to. I’m learning not to beat myself up if I’m not writing consistently all day every day!

What were the best and worst pieces of advice you were given as you began writing your novel?

I honestly didn’t get a great deal of writing advice when I first started writing a novel, because I didn’t really know anyone else who’d ever written a novel before! I really was going into it blind. I did, however, learn a lot from getting rejected so many times by so many agents when out on submission with my first novel – mostly about creating pace and narrative drive, which was incredibly helpful.

In some ways, I’m glad I wrote The Girls of Summer in a bit of a bubble. I’m now a bit more aware of how much writing advice there is out there, and I think it can be quite overwhelming – not to mention prescriptivist. It’s so important that you find your own voice, and learn from reading as much writing that you admire as possible. It’s amazing how much knowledge you can absorb that way.

Which novelists have inspired your writing, and what debut novels have you enjoyed recently?

When I was writing The Girls of Summer I returned repeatedly to a few books which achieved similar things to what I was hoping to achieve. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy was one that I kept coming back to as a book with an incredibly powerful and evocative setting. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, because it does such a fantastic job of creating suspense in a slow-burning story. And My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, which handles difficult topics with deftness and sensitivity.

I recently read and loved Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers – it’s so thought-provoking and propulsive at the same time, which is such a tricky balance to achieve. Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors and The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller went straight on my list of not only favourite debuts, but favourite books of all time. And a special mention to Claire Daverley, another of Ariella’s authors, whose debut novel Talking at Night comes out in July and is exceptional. I can’t wait for it to come out and for everyone to fall in love with it.

You signed a two-book deal with Transworld – what can we look forward to from you next?

I’m currently working on a second novel which I hope will have similar themes of female empowerment and solidarity – some of the ideas that I think readers have been responding to the most from The Girls of Summer.

And finally, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the Caledonia Novel Award 2024?

Don’t think – just do! Attempting to make a career out of writing really is a numbers game, and it’s about putting yourself out there as much as possible, getting as many people as you can to look at your work, and hearing the word ‘no’ lots of times (as well as hopefully, at some point, hearing the word ‘yes’!). The worst that can happen is that you polish up a submission and get some practice at showing your work to industry insiders.

      (Author photo by Desiree Adams/Penguin Random House)  
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