You’ve heard of her magically dark contemporary novel, and now I’m sure you want to learn more about the imaginative author.
Welcome to Date with a Debut Author! A new Bookstr series where we sit down with a debut author and get to know them, their writing process, and their book. Each week we’ll get the chance to go on a date with a new author.
For the first one in this series we met up with author Kim Neville, to learn more about her magically dark contemporary novel, The Memory Collectors.
Date with a Debut Author gets you up close and personal with the debut authors you should be watching out for. So, are you ready to get to know Kim better? Let’s go!
Conversation Over Coffee
Since we’re just getting know Kim.
Serena Knudson (SK): What is your favorite part of The Memory Collectors?
Kim Neville (KN): I like the final conversation between Ev and Harriet. To me, it shows how much they’ve both changed over the course of the story.
SK: How long did it take you to write The Memory Collectors?
KN: So long! About four years to take it from the initial idea to a finished manuscript fit to submit to agents. Then several more years to get an agent, revise the book for submission, sell to a publisher, and revise again. As a reference point, I began writing the book when my daughter started kindergarten, and by the time it hit bookstores she was in eighth grade(!).
SK: What was the biggest obstacle you faced while writing and publishing The Memory Collectors?
KN: Balancing family and work obligations with my creative pursuits. I had to learn to be disciplined and organized in order to find time for writing, something that didn’t come naturally to me. My husband was self-employed, which meant we had some flexibility in our household schedule, but also that we both needed to carve out big chunks of time in order to get our work done. Since I wasn’t published yet, writing often had to make way for other (bill-paying) priorities. It took some trial and error and juggling, but we made it work.
SK: A lot of people struggle with staying motivated, how do you stay motivated while writing?
KN: I’m motivated by self-care! I’ve learned that if I don’t write regularly, I get cranky and out of sorts. If I write for a little bit—thirty minutes to an hour—every morning, I’m a much happier person.
SK: What made you want to become an author?
KN: Books were my solace growing up, and I could think of no greater achievement than to create stories that transport and transform readers the way my favorite books did for me. But I didn’t believe that I could become an author until later in life. Writing a novel seemed an impossible task, something for other people—smarter, braver, more motivated people than myself. I had never met a real-life author until I was in my twenties, and it wasn’t until I was almost thirty that I finally realized writers are just…people who write. So why not try?
Let’s Get Intimate!
Don’t you want to know more about this interesting author?
SK: In your bio at the end of The Memory Collectors, you mention how you found your first shiny piece of inspiration for the book while attending the Clarion West Writers Workshop. What was the first shiny piece of inspiration for The Memory Collectors?
KN: The spark for the book came from a short story I wrote while at the workshop. That story was much more fantastical than The Memory Collectors. In it, Harriet is a witch who hoards truly magical objects, and she runs into trouble when she steals a neighbour’s dragon. It wasn’t the best thing I’d written, but there was something in it that captured my imagination. I knew I wanted to develop it further but make it more grounded in the real world. I began thinking about how we as humans relate to physical objects, and what makes an object “magical”. We ascribe meaning to things based on our interactions with them, and our stories about them. I found it so interesting that inanimate objects can hold such power over us. The memories associated with a cherished piece of jewellery or a favourite mug can be so vivid and emotional, that it’s as though the object itself has taken on those emotions. This led me to start thinking about what life would be like for a person with an acute sensitivity to the impressions we leave behind on objects.
SK: Many authors get character inspiration from the people around them. Did certain people inspire Ev, Harriet, Noemi, or any other character in the book?
KN: My characters are 90% from my imagination. I would say there’s some of myself in Ev. I relate to her survival tactic of keeping people at arm’s length in order to protect herself from emotional harm. That’s why her journey of learning to open up, and to let others in, felt important for me to tell. And Owen was inspired in part by someone real—the caregiver of my daughter’s childhood best friend, a retired ornithologist and former Buddhist monk. Owen’s gentle energy, kindness of spirit, and acceptance of others comes from him.
SK: What other genres would you be interested in exploring?
KN: While I love writing stories that fall somewhere between contemporary fiction and fantasy, I’ve been finding myself drawn more towards horror more lately. I might want to lean into that in the future.
SK: I saw on your Twitter that you are participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon, are you working on anything new? Will it be similar in idea to The Memory Collectors? What may it be about?
KN: I’m working on a second novel. It’s the story of a family of witches and the grimoire that binds them. It shares some similarities with The Memory Collectors in that it’s contemporary fiction with some magical elements. I’ve been describing it as Little Women meets Practical Magic, but like most of my stories, it has darker moments—and there are definitely ghosts.
SK: What advice do you have for others who are looking to become published authors?
KN: It’s all about persistence and patience. I started writing at age 30 and finally saw my debut novel in print at 47. Focus on goals that you have control over, such as finishing a project, rather than ones that you don’t, like getting a publishing deal or winning awards. Enjoy the process: the deep practice of working on your craft and seeing improvement over time. And don’t forget to celebrate your personal successes.
Fun and games
Now that you’re well acquainted with Kim, here are some fun questions and what she had to say about them.
SK: If you could have any other profession in the world, what would it be?
KN: Librarian! My nephew recently got his first library job and I’m equal parts excited, proud, and jealous.
SK: What were you doing when you found out you were going to be published? How did you celebrate?
KN: I was at work when my agents called to give me the news. I live a few blocks from my office, so I immediately signed off for an early lunch and ran home to hug my husband.
SK: If you could pick an author, dead or alive, to take a writing class with, who would it be? Why?
KN: Only one? Then I’ll say Shirley Jackson, because of my current writing interests.
SK: If you could know the absolute and total truth to one question, what would you ask?
KN: Is there sentient life on other planets?
SK: What ridiculous thing has someone tricked you into doing or believing?
KN: When I was 20 and working at my father’s convenience store, a woman pulled a quick-change scam on me. She conned me out of $100. I’m still mad about it.
SK: What are some of your book recommendations?
KN: Books I’ve read recently and loved:
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue by V. E. Schwab
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Next up on my to-read list:
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
The Last of the Moon Girls by Barbara Davis
In Kim Neville’s debut, The Memory Collectors, Evelyn has the ability to feel the emotions people leave behind on objects. She considers this a curse and is extremely careful. She doesn’t allow “stained objects” in her home, and she wears gloves in order to protect herself from any strong emotions.
Harriet has the same gift, but her hoarding of “bright things” is starting to make her neighbors sick. Harriet has an idea to put all her good-feeling objects into a memory museum where people can walk through and soak up all the good energy, but she knows Evelyn is the only person who can truly help her.
After lots of time, the two women work together to develop and control their ability, but the darkness that closed in on the only other person they know with the gift, is beginning to encircle them again. Magical realism shines a new light on the everyday in this story about recovery after childhood trauma.
Kim Neville graduated from the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop, and now lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband, daughter, and two cats. Kim enjoys photography, yoga, and cooking for her friends and family. You can find some of her short fiction in publications like Imaginarium 3: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing, Shimmer, and On Spec. Some of Kim’s creative interests include everyday magic, hauntings, family and relationship dynamics, abandoned buildings and people, the meaning of home, and finding that which has been lost.
Read other Dates with Debut Authors here.
Images via Simon and schuster