Editor’s Note: Kate Morton is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lake House. Her newest book The Clockmaker’s Daughter is the rich, spellbinding new novel that tells the story of a love affair and a mysterious murder that cast their shadows across generations, set in England from the 1860s until the present day. Special thanks to Sara Rattaro for this insight into what went in to the writing of Kate Morton’s The Clockmaker’s Daughter.
How did you manage to intertwine different narrative plans with such ease and without any flaws? How do you write and develop your novels?
I wrote The Clockmaker’s Daughter differently from my other novels. In the past, I have written each chapter in the same order that it appears in the published book; this time, however, I wanted the structure of the novel to support the thematic exploration of time. It was important to me from the start to show the way different layers of time had transpired within a single place. I knew up front that the novel would contain a number of short vignettes – snapshots into the lives of various residents of Birchwood Manor, the house at the novel’s heart – linked together by an over-arching first-person narrative. I wrote the historical vignettes first so that when it came time to write Birdie Bell’s story, I – like she – was privy to the experiences of all of the other characters across time. Because I wrote the past interludes simultaneously, I was better able to glimpse the silvery threads that tied them together.
One of your main themes is memory, meaning both the root of identity and the starting point to one’s life. Which part does memory play in your work? Do you think it’s a necessary instrument to figure out where we’re headed today?
Memory plays a central part in my writing because I am fascinated by the tethering together of the past and the present, and memory is one of the foremost (and most personal) ways in which we, as human beings, relate to our histories. As to figuring out where we’re heading today, it seems to me that memory – both individual and collective – is imperative. Remembering, considering and understanding that which has gone before is the single best method we have for anticipating the future and making good decisions in its order.
How was your passion for writing born and when did you decide to turn it into a profession?
I started as a reader. My mum taught me to read before I went to school, and from the moment I discovered that those black marks on white pages were actually doorways through which I could slip into other worlds, I was hooked. I read voraciously and devotedly, and it was in the quest to recapture that sensation of complete immersion that I began to write. I had studied theatre before turning my hand to writing, but the moment that I sat down and started, I knew that I had found the pursuit toward which every aspect of my life had led. I would continue to write, even if it weren’t my profession. It is the central way through which I experience, understand and appreciate the world.
The protagonists of your novels are both the characters AND the objects: a photograph, a sketch pad, a precious stone. How did you choose them? Are they part of the legends that have inspired you?
I’m so glad you feel that way. I always think of the houses in my books as characters and love that you saw the objects that way, too. My mother was an antique dealer and artist when I was growing up, and so my childhood house was filled with sketches, photographs and curious, dusty old objects. For as long as I can remember, I have been aware of – and fascinated by – the previous lives that objects led before they came to me. As a writer, such items inspire me enormously.
There was a time when writers used to play a fundamental role in society, fueling its understanding through their thoughts and ideas. Nowadays, according to you, what roles do we, as writers, play? What do we need to keep always in mind?
The novel is a form of communication that relies upon the minds of two people – the writer and the reader – coming together across time and space in order to create a unique version of a story. In such a way, novels have the ability, even when they’re read by a great many people, to make an intimate connection every time. I think this is one of the great attributes of the form; a novelist is able to share thoughts and ideas in a personal way, through telling a story, and without the need to ever lecture.
Kate Morton was born in South Australia and grew up in the mountains of south-east Queensland. She has degrees in Dramatic Art and English Literature. Kate Morton has sold over 11 million copies of her novels in thirty-four languages, across forty countries. The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper and The Lake House have all been number one bestsellers around the world. The Clockmaker’s Daughter is her sixth novel. You can find Kate on Facebook, Instagram and her website katemorton.com. Pick up her latest release, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, at your local Half Price Books or online at HPB.com.