February 2017 | by Carl Marsh
Katie, your debut novel Hold Back The Stars is a love story like no other as it is set in Space, with your two main characters being trapped with only 90 minutes of air left. What did you create first, the story or the actual World the book is set in?
I’ve always been fascinated by space and frequently run outside to see the International Space Station pass overhead, so my first idea for a story was imagining a couple falling through the stars. I knew I didn’t quite have enough for a whole novel, though I loved the idea, when a few months later the country took on an electric feel during the London 2012 Olympic Games and I thought it would be brilliant to write a version of Europe that felt like that all the time. It was then I decided to alternate Hold Back The Stars between space and a futuristic European utopia.
Would you say that character is more important to you than genre?
The human element of any story is the part that is most relatable and significant, giving you someone to root for (or rile against), but I would also say that plot can be more important than both – what happens to those characters? What do they go through? Why? Whenever I read a novel that focuses on an in-depth character study, I’m often desperate for something like an alien apocalypse to break out, to shake the characters from their day-to-day and show what they’d really be like under pressure.
Carys and Max are the characters in question, so if you had to become Carys, in the situation that she is in, who would you want to be Max, and for what reason?
Gosh. If I was falling through space with only ninety minutes of air remaining, I would like to be falling either with my best friend Katy, as she makes me laugh even on the worst days; or with a brilliant astronaut who might be able to save us; or with my little dog Marley, to cuddle right at the end. Though I wouldn’t want to doom anyone (especially a Chihuahua) to my fate!
What motivated you to write Hold Back The Stars?
I’ve always loved stories about small, flawed characters fighting against a world much bigger than them, often against an epic backdrop like war, or a dystopian society. Novels like Birdsong, Atonement, The Hunger Games, or His Dark Materials. I like stories where the characters are in love (or fighting to be in love!) but without the writing of a schmaltzy romance – and I wasn’t seeing that in science fiction much, either on screen or on the page.This motivated me to write the story exactly as I wanted it to be. It’s a total thrill that just as Hold Back The Stars is published, we’re also getting films like Arrival, which has that element of heartbreak along with the bigger questions of time and the universe… as well as a female lead.
Did you get pressured when writing it, or did it come naturally to you?
The biggest pressure was to keep going! I think there’s a point, about 30k words in, where an author feels they are running out of steam, as well as confidence. Getting to the end of the first draft is a game-changer for any writer. Finally you know, no matter what, you can do it. You can write an entire story.
Would I be correct in saying that you have a certain system of writing, such as waking up at 6am, write at 7am till 8am, then get back to writing in the evening?
I work full-time for a film company, so my days are pretty hectic from the morning until the late evening. I tend to get home at around 8pm, have dinner and relax for a little bit with my boyfriend and chat about our days, then hit my desk from 10pm until midnight to write. My advice is always to do whatever works for you, but the routine of sitting down each day and going regularly back into the world you’re creating is helpful in maintaining momentum.
Hold Back The Stars in incredibly cinematic, was this your intention to make sure it was from the start?
As a writer I tend to recall scenes by a distinctive visual, so when I’m piecing together the plot in my mind I remember ‘there’s a scene with a light-up dancefloor… then a scene with a meteor shower… an ancient, crumbling dam…’ I think this style of writing lends itself to a cinematic feel.
Did you depend on your loved ones and friends to challenge your ideas when writing this book?
Absolutely not. I wrote the story I wanted to write, and didn’t ask for outside input until the first draft was done. I took the Faber Academy 6-month Novel Writing Course while I was writing the novel, and it was helpful to gauge reactions to the overall story and characters, but if you receive feedback too early it can push you in the wrong direction. It’s best to go crazy with your own idea first and then seek outside counsel when you have it down on the page.
Have you always had a powerful imagination?
Very. If I’m stressed, I tend to have anxiety dreams about shadows, magic and villains coming for me in the night. It can be quite exhausting! When I first met my boyfriend, we walked along the river Thames, and I asked him what he’d do if aliens erupted out of the water… Part of the idea of Hold Back the Stars was to explore what people would do, when facing the potential end. It’s something I’m fascinated by.
What has been the main help that has allowed you to be where you are in your life right now?
The love and support of my family, even when I make mistakes.
There is a dinner party in the early chapters of the book, so if you were at a dinner party, and had to invite a dead author, a living but well established author and lastly an author who has only written one book (so far), who would they be and the what would you want to talk about that would raise the temperature?
Oooh, I like this! I’d like to invite F Scott Fitzgerald, Philip Pullman, and Emma Cline. I’d ask Scott Fitzgerald how much of his novels were written by Zelda; I’d ask Philip Pullman for his opinions on the role of the church, as I’d love to hear that directly rather than in inflammatory press articles; and, finally, I’d ask Emma Cline about the pressures of being a teenage girl. I’m excited for this dinner party already!