Q&A: Katherine Towler

There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state. As the Director of the NH Center for the Book  I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers. 

Katherine Towler
If someone hasn't read your work yet, where should they start?
My novels are a trilogy, so the best place to start is with the first volume, Snow Island.  The next two books are titled Evening Ferry and Island Light. Together the books span the 1940s to the 1990s on a small New England island, telling the stories of two generations in two island families and the impact of the wars of the 20th century on the island community.  I have also published a collection of interviews with poets, which I co-edited with Ilya Kaminksy, titled A God in the House: Poets Talk About Faith. 

When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
I began writing poems when I was ten, and before long, I was carrying a notebook around with me everywhere.  At thirteen, I declared I would be a poet when I grew up, but I turned out to be more of a fiction writer.  I really began to imagine being a writer when I started reading on my own at seven or eight, though.  I wanted to do nothing else but curl up with a book most of the time. 

How did you end up living in NH?
I came to New Hampshire in 1989 when I received the writer-in-residence fellowship at Phillips Exeter Academy.  I lived at the school for a year and worked on the manuscript that would become my first novel.  I met my husband, who was living in Boston, that year.  When he got a job in Portsmouth a year later, I returned to NH with him and have been here ever since. 

Where do you like to write?
I write at home - in my office on the second floor or at the dining room table, where I have a wonderful view of South Mill Pond out the window. I like to be alone and surrounded by silence when I'm working, so the downtown cafe is not for me. 

How important is place in your writing?
One reader said that the main character of my trilogy was the island itself. I hadn't quite thought of it in those terms, but the place and the nature of island life were where I began in imagining the stories and characters. Place is central to much of my writing. I have to be anchored in the setting first. I love books that bring a place fully to life and strive to do this in my own work. 

What do you you do when you aren't writing?
I recent years I have become a passionate bird-watcher. The great thing about birding is that you can do it anywhere, any time of the year, in any weather. When I can make the time, I'm out walking with my binoculars in wildlife refuges and trails in the woods. This past year I saw 322 bird species (a trip to southern California boosted my numbers). I also enjoy photography, something I took up as a teenager. I'm now learning digital photography. In the spring and summer, my husband and I plant a large vegetable garden.  We spend lots of time canning and freezing all that good food.

What's the best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?

Most advice for living a better life seems to apply to writing, too. I frequently find myself thinking about these connections. Being more accepting of myself and others is something that makes for a more harmonious life. Being more accepting of my limitations and achievements as a writer makes me a better writer. The best advice I have received recently came in a sermon from an Episcopal priest, who said we should think about our lives in terms of abundance rather than scarcity. As Americans, we have so much, but we fall into the trap of thinking about what we don't have, something our capitalist culture reinforces. Recognizing how much we have, and sharing it, and learning to be happy with less - this is what the priest was advising us to do.

What books do you love?

I love so many books that it is hard to pick just a few.  I love Willa Cather for her evocation of place and her stunning language. I love Edith Wharton for her strong characters and compelling stories. Others, in no particular order, include Truman Capote, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Tim O'Brien, Alice Munro, Alistair MacLeod, and Marguerite Duras. And all the great 19th century novelists! And poets through the ages!

What are you working on now?

I have just completed a memoir tentatively titled The Penny Poet, about my friendship with the late poet, Robert Dunn. The book is about Portsmouth, as well, and my journey in understanding myself as a writer. At the end of Robert's life, I was involved in helping to care for him, and the book tells the story of what happened to both of us as a result.   

What else do you want to share?

New Hampshire has such a strong writing community and so many fine writers.  It has been a great place for me to settle down at last and to find my place as a writer.
Learn more about Katherine Towler's work at www.katherinetowler.com.

No comments: