Kate Atkinson- My Literary Idol

KATE ATKINSON-website-lge

My literary idol!

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An amazing debut novel.

If I had to choose only one writer as my all-time favourite, it would be difficult but in the end I’d probably vote for Kate Atkinson. Ever since I read her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, I’ve been a HUGE fan of her work (although I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed Emotionally Weird).

I’ve read all of her novels and I’ve tried on numerous occasions to get tickets to see her at book festivals but have never managed to beat the rush of sales. So when I noticed a link on Twitter to a series of free library events called Edinburgh Reads featuring top authors, I jumped at the chance to see one of my literary idols in person. So, on a dreich Saturday afternoon, I headed east with my hubby in tow to hear Kate interviewed by top literary agent, Jenny Brown, at the city’s Central Library.

LifeAfterLife3D_HB-smallKate’s new book is a departure from her successful Jackson Brodie private detective series and it is a standalone novel where the reader is asked to wonder, “What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?” Life After Life tells the story of Ursula Todd born during a snowstorm in England in 1910, but two parallel scenarios occur – in one, she dies immediately. In the other, she lives to tell the tale. As the possibility of having a second chance at life opens up, Ursula lives through the events of the twentieth century again and again….

To be honest, if I wasn’t such a fan of Kate’s work, I wouldn’t be attracted by the premise of this novel as I prefer realism and a mere whiff of speculative writing would normally have me running for the hills. However, knowing how clever a writer Kate is and out of sheer curiosity, I was keen to see whether this latest offering would live up to my high expectations. I also follow a fantastic blog, On the Literary Sofa, which features reviews written by Isabel Costello and I have great respect for her opinions. Isabel’s review of Life After Life talks highly of the book giving a good insight into the story-line without containing spoilers so have a read if you want to know a bit more.


The opening scene still haunts me.

The conversation between Jenny and Kate was interesting as a reader and a writer. On a personal level, I found the fact that Kate’s debut novel was published when she was 43 inspiring and as a forty-something, this gave me hope that it’s never too late to launch a literary career. I also enjoyed the fact that Kate was very honest about her development as a writer, saying that in the early days, she found dialogue difficult to write and used to pepper it with unnecessary adverbs, a lesson I hope I’ve learnt too. She also spends a lot of time letting an idea mature whilst she’s doing mundane stuff like hoovering. As I can faff for Scotland, this reassured me that while I might not be tapping away on my laptop, I can still be ‘writing’ in my head, well that’s my explanation and I’m sticking to it!

It was also refreshing to see that someone who is a best-seller, achieving international acclaim and awarded an MBE can still be so down-to-earth and humble about her success. As a literary idol, Kate didn’t disappoint me.

Who is your literary idol? If you’ve met your idol, was it a positive or negative experience?

P.S. Apart from admiring her amazing literary talent, being star-struck and gooey-eyed in the second row, I couldn’t help but also be literally dazzled by Kate’s stunning diamond bracelet. She’s clearly a lady who doesn’t feel the need to brag about her accolades but does like a bit of bling-my kinda woman!

19 thoughts on “Kate Atkinson- My Literary Idol

  1. Hi Helen, you introduced me to Kate Atkinson years ago by kindly passing on Case Histories. I loved it and went on to read many of her books in succession. I still vividly remember that opening in When Will There be Good News. I have just finished Started Early, took my Dog which reminded me what a page turning tale she tells. I think Life After Life sounds a brilliant theme. I like the thought of an alternate universe where I am slimmer, fitter, cleverer etc. so maybe reliving your life would be the same idea with a chance to say what you really think and pull off those witty one liners, at the time. I would of course still keep you in my ‘other’ life! Keep that one in the books for V pile 🙂

    • Hi Veronica, Can I join you in that parallel universe where we are still besties but with all the additional traits? In the meantime, in the real world,once I’ve finished Life After Life, it’s all yours. x

  2. Oh I can’t choose, but that’s great to hear she started late and kept her feet on the ground.
    I will always have a soft spot for KA after reading her sharp and hilarious descriptions of Archie’s transformation into a teenager in ‘when will there be good news’. They gave me much needed belly laughs in a time when I was struggling to cope with my teenage stepsons.

  3. Hi Helen Great to hear that meeting Kate and hearing her talk was as exciting as you were hoping. I admire her too and hope to get that opportunity some day. Life After Life is extraordinary and I’m glad you enjoyed my review – thanks for the lovely mention for the Literary Sofa.

    Last year I got to meet Linda Grant, whose novel The Clothes On Their Backs finally inspired me to pick up my pen aged 40. Like Kate, Linda was over 40 when she published her first novel which I agree is great motivation for us. When I told her my ‘story’, Linda and I had a proper chat and she wrote me a really wonderful dedication in a copy of the book. So that was a very special moment for me.

    You are one of the Twitter buddies I’d most like to meet!

    • Hi Isabel, As your review suggested, Life After Life is proving to be a great read. I haven’t read Linda’s book but will look it up and add it to the TBR pile- which has a mountainous scale partly due to your blog! I do hope we do one day meet in person too and we can really get to know each other better. 🙂

  4. It’s so exciting to meet long-admired writers: sounds as if Kate lived up to all your expectations! With your and Isabel C’s recommendations, I’m going to dive into Life After Life. I tried a Brodie one of hers after another friend raved about them, but didn’t finish – may be a genre thing. I love Twitter. It brings me so many people who say wise things and recommend great books.

    • Hi Isabel, I don’t read crime fiction normally either as it’s not a genre I’m keen on but I think Kate’s books are a lot more than simple whodunit scenarios. They’re more about charactersation and contain lots of humour which appeals to me. And also like you, I’m so glad that I got over my initial wariness about Twitter as it’s opened up my literary world with book events, competitions, blogs and more importantly meeting like-minded people.

  5. It is reassuring to hear about writers who begin “late”. I’ll be 46 when my first is published. For me, I think I had to wait and get some living under my belt before I could write well enough. I think most of us feel like that, but of course the age at which you feel you’ve seen enough and are ready to write about it varies enormously.

    My literary hero is the American writer Joyce Carol Oates. If I hadn’t started reading her novels 3 years ago, I don’t think I would have written my own. Her writing inspires me so much … there’s a sort of freedom in her style and it shows me what can be done with language, how it can work, and how magical it can be. Of course I wouldn’t dream of comparing my writing with hers, but she is certainly my biggest inspiration to get on and write my own novel(s).

    I am keen to read Kate Atkinson and once I’ve got through my current TBR pile (19 books) she will be next on my list.

    • Hi Louise, Your comment about starting to write ‘later’ in life and needing some life experience echoes what Kate said at the event. I too feel that you need to have lived a bit before you’ve got something worth saying. I’ve never read any writing from Joyce Carol Oates but will certainly add the recommendation to my TBR pile which sounds as mountainous as yours! 🙂

  6. She is certainly unpredictable and its clear she writes for herself first and foremost, but by stepping outside genre and refusing to be categorised she is amassing a wide audience of followers, who will be curious to know what she has written, especially this novel which is unlike anything she has written before and although I finished it a couple of weeks ago, I am still thinking about that structure and whether she wrote the final story in this book. Fascinating indeed.

    • Hi Claire, I’ve just read your excellent review of Life After Life and look forward to following your blog. I’ve just started reading the book but I can already see me reflecting on the complex structure for some time too. I see you’re reading Zadie Smith’s latest novel and I mentioned it in one of my previous posts. I thoroughly enjoyed NW but warmed to some characters a lot more than others.

      • Thanks for reading my review Helen and for following, it’s good to hear you enjoyed Zadie Smith’s NW, it seems to have divided fans, but I just know I am going to appreciate it even after only reading one chapter; I used to live just off Kilburn High Road, so NW6 was my patch and I can see it all so visually while reading her words, even with the meanderings here and there. Plenty of flawed characters living in and around that neighbourhood.

  7. And they say you should never meet your heroes… Glad you enjoyed the event. I think we’ve all had our appetites well and truly whetted and can’t wait to get started on ‘Life after Life’. Great blog by the way – keep up the good work!

  8. Ditto all of that, Helen! I’m a big fan of Kate Atkinson’s, also since reading Behind The Scenes but I, ahem, got so annoyed with Emotionally Weird that I tossed it aside and left it on a train in France in a fit of pique – only to feel guilty that a French traveller might pick it up, read some in curiosity and be put off Kate Atkinson for life. As I now feel guilty again, I think I shall pop along and buy Life After Life. Ah, I feel better already. Great post!

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