I met Kate (briefly) at Edge Lit in 2014 as she was launching ‘Drag Noir‘.A prolific writer with assorted pseudonyms, editor and medievalist, I’ve been keen to find out more about this busy lady for ages. Along with her friend H Byron Ballard, she edited ‘My Wandering Uterus‘ so it seemed the perfect time to learn about her writing process,
GCH: Hello! Thanks for stopping by. Can you introduce yourself?
KL: I’m Kate Laity: I write a lot of weird stuff under a variety of names even though it all sounds like me as far as I can tell. I’m terrible at following rules and yet I seem to have muddled through life well enough to be a tenured professor in a field for which I have no degrees. Ha! I have degrees in related fields
GCH: Is there any genre or subject you wouldn’t write about?
KL: Never say never.
GCH: What is the single most important thing to your writing process?
KL: Tea! That and feeding your head. Whenever I seem to be spinning my wheels I have to get out, walk, go see some art or a film, fill up the well again.
GCH: What’s your favourite food and drink when you’re writing? Is it tea or tequila? Beer or biscuits?
KL: See above Heh, tea is essential, biscuits if they are chocolate are nearly so. Beer is for after—and gin is for those days when no work will be done.
GCH: You have multiple ‘nom de plumes’. How do you keep them all separate?
KL: I don’t really worry about it. I write what I want to write and when it’s done I figure out which pseudonym it fits best. The various names have been an attempt to label things because I write every which way and some people (!) don’t like some genres so they know what to avoid.
GCH: I’m always asked about my writing process. You’ve written a book entitled ‘How to Keep Writing with a Full TIme Job‘ so what’s your inspiration and writing process?
KL: My process is ooh, that looks shiny and start writing about it. Sometimes there’s a plan. Novels need more than ‘ooh shiny’. I have to take notes while I’m writing (a painful lesson learned a while ago), so I don’t lose track of where I’ve gone. Non-fiction can be more piecey: a bit on this, a bit on that, oh how will I get from A to B—write a bridge there explaining that. A lot of my edits are explaining how I jumped from A to E because I thought B,C, and D were ‘obvious’ but only to someone inside my head. I never understand those people who ask where creatives get their inspiration: everywhere!
GCH: You’re a prolific writer and you run writing courses (including the monthly ‘Write for a Day‘). Do you have any time for reading and if so, what’s in your TBR pile?
KL: I never have quite enough time; travel is my best reading time. Stuck on a plane or a train I have the excuse of ignoring everything else to read for fun. This past year has been shockingly short of fun reading (lots and lots of research reading which is fun, too, though more intense, mostly on a medieval Scots tale called Rauf Coilyear). Now that summer’s here I have more leisure to just read because I’m not teaching or preparing for teaching at present. At the moment I’m reading a lot of classic crime, Charlotte Carter’s Rhode Island Red at the moment, some Highsmith, on the plane back to Scotland William Linsday Gresham’s Nightmare Alley. I just also read Hope Mirrlees Lud-in-the-Mist which I somehow managed to neglect. More contemporary reading has included pal Paul Brazill’s latest, Last Year’s Man, which was a hoot as always. I’m as eclectic in my reading as I am in everything else; I just started The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, another overlooked classic. There are holes in my education everywhere.
GCH: If you could collaborate with any author living or dead, who would it be and what would you write?
KL: I’m not sure I’d be very good at collaborating, but I’d give it a go to work with Peter Cook. And it’s not entirely true about not collaborating: S. L. Johnson and I collaborate all the time, but she does art. I did a comic, too, with Elena Steier (Jane Quiet) until life interfered. We hope to get back to it again.
GCH: Writers are a superstitious lot. Do you have any superstitions or rituals to help you focus?
KL: I used to religiously avoid talking about a WIP but I’m less precious about that now, although I also lie outrageously just to amuse myself.
GCH: Many of your books are published through small presses such as Fox Spirit. What do you consider the benefits are of working with small presses?
KL: The personal touch can’t be beat. Having some input into the marketing and the cover art is great. Publishers like Fox Spirit and Tirgearr form relationships with their writers, editors and artists. You’re not just a product. My big press experiences have been hurry-up-and-wait frustrations. No answers to questions, allowed to speak to only one person, then suddenly everything has to be done immediately. Big corporations are big.
GCH: Aside from writing, you’re also a prolific editor. I wrote a piece about ‘From Sub to Pub’ and was wondering how you go about selecting which stories to accept and then which order they should go in?
KL: In general the collections I’ve edited had no existing plan for their final shape. They were mostly speculative in the sense of ‘will there be enough good material for this topic?’ Fortunately, in each case it has worked out (phew!) but it’s a bit nerve-wracking. There always some ‘oh hell no’ stories, and some that you hope with a little work will shine the way they ought to (and if an author won’t work with you on edits, stay miles away from them), but there are always some that don’t quite make it and it’s hard to tell an author no, but being the editor means taking the lumps. Ordering is tricky. You try not to think about the fact that people read them out of order anyway (sob!) but usually in the process of selecting there’s one that makes you say, ‘That’s the opener!’ and often another that you know is the closer. The first makes a kind of splash and hits the theme of the collection squarely. For the end of the book, I tend to go with longer stories that have a more meditative and rich form. I hope that readers close the book feeling like they have been given plenty to chew on.
GCH: One of your most recent editing jobs is ‘My Wandering Uterus’. What was the inspiration for the title and what can readers expect from the anthology?
KL: It started as a conversation on my friend Byron Ballard’s timeline on the ‘book. A link I’d shared on the historical phenomenon about the medical fears of uteruses going wandering provoked a lot of chatter and some idiot (me) said that would be a great idea for an anthology of travel writing by women. Byron did a lot of chivvying to get a variety of contributors and I am still amazed at the stories we got. They vary from light to heavy, tourism to immersion, military service to sacred discoveries—everything. Poetry, prose, a song, your story: amazing.
GCH: You split your time between Scotland and the US. Do you think you’ll ever settle in one place?
I’d love to be in Scotland full time but jobs are tough to find at present. And Britain is not particularly welcome to foreigners at present. Maybe I’ll win the lottery if I figure out how to play it…
GCH: What’s your next project?
KL: I’m finishing up my latest for Fox Spirit, one that our fearless Skulk leader Adele invited me to write for her: a novel that uses a variety of faerie motifs, medieval stories and some things entirely invented (that I hope you won’t be able to tell from the others). It’s loosely based on the Grimm tale ‘The Girl Without Hands’ and it’s nearly there. Now that some academic things are done, finishing it is top of my to-do list. I also completed another novel last year that I’m shopping around to mainstream publishers, a satirical look at the present state of higher education—the sort of roman a clef I said I’d never do (never say never). It’s called Hire Idiots, so you can guess where its sentiments lie. I’ve been dragging my feet because the process of going mainstream is a slog and I have little patience for it. I prefer to work with the publishers I already work with.
GCH: Tell us a secret
KL: I sometimes feel like the only medievalist who isn’t a fan of Tolkien. I actually read Beowulf, Njal’s Saga and The Táin in a course then decided this was the field for me. But it used to be that most people came to the field inspired by reading his novels. Now there’s a much bigger variety of popular introductions: films, television like The Vikings, video games and more. I do like Tolkien’s non-fiction though! And I love the Lord of the Rings films; problematic as they are they’ve offered a great opportunity to talk about the ways the Middle Ages get appropriated by popular culture. It’s been the unfortunate lot of medievalists lately to have to spend too much time addressing the ignorance of white nationalists, but great sites like the Public Medievalist and Medieval People of Colour provide great resources.