Today I find myself in the enviable position of having to introduce my co-blogger and good friend, Kate Allison. As one of the founding members of the Displaced Nation, she needs no introduction to our regular readers, many of whom are as awestruck as I am at her ability to churn out well-c
rafted, entertaining episodes of Libby’s Life week after week, month after month.
For the uninitiated: Kate’s stories center on Libby Patrick, a thirty-something stay-at-home mum who has trailed her spouse, Oliver, from their native UK to Woodhaven, Massachusetts—a small New England town that, in Libby’s own words, “makes Stepford look like inner city gangland.” The Patricks live there with their three small children: preschooler Jack and infant twins, Beth and George. (At one point they also had a dog, Fergus—don’t ask.)
Libby keeps a diary of her expat adventures, and during the past two years, Kate has churned out a whopping 76 entries, an average of three per month.
In consequence, a number of us (even those who aren’t trailing spouses with families) have become certified Libby addicts—always looking forward to the next installment!
If we need a “fix” between episodes, we can go to Kate’s companion site dedicated to Libby and all things Woodhaven, where not only do we receive more information about Libby and the characters she encounters in Woodhaven, but we can also read additional posts from the other characters’ points of view!
And now there is another exciting development: Kate has just self-published the first year of Libby’s expat life in a single volume, Libby’s Life: Taking Flight. I highly recommend this aggregated version to anyone who is new to the Libby phenomenon…
And you’ll never guess what? We are giving away two copies!!! (Details below.)
But before we get to that, let’s visit with Kate and find out more about her. Having visited with her non-virtually, I can report that she really does live in a small New England town similar to Woodhaven.
What inspired her to create the lovely and loveable Libby, and what possessed her (I don’t think it’s too strong an expression) to commit herself to the potential folly of writing a novel online? Her temerity cannot be underestimated, I think you’ll agree…
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Why did you decide to write a book about a trailing spouse, and how long have you been at this?
I first started “Libby’s Life” on my own blog (now extinct) just before Displaced Nation launched, a little over two years ago. I published three episodes there, and then transferred Libby to The Displaced Nation.
Libby didn’t start out as a book; she started out as a fiction blog because I found it difficult to blog about my personal life which, frankly, isn’t very interesting to anyone else. It’s easier for me to mesh snippets of facts into the fictitious world of Woodhaven. I was uncomfortable writing about my own family members—just because I like writing doesn’t give me the right to invade their privacy—but every now and then, certain incidents in Libby have happened in real life.
For example, when my son was a toddler, he was obsessed with toy cars, just as Jack is now. And the episode about Winter Storm Alfred, when Libby loses power for several days because of a freak snowstorm at Halloween, is based on a real situation. We were without power for four days ourselves after that same storm.
Fortunately, unlike Libby, we don’t have a man-eating landlady who lets herself into our house to sniff my husband’s sweatshirts.
Have you found out anything new about yourself, your own feelings of displacement, in the process?
Libby is at the beginning of her displacement journey. I’m quite a few years ahead of her, and have had to trawl through old memories to imagine how she would feel in certain situations. So the fact that I have to do that suggests I’m not terribly displaced anymore and I’ve come further than I thought.
Turning to Libby, what is her most displaced moment?
Probably when they first moved into their temporary apartment, next to a Limey-hating NRA supporter who liked shooting air soft pellets at the rhododendrons in the back garden. Poor Libs! She was quite traumatized. And also last year, when she went back to England for the first time and everything felt foreign—a reversed displacement.
What is her least displaced moment?
I think it was fairly recently, when she met Willow Reeves. Willow is from Brooklyn, very no-nonsense. She’s the first American friend Libby has made outside the expat Coffee Morning Posse, that hasn’t been via an introduction. It’s a sign that Libs is starting to fit in.
According to a recent article in the business section of the New York Times, serialized fiction, where episodes are delivered to readers in scheduled installments much like episodes in a television series, has been the subject of an unusual amount of experimentation in publishing in recent months. You seem to be ahead of the game in that respect. What have you learned from your two-year-long experiment?
I’m amazed at the number of people who do seem to follow the episodes, and yes, it is like a TV soap opera. I think Aisha at Expatlog commented a while ago that it filled the EastEnders void for her. But I didn’t intend it to be like that when I first started, envisaging instead a few blog posts dealing with certain aspects of moving abroad. I certainly hadn’t envisaged me still doing it two years later.
The main thing it’s taught me is that when I have to write a story because I’m on the Displaced Nation schedule to do so, I can do it. Novelist Peter De Vries famously said:
I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.
It doesn’t matter what type of writer you are—his philosophy is a good one.
What has been the most challenging part of the book-writing process?
Thinking up new topics for story lines. Every now and then I’ll put out a plea for ideas. A friend of mine jokingly said she’d like to see headlice as a Libby topic, and lo! There were headlice.
I now keep track of all the characters and story lines on a timeline program. I can see the last time a character came in, in which story line, in which episode, and I can plan ahead.
Theoretically, anyway. My actual way of planning is to sit in front of the blank screen and panic about a post that’s due in two days’ time. But I’m getting better. I even know what is going to happen in September.
What made you decided to publish the first year of Libby’s Life as a book?
I ended Libby’s Life: Taking Flight ends with Libby’s first Christmas in the United States because that was a natural break in the story. Libs had just started to spread her expat wings at that point, hence Taking Flight.
What do you intend to follow it up with?
The next one will be called Cargo Hold. Well, she’s pregnant with the twins, you see.
What audience do you intend for the Libby books?
It probably falls in the unflattering genre of “hen lit” — chick lit for the more mature woman. It seems most popular with women from thirty onwards, but then again, a friend of mine, a man who is now in his 70s, is an avid fan, so who am I to say?
What aspect of it is proving the most popular—any surprises?
Regarding the audience’s nationality, I expected it to be most popular with English women who had moved around a bit, but it turns out that one of Libby’s greatest cheerleaders is an American lady who is a keen armchair traveler. That’s pretty encouraging. (And thank you—you know who you are!)
Are you working on any other writing projects? (When’s the next book coming out?!)
At the moment I’m rereading/rewriting the 2012 episodes so I can turn them into either one or two short ebooks later this year. Additionally, I’ve gone back—yet again—to the WIP that triggered a lot of Libby characters. Woodhaven, Maggie, Melissa, Patsy, and all the Giannis were around in my imagination and in draft form long before Libby came along. The WIP is the story of Maggie’s daughter, Sara, a Woodhaven native now living in Somerset, England (my own native neck of the woods). Much of it is set in the 1980s, so you get to meet Maggie, Melissa et al when they were younger. Not sure when it will be finished…but making it public through this answer is a good spur.
10 Questions for Kate
Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
Last truly great book you read: There are two I’ve read several times in the last few years and each time thought “Damn, I wish I’d written that”: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson.
Favorite literary genre: Sigh. Call me predictable. Women’s fiction and travel. Anything by Joanne Harris is a great combination of the two.
Reading habits on a plane: Either some piece of fluffery from the airport bookshop or a book I’ve already read from my Kindle. My Kindle is stuffed with classics, free ebooks, and review copies for TDN. But I have to have a paperback for the times you’re required to Turn Off All Electronic Devices. If I don’t have a paperback, I’ll write in a notebook, and chances are it will be notes on a conversation taking place near me. I’m a compulsive eavesdropper. Be warned.
The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: ML, I really hate getting into politics! Pass!
Favorite books as a child: Anne of Green Gables; E Nesbit books, especially The Railway Children; Enid Blyton‘s Malory Towers; Sadlers Wells series by Lorna Hill; anything by Noel Streatfield; the William stories by Richmal Crompton.
Favorite heroine(s): Maggie Tulliver (George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss) and Emma Woodhouse (Jane Austen’s Emma).
The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Roald Dahl. I really would like to know for myself if he was as sick-minded as his books are.
Your reading habits: In bed.
The book you’d most like to see made as a film: I’m looking forward to Robert Redford’s version of Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods. And I’d love to see one of my favorite books in question #1—Behind the Scenes at the Museum. But it would have to be set in the English city of York, as it is in the book, not Americanized and set in Philadelphia or wherever, as so often happens.
The book you plan to read next: My “to read” list gets ever longer. At the top is The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. At the bottom, just added, is Hilary Mantel‘s Wolf Hall. And a whole lot of others in between.
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Thanks so much, Kate! Long live Libs!!!
Readers, now it’s your chance to ENTER OUR DRAW TO WIN A FREE COPY of Kate Allison’s first Libby book. Kate is giving away TWO FREE COPIES and will favor comments that offer storyline ideas for future Libby posts, which will also get included in Libby at some point!!!
Extra points, as always, if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!
The winners will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on June 1, 2013.
STAY TUNED for the next episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby! (What, not keeping up with Libby? How could you resist after reading this interview?!?!? Sign up NOW for our Displaced Dispatch and you’ll receive the first three chapters!!!)
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