Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

"A movie began to play out in my mind’s eye": Kathleen Grissom on her novel, The Kitchen House

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"A movie began to play out in my mind’s eye": Kathleen Grissom on her novel, The Kitchen House

Kathleen Grissom talks about reading, writing, the inspiration for her first novel, The Kitchen House (Simon & Schuster), and the research she did while writing her book.

Q:

How did you come to write The Kitchen House?

KG:

While we were renovating our historic Virginia home, circa 1830, we were invited to dinner at a neighbour’s home. She had also restored an old plantation house. Hers, however, had been inherited through her family and one of the treasures that had been passed down to her was an old map. Our home was on that map, but also in the vicinity of our house was the notation ‘Negro Hill.’ Seeing it had a profound effect on me. I asked local historians the meaning, but there was no collective answer. It was agreed, however, that it likely represented a tragedy.

One morning I sat down to do my daily journaling and it was as though a movie began to play out in my mind’s eye. I picked up my pencil and began to transcribe what I saw.

Q:

What kind of research did you do for this book?

KG:

I began by visiting all the restored plantation sites that were within driving distance of our home. Colonial Williamsburg was also a site that I found invaluable, especially since some of my characters lived in that town for a number of years.

Small local libraries were invaluable as their genealogy sections were rich with details of that time period.
I also interviewed local historians, among them an esteemed African American woman, Mrs. Bessie Lowe. Her grandparents had been slaves, and her stories were invaluable.

Q:

The Kitchen House explores the effects of slavery on one particular community, did you find it difficult to write about such dark subject matter?

KG:

Yes, at the beginning I wanted nothing to so with the subject, but the story insisted it be told. Many times during the writing I wanted to quit, especially when I knew that something traumatic was about to happen. However, by then I was committed and I don’t know that I could have stopped.

Q:

You've owned and operated a tearoom, an artisan gift shop and an herb farm, you've raised cashmere goats and horses and dabbled in a photography, ceramics, weaving and painting. What made you finally take the plunge and write your first novel?

KG:

I had been working on a narrative about life on our farm when this story presented itself. Once it took over, there was no turning back.

Q:

Do you have any tips or tricks for aspiring writers?

KG:

There were two books I read that were helpful to me and I would recommend them to anyone who is writing. The first is Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. What I took away from her book was that nothing is done overnight. Just begin the work, then continue on until you finish. The second book is Stephen King’s On Writing. From him I learned to let go of judging the quality of your words. Write sincerely from your heart and you will have found your voice.

Q:

What are you reading right now?

KG:

I was visiting a friend and pulled a memoir from her shelf. It is titled If The Creek Don’t Rise by Rita Williams. I just finished The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, and before that Alice Randall’s Pushkin and the Queen of Spades.

Q:

Who are your favourite authors?

KG:

I devour books and there are so many wonderful authors that I would be hard pressed to name favorites. However, I do have some favorite books: Gap Creek by Robert Morgan, The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, Tess by Frank McCourt, The Englishman’s Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe, Through A Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen, Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg, The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, The Starbridge Series by Susan Howatch, The Mitford Series by Jan Karon and years ago I thoroughly enjoyed The Jalna Series by Mazo De La Roche. These are the tip of the iceberg.

Q:

What's your next project?

KG:

In Saskatchewan, at Fort Walsh, they speak of a Crow Native woman, Crow Mary, who was married to a well-known fur trader, Abe Farwell. Hers is a fascinating story and is becoming even more so as I do my research.

Interview courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Kathleen Grissom was raised in the tiny village of Annaheim, Saskatchewan, lived and worked in Montreal and New York City, and finally settled on a large farm in rural Virginia. The Kitchen House is her first novel. Her website is www.kathleengrissom.com.

For more information about The Kitchen House please visit the Simon & Schuster website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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