Friday, June 10, 2011

Guest Post: Katharine Britton, author of Her Sister's Shadow

Today it is my privilege and pleasure to introduce Katharine Britton to Pudgy Penguin Perusals. I really enjoyed Her Sister's Shadow and was so immersed in the lives of the sisters that the pages just flew by. At times I was annoyed with Bea and Lilli and at other times I felt so sorry for them for all the wasted years they were estranged. What I found really intriguing is how they each perceived their self imposed role in the family from childhood , how that shaped their destinies and how they felt about that role so many years later. Her Sister's Shadow resonated with me long after the last page was turned. It's hard to believe this exquisitely written story is a debut novel. I hope Katharine has many more stories to tell!

Unexpected Stories
by Katharine Britton

Thanks, Kaye, for inviting me to guest blog on Pudgy Penguin Perusals!

Stories come to writers in unexpected ways. We spend a lot of time observing our surroundings, jotting down snippets of conversations, and noting unusual people and situations, and then we write a scene taken partially from these observations and dredged partially from our imaginations. We don’t know what we’ve written until we read the scene. When we read it, we sometimes (often) find that the words don’t express precisely what we’d intended to say. So we change one word, and then another, and, slowly, the scene takes shape. But, what’s this? The scene now leads the story in a whole new direction! The story we thought we were writing is not the one we’re now writing.

Sometimes a writer will adjust a setting to fit a new plot element, and this can also lead to wholly unexpected outcomes. Say we need our character to make a quilt to auction at the county fair. We add a sewing room onto the house. Quietly, a character suggests that the sewing room might once have been a nursery. "Is this true?" the writer asks (somewhat shocked, somewhat annoyed). "Yes," the character says. "I can’t believe you didn’t know that." The writer, then, must dutifully supply the character with a present and a future to address that hidden past. Our characters will let us know if we get it wrong. The stubborn ones remain silent for days, making us guess at the error. The outspoken ones talk so fast we have to race to keep up. Again, the story we thought we were writing is not the one we’re now writing.

My novel, Her Sister’s Shadow, is a story that took root in my heart many years ago. It took many revisions and many years to finish. My characters, Lilli and Bea, are loosely based on the relationship between my mother and her youngest sister. They endured a series of tragedies that, I think, signaled for them the end of childhood, as it does for my characters. It was my mother’s relationship with my aunt that got me wondering, what would it take to drive sisters apart, and what would it take to bring them back together? The events in Her Sister’s Shadow are fictional, presented to me, in part, by the characters, as I sat them in a room together and let them talk, and, in part, from my imagination, as I wandered the hallways of their childhood home, where my characters reunite after a forty-year estrangement. I invented doorways and opened them to see what lay behind; pictured a dressing table and started sifting through the clutter, surprised at what lay hidden.

I hope you enjoy reading Her Sister’s Shadow as much as I enjoyed the journey of writing it. And, please, let me hear from you!

Paperback, 336 pages
Published June 7th 2011 by Berkley Trade
(ISBN13: 9780425241745)
 primary languageEnglish

Thank you so much, Katarine, for your wonderful guest post. It's so interesting to see how a writer's talent and imagination lead to the finished scenes. I loved how you gave the characters dimension by shifting time frames giving the reader more insight into their feelings about the events taking place. The setting and sense of place is fantastic. It made me more homesick than ever.

 I'm sure anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction about families and especially sisters will easily relate to this book. 4****


  1. This sounds like a book I would love. I am the youngest of 8 children, I had 5 sisters, however, we have always been very close to one another, even though there are now many miles between us, since I moved to Iowa.

  2. I know I will be reading this book. I love stories about relationships.

  3. I've always thought authors were somewhat voyeuristic. Knowing the background of Her Sister's Shadow makes it all the more interesting to me.

  4. I too would like to read this - family relationships books are so nice to read.

  5. This is a great post! I love how Katharine explains the genesis of some stories and how it's not always immediately apparent to the writer where their story ideas come from. I like how Katharine then tells us how she came up with the main story in Her Sister's Shadow.

    I'm so glad to read that you really enjoyed Her Sister's Shadow, Kaye. It sounds like a captivating, poignant and beautiful story to me and I cannot wait to read all about Lilli and Bea!

  6. I just read about this one on another blog and so want to read it!! Sounds like the type of story I'm drawn to!

  7. Hi,

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. I didn't realize my blog entry had been posted! Gigi Ann, the story was inspired by my mother's relationship with her youngest sister. Unlike my characters, they remained very close throughout their lives, although they were sixteen years apart in age. I hope you all enjoy my book! And thanks, Kaye, for your very nice review. Katharine Britton

  8. This sounds really good! Just in time for my sister's birthday!


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