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Kate Atkinson interview about LIFE AFTER LIFE - Random Book Talk

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Published on Jun 12, 2013

Find out more about LIFE AFTER LIFE at www.randomhouse.com.au/atkinson

LIFE AFTER LIFE is Kate Atkinson's stunning new novel, about a woman who lives through the most turbulent events of the 20th century, including the London Blitz, and which asks: What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

Available now.

Transcript available below:

Brett: Today I'm thrilled to have bestselling author Kate Atkinson in the studio; much-loved author of the Jackson Brodie series of books and her latest international book seller, LIFE AFTER LIFE. LIFE AFTER LIFE, your latest book, has I think reached number three on the New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for several weeks and it's been a bestseller in the UK and Australia and New Zealand. What is it about LIFE AFTER LIFE that you think is really connecting with readers? It seems to be finding a new audience.

Kate: If I knew that I would bottle it and all my books would... it's, I don't know. I think it is a combination of all the things that you want in a novel; so it's character and it's plot and it has an interesting structure. It has quite a high-concept structure because the heroine dies and comes back to life and dies and comes back to life. I'm not giving anything away by saying that and I think that's quite unusual. I didn't particularly think it was unusual when I was writing it but since I have been told it is and I think it's got a very interesting time frame because it's basically from 1910 to 1942 so it covers the same world war and people are continually fascinated by the war, particularly in the UK and I think in America too—they didn't know that much about the Blitz so I think that's opened up something historical there for them but I don't really know. I think it's a likeable book. When I wrote Behind the Scenes at the Museum I knew it was a likeable book. You just know sometimes and I knew when I was writing this that it was likeable. It's very hard to explain that because it sounds very general and vague but there's something about it that people take to their hearts.

Brett: It's interesting, our conversations in the office are about this concept of Ursula dying at the end of every chapter and coming back and that exploration of death and with each life she goes further out into the 20th century and it's a very interesting period of time so the starts in 1910, before the First World War and then goes through—
Kate: Well I didn't realise that I would spend that much time writing that period of the book. A huge amount of the book is before the war even though I intended to write about the war. I didn't realize that I would like the 1920's so much for example, even the 1930's or even the 1910 period. I think I've always liked that period particularly but I had never really written about it.

Brett: . What was that process like, to explore death in all of its facets?

Kate: I will sound like a really cold author, but really I wasn't exploring death I was just using the structure. It was only as I got going that I became more interested in the kind of slightly existential element because I was just really just concerned to get her to certain places all the time and that involved her dying. It was only later on that I began the greater poignancy of that but I did come very off-hand about killing her. I did have a moment later on when I thought, have I run out of ways to kill her? But I kept doing the same thing over and over again. She dies a great deal more in the first third of the book than she does the rest of the book. It's not entirely all death, but I was concerned to get the reader to understand the process and I think that's why she dies so much, but I do become very offhand at the end of the Spanish flu epidemic, it's just, there's she goes again. Several readers have said to me, did you not feel awful every time you killed her off? And I'd be like, no. But also I know she's never dead, which is the great beauty of fiction because only in fiction are we never dead.

Brett: Did you enjoy writing?

Kate: I did and I don't often enjoy writing books. I enjoyed writing Behind the Scenes and I enjoyed Case Histories and the stories in Not the End of the World but it's been a while. The Jackson books weren't enjoyable to write. The Jackson Brodie books were complicated to plot so I was never getting a narrative flow going. I was always going back to put things in and move things around and it became more like a jigsaw puzzle than writing a book. So I felt a great release when I was writing this. I enjoyed every minute. I really missed it when I finished it. I could have gone on writing it forever, I think. Just the way the book goes on forever, I could have gone on forever.

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