Joining me today for a turn in the Author Spotlight is Edinburgh based author Kirsti Wishart. Her novel The Knitting Station was published by Rymour Books earlier this year. Thanks for joining me Kirsti. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
I’d be happy to and thank you for shining the Portobello Book blog spotlight on me! My name’s Kirsti Wishart and technically I qualify as a teuchter having been born in Inverness and spent my first ten years in Forres before my dad, who was in the RAF, was posted down to Fife. After gaining a Ph.D from St Andrews so long ago it’s probably time expired, I moved to Edinburgh and have loved wandering about here ever since. When not living the action-packed life of a civil servant, I write short stories and novels.
What inspired you to start writing?
My primary 5 teacher, the lovely Mrs Kay, would get us every fortnight to write a short story with the chance of it being read out to the class on a Friday afternoon. Having one of mine chosen – it featured a flying carpet I seem to remember – I got a taste of the stardom and glory writing can bring and it’s been slowly downhill ever since!
Tell me about your journey to publication
As with most authors, it’s been fairly long and tortuous, a mix of thrawn persistence and sheer blind luck, featuring getting an agent, losing an agent and a few near misses with publishers. Although The Knitting Station is the first of my novels to be published, it’s the third one I’ve written with Rymour Books picking it up after I’d got in touch via twitter. That was with the proposal for a book that’s yet to be written and had been turned down by another publisher proving just how random the publication process can be. Rejection can potentially leading to a positive result if you just keep going. Ian Spring, the editor at Rymour, had been aware of my previous work in The One O’Clock Gun, a literary freesheet, and The Seven Wonders of Scotland anthology and so was happy to take me on. Sometimes writers can feel as though their sending their work out to be met with deafening silence so it’s good to discover you’re actually quietly building up an audience that could be eager for more.
In a nutshell, what is your book about?
It’s set in the early 1960s and features lesbians, knitting, lots of sheep and some hallucinogenic stovies (what more could you want!). Hannah Richards, a former Bletchley Park code-breaker recovering from a nervous breakdown is sent with a group of patients to the remote island of Tharn, famed for its knitwear, to undergo a form of knitting therapy. She begins to suspect the island is being invaded by Russian agents but can’t be sure if this is a symptom of her condition or a dangerous reality. It’s been described variously as ‘John Buchan on mushrooms’ and ‘Nancy Drew meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ My own description is ‘Scooby Doo on too much Irn Bru’, a daft novel for daft times.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
I find listening stations – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Listening_station – fascinating, nations eavesdropping on one another, often in buildings that look as though they should feature in a British sci-fi film from the 1950s. In my work I like to explore the tension that comes about when you set what appear to be opposites next to each other, the cosy and familiar with the fantastic and strange (as perhaps demonstrated in my story about feral carousels – https://glasgowreviewofbooks.com/2018/10/31/carousels-of-paris-a-short-story-by-kirsti-wishart/). So the idea of combining knitting with international espionage made perfect sense.
How did you celebrate publication day?
I had a Zoom launch which was terrifying beforehand and fantastic during (the champagne may have helped). It did feel like some kind of bizarre fever dream with friends, colleagues, family and strangers floating up in wee boxes before me but it did mean that people who might not have been able to make it along otherwise were able to share in the joy of getting a book out into the world.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I do, a novel called Hedgewitch and the Burryman, an urban fantasy about the Green Man getting up to all sorts of mischief in Edinburgh. The next novel to be published, however, will hopefully be The Projectionist. It’s about a small seaside town obsessed by cinema and how it’s affected by the visit of an internationally renowned film critic who many thought was either dead or imaginary.
What one book would you recommend to a friend and why?
It would be Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, an excellent treasure trove of ideas and inspiration. If that friend was a writer it would remind them of what draws us to writing in the first place, the sheer pleasure and fun in making stuff up. If they weren’t a writer, it would undoubtedly encourage them to discover the solace and entertainment creating stories can bring.
What are you reading just now?
I’ve just been on leave for the past fortnight and finished Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace by Olga Wojtas, a comedy treat and ideal holiday reading (I highly recommend Olga’s Bunburry series written under the pseudonym Helena Marchmont which proved a real balm during lock-down, as comforting as a warm scone). In a mild contrast, I’ve also been reading fellow Rymour author T.A. Stewart’s Scottish Canal Crimes: Murder and Mayhem on Scotland’s Towpaths 1800-1950, a fascinating historical account of the bleak, bloody and bizarre incidents that took place at sites that people now blithely cycle past or walk their dog.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
If I was on a desert island I would love to be reminded of the city and so would take along Ben Katchor’s Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay. Katchor is a cartoonist who captures perfectly the surreal and melancholy fringes of city life.
Is there a book you’d love to see made into a film?
I have to admit, I’d love to see mine made as a modern day Ealing comedy as it was strongly inspired by such films as Whisky Galore! and Went the Day Well. The novel’s cast features an East End starlet called Elsie Brixton and it would be great to see her brought to life by someone channelling Barbara Windsor in her hey-day. Not sure who would play Bette the Sheep though…Frank Oz perhaps?
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
You can follow me @kirstiw.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
Lionel Essrog in Johnathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. As whilst being a detective with Tourette’s would undoubtedly prove exhausting, certain obsessive qualities of his would prove weirdly familiar…
Amazon buying link : The Knitting Station
Ebook available on Google Play: The Knitting Station
Rymour Books buying link: The Knitting Station