Book covers & Karen Viggers on French audiences, re-writes and grappling with the human condition.

In this episode, the hosts talk covers. Kate did not want a lighthouse on hers! Oh dear. So what did she have in mind? Maybe Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek or Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things. Speaking of floral covers! There’s a real thing about them…

Katherine talks about The Helpline cover, and how when her box of books arrived she didn’t open it. Incidentally, neither did author Jane Rawson (who’s appearing in an upcoming episode!).

Then Katherine talks with Canberra author, Karen Viggers.

Karen Viggers is the author of three novels, the first of which, The Stranding, was published in 2009. Since then, her books have been translated into French, Italian, Norwegian, Slovenian and Spanish. Karen’s work has enjoyed great success in France, where it has sold more than 500,000 copies to date. Her third novel, The Lightkeeper’s Wife was on the French National Bestseller list for more than 42 weeks, going as high as No. 3. Karen’s new novel The Orchardist’s Daughter will be out in Australia with Allen & Unwin and France with Les Escales in 2019.

Karen says, ‘First books are a journey’. Hers, The Stranding, started on its path to publication when she sent the manuscript to a contact at Penguin. Ten weeks later, they rejected it.

Karen’s first response was to put the novel in the bottom drawer but later, she resolved to find an agent and that’s how she met Fiona Inglis at Curtis Brown.

Inglis offered advice on reworking the novel, which included cutting 50,000 words.  She then sent the revised manuscript to four publishers. Ten days later, three came back with offers. For Karen, Allen & Unwin felt like the publisher that would do the most to nurture her writing.

Karen recalls hearing Alex Miller speak about writing. He said he had the great gift of Coal Creek, which came to him in the space of 10 weeks and needed very little work. But, according to Alex, that was a once in a lifetime gift. Whether it takes ten weeks or ten years there is just the work that needs to be done.

So how did Vigger’s phenomenal success in France come about?

The Lighthouse Keepers Wife sold 25,000 copies in Australia. It was then sold at Frankfurt Book Fair to a smaller publisher in France. That publisher liked the book so much, when she moved to a larger, mass market publisher, she published it there too.  Karen’s French publisher also wrote personally to 600 booksellers in Paris saying, ‘I love this book, it’s going to sell,’ and it did.

The book also appealed to a bookseller who appeared on TV France and announced it would be ‘the book of the summer’. When it came out a year later it sold 100,000 copies in 6 weeks. Karen found out via Twitter.

Karen speculates as to why French readers like her work:

The French really love nature. They love wild places, they appreciate the environment, and my books are set around nature.

The French also don’t need a happy, tied-up ending. They like to grapple with the human condition, and philosophical questions. They’re great philosophers. In my work I try to tackle human issues and also environmental or ecological issues and hover above them and discuss them in the context of a human story and the French like that. So I don’t need to write anything other than what comes best to me.

Karen talks about the challenges that writing can present:

I love the process of writing with with [my current] book, I got stuck. I’d never been stuck before. I’d never have troubles with an empty page… I knew something wasn’t right and I didn’t know how to fix it.

Viggers quotes ACT Writers’ Centre’s Nigel Featherstone who says, ‘When you get to the end of one book you know how to write that one. You don’t know how to write the next one.’

Karen has a lot of great advice. Like, never read any review that gives you less than three starts because if someone gives you less than three stars they really don’t get what you’re trying to do. And: It’s a competitive world, so do as much as you can to support your book. Talk to bookshops, offer to events for libraries, do whatever you can.

Finally, she says:

Once you’ve done the best you can, you need to let it go, and concentrate on the next work. You want to have a list of books eventually, and some are going to go better than others, but there comes a time when you need to transition into your next week. Ultimately, your job is to write books.

Karen’s favourite novel by a debut author is (drumroll): Skylarking, by Kate Mildenhall.  No, I’ve never even heard of it, either.

Keep up to date with Karen via Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

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