An Indies Introduce Q&A with Kathryn Bromwich

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Kathryn Bromwich, author of "At the Edge of the Woods"Kathryn Bromwich is the author of At the Edge of the Woods, a Summer/Fall 2023 Indies Introduce selection.

Kathryn Bromwich is a writer and commissioning editor on The Observer newspaper in London. She writes about all aspects of culture, including music, film, TV, books, art and more, and has contributed to publications including Little White Lies, Dazed, Vice, Time Out and The Independent. She has lived in Italy, Austria and the UK and is currently based in east London. At the Edge of the Woods is her debut novel.

Mallory Melton of BookPeople in Austin, Texas, served on the panel that selected Bromwich’s debut for Indies Introduce. Melton said of the book, “Intense and hazy, At the Edge of the Woods is a feverishly captivating combination of nature writing and character study. As Laura becomes increasingly connected to the woods around her, the reader can’t help but to be drawn into her orbit, to see things the way that she does.”

Here, Melton and Bromwich discuss At the Edge of the Woods.

Mallory Melton: Your novel explores so many themes, from the climate crisis, to class, to infertility and traditional femininity. What motivated you to write about these things?

Kathryn Bromwich: Writing is a way for me to work through what’s going on in my life and the world around me, to categorise and analyse feelings that otherwise feel unmanageable and confused. My therapist recommended writing as a way of externalising thoughts rather than trying to suppress them, and I found it a very effective exercise in terms of giving an outlet to the things that were going through my mind. While it is very much not an autobiographical book, it is rooted in emotional truth, set within a fictional framework. I didn’t plan on writing about any particular issues: the idea started with a character and the situation she found herself in, and as I wrote I discovered more about her and why she was where she was. I found that certain themes and preoccupations from the real world would keep creeping into the story, weaving through the background against which the main plot took place. I don’t believe any writing can exist divorced from its sociopolitical context, but you also have to be careful that it doesn’t overwhelm the work or turn it into a manifesto of the author’s belief system.

MM: What books or authors influenced you while you were writing At the Edge of the Woods?

KB: So many. Because of the themes in the book I was drawn to the mystical, strange texts of Angela Carter, JG Ballard’s early work that elides the distinction between utopia and dystopia, and the visionary poetry of William Blake (I was particularly interested in John Higgs’s William Blake vs the World, which looks at his art and writing in the context of neuroscience and quantum physics). I was heavily influenced by the neurotic, very specifically female inner monologues of Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at the Wedding and Shirley Jackson; more recently, I loved the works of Claire-Louise Bennett (although I only read Pond when I had almost finished writing my book) and Madeline Miller’s otherworldly and almost hallucinatory retellings of Greek myths. I was also meditating a lot at the time of writing, and found the Upanishads incredibly enlightening for their nature imagery, spiritual teachings and focus on the interconnectedness of all things.

MM: Was your writing process for this novel different from how you approach writing nonfiction? How does it vary?

KB: Completely different in some ways, very similar in others. The novel is a collection of my thoughts, feelings, dreams and fears refracted through my various influences and particular obsessions, which is very much not how I approach non-fiction. With journalism you have to follow a house style and particular conventions, and the focus is on your subject. You are a lens for the reader to see through; you almost have to disappear — I personally find it quite irritating when journalists try to insert themselves into the story unless it’s absolutely necessary. With novels it’s the opposite: the more of yourself you reveal, the granular specifics of what makes you “you,” the more compelling the writing usually is. But nonfiction is probably good training in terms of learning how to edit your work (on your own and with your editors), telling stories in engaging and well-structured ways, and making sure your writing is clear and truthful.

MM: Were there any songs or artists that inspired you when writing At the Edge of the Woods? Do you have a favorite writing playlist? 

KB: I love music, but unfortunately I can’t write with anything on in the background except white noise. I really envy people who can write while listening to specially curated playlists based on different characters to get themselves in the right mood. I’m much too easily distracted. But if I were to create a playlist of some of the music that informed the writing, it might include the following: Weyes Blood, especially some of the imagery on her ethereal and cinematic Titanic Rising; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Murder Ballads, for its gothic sensibilities and unhinged narrators (such as on O’Malley’s Bar); the dramatic, fable-like folk songs of Italian rocker Fabrizio De André. And anything Mitski has ever touched. 

MM: Something I loved so much about your book is how intimately I came to know and understand Laura; did you feel close to her while writing? What inspired you to center her in this story? 

KB: I did feel close to her, and also quite protective. I wanted to tell the story of someone who starts off fairly passive, without much agency, and by small increments starts to become surer of herself, more independent, before things start to become stranger and less controlled. In the later parts of the novel I found her transformation thrilling to write, although when I was going through it again recently for edits I did worry about her a bit. Essentially I wanted to write about someone who finds the strength to live outside of society’s expectations  what effect that might have on her and how she might react to her new situation. Although it ends somewhere quite extreme I hoped to show how someone relatively sane and rational might gradually become detached from reality in a way readers could understand. Hopefully they’ll go on that journey with her. 

At the Edge of the Woods by Kathryn Bromwich (Two Dollar Radio, 9781953387318, Hardcover Fiction, $26) On Sale: 6/6/2023.

To learn more about the author, check out her Twitter @kathryn42.

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