A couple of months ago, I had the very great pleasure of interviewing Lauren Chater for a story in the April issue of Good Reading magazine. Before the interview, I read her debut novel, The Lace Weaver, and was transported in time, to a place I’ve never been — Estonia, during its occupation by Russian and German forces in the 1940s. Lauren told me that she wanted to novel to focus on the ways that women support and rely on each other during times of upheaval and trauma.
The story explores the relationship that develops between Katarina, a fiercely partisan Estonian farmer’s daughter, and Lydia, who has led a sheltered and privileged life as the daughter of a Communist Party leader, in the shadow of the Kremlin. I’m not at all surprised that the book has been received to great critical and popular acclaim since its release.
I was thrilled when Lauren accepted my invitation to provide a guest post for Shelf Aware, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading her responses to my questions as much as I did. She reveals her passion for reading and writing, shares some of her favourite titles, and provides a hint at one of her other major interests — baking book-themed cookies. Her blog, The Well-Read Cookie — Edible Art Inspired by Fiction & Folklore is a joy to read, and her Instagram posts are a visual treat, although she explains on her website that she can’t take cookie orders just now because she’s so busy with the release of her book. Perhaps you can enjoy a cuppa and a home-baked cookie or two of your own while you read her guest post.
Q. Lauren, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. I write fiction with a focus on women’s stories. I try to write the kind of books I love to read myself; books with complex characters, interesting settings and a hint of magic in them. I also love words and believe in their power to create empathy and promote change. When I’m not writing, I’m baking cookies and icing, decorating and photographing them for my blog The Well-Read Cookie, which combines my love of reading with my love of baking. In between that, I try to read as much as I can.
Q. What can you tell us about your latest writing project/book release?
A. My debut novel The Lace Weaver has just been released by Simon & Schuster. It’s an historical fiction story set in Estonia in World War II about two very different young women fighting to survive and preserve the legacy of traditional knitted lace passed down through their families. I’m currently working on my second novel, Gulliver’s Wife, which retells the story of Gulliver’s Travels through the eyes of Mary Burton, his long-suffering wife. And I’m always working on short stories, or fragments just for practise.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. I keep most of my research books in my bedroom, where my desk is, so that they’re within reach at any time! Writing historical fiction requires a lot of research as you can imagine, so I have a shelf dedicated to each book and I fill it with all the books for that subject as well as any interesting random books that might be useful. I also have a little shelf of writing advice books above my desk, so I can pluck one down at random if I’m feeling blocked and hopefully absorb the wisdom of someone far wiser than me like Margaret Atwood or Elizabeth Gilbert.
I keep my favourite fiction books out in the lounge area as I’m more likely to reach for them there. My kids also have bookshelves in their rooms filled with books they have been given by family members; my mother-in-law is a former teacher librarian so she bought them all the ‘classics’ before they were even born!Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. I arrange my books by author name and loosely by genre; eg. historical fiction, contemporary Australian, I have multiple copies of some books simply because I’m a sucker for a beautiful cover. My favourite editions are those cloth-bound ones which came out a few years ago. I haven’t got as many of them yet as I would like but I love looking at pictures on Instagram taken by people who have the full collection. I live vicariously through those people!
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. Although I love all types of books, my time is very limited with young children around so I read mostly historical, magic realism and non-fiction or reference books which will help me in my work. Occasionally, I’ll break the trend and pick up something like Graeme Simison’s The Rosie Project or Michelle de Krester’s recent book The Life to Come, just for the sheer pleasure of reading. It’s like taking a mental break and I love it.
I also love poetry and I’m finding short stories very appealing since I can read them in between doing the housework (which I’m very inconsistent with, I must admit!) I don’t feel so guilty if I’m reading a short story though and can usually stick to my self-imposed limit of one story per hour as a reward for doing the dishes or hanging out the washing.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. My favourite reading place is slightly unusual; it’s actually in the airport. Because I have young children who are often at home making noise and mess, it’s very difficult for me to find pockets of uninterrupted reading time. When they’re at school, I’m usually working on my writing so the best times for me to read are when I’m travelling. I’m one of those weirdos who arrives at the airport about five hours in advance because I hate the idea of missing a flight (it happened to me once, mortifyingly). To ensure that doesn’t happen again, I now get there early, hurry through the baggage check then go and find a cosy seat at the gate and lose myself in my book. I also enjoy reading on planes. When people complain about nine hour flights I think: are you crazy? That’s nine hours of reading time right there! I would kill for that.
Q. What books are you reading right now? Why did you choose those
books and what do you think of them so far?
A. I’m currently reading two books; an advance copy of Natasha Lester’s forthcoming historical fiction novel The Paris Seamstress, which is a dual timeline story. I loved her first book A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald and this book is proving to be just as good. I’m also reading The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff, which I know came out some time ago but I’m only just catching up! It’s incredible. Such vivid writing and such a fascinating, brave protagonist. I’m in love.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. I have so many favourite authors it’s hard to choose. The ones stand out most in my mind, though are Geraldine Brooks, Kate Forsyth, Alice Hoffman, Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Dunant, Isabel Allende, Lucy M. Boston, Neil Gaiman and Virginia Woolf.
Books… there are too many! My top three picks would have to be March by Geraldine Brooks, Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier and Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth.
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
A. I would save the first copy of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier that I ever owned, my signed copy of Stardust by Neil Gaiman (I stalked him at the Opera House to ask him to sign my book and then got so tongue-tied and starstruck I could barely tell him my name) and my original copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from the noughties which I saved for my children and read to them for the first time last year (see photo of my daughter holding it!) It was a very special moment to share it with them and they were enchanted. We have now moved onto The Chamber of Secrets.
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. What a fabulous question! I don’t know that meeting my author idols is such a good idea; I tend to get nervous and excited around authors whose work I love. So it would have to be three characters, then. Let’s see; how about Jane Eyre, Miss Havisham and Sherlock Holmes. That would be a fun party. It would be interesting, at the very least. I’d serve Jane Eyre some jam crumpets, probably unbuttered because she’s quite a serious girl. I would make Miss Havisham some cookies in the shape of wedding cakes; I’m sure she’d love them. Sherlock would probably be satisfied with some snuff which I’d serve to him in a Persian slipper. I’d ask them to tell me all the dark secrets hidden in their pasts.
Find out more about Lauren via these links: