Judith Kinghorn is a graduate in English and History of Art, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a former Woman of the Year. She lives with her family in Hampshire, England. Judith’s debut novel The Last Summer was published in the UK in April 2012 when it was chosen by Lovereading UK as their MEGA début and listed in The Bookseller magazine’s ‘Ones To Watch’. It has been translated to German, French, Italian and Spanish. The Memory of Lost Senses was published in 2013. Visit her here.
NAW- Tell us about your book, The Memory of Lost Senses. How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?
The Memory of Lost Senses is a love story, and a tale about duplicity, the vagaries of memory and the power of the senses. But, and perhaps more importantly, it’s also a story of survival.
I’ve always been fascinated by independent, adventurous women in history, and the novel was inspired by a woman who lived in exile overseas for over half a century and returned to this country only at the end of her life. It took me a long time to research and piece together this woman’s story, because she’d been married a number of times, changed names and moved about Europe so much. Over time, I realised she had not been honest about her background, her marriages, or her age, which made my research incredibly difficult, and made her all the more compelling! And I wondered what had happened to her in her life, her early life; what had inspired the lies, why had she left England? Thus, the novel was born.
NAW- What drew you to the romance genre?
I wasn’t consciously drawn to any genre. My first novel, The Last Summer, is set in England during the First World War, and it is a love story, and so fell into the historical and romance genres, but when I wrote it I wasn’t thinking of genres… I simply wanted to write the sort of novel I like to read. And I like to be transported when I read, to be able to see, hear, and almost smell the places described in books. If I manage to transport a reader to another time and place with my own writing, I’m very happy.
NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? How did you decide the title?
The Memory of Lost Senses took a couple of years to write, mainly because it began its life as a work of non fiction, and so there were quite a few drafts! It was a difficult journey turning fact into fiction, and though it’s not one I’ll make again, I don’t regret it, because it gave birth to another novel. It was when I turned away from the The Memory of Lost Senses and took time out; that I wrote what would be my début – The Last Summer… so perhaps it was meant to happen that way.
The title came to me after reading this quote by Henry James, which is included at the start of the novel: ‘Rome, before 1870, was seductive beyond resistance… shadows breathed and glowed, full of soft forms felt by lost senses.’ Those words resonated. And as the novel is about memory and set in Rome at that time, the time Henry James speaks of, it just came to me – Ping! – The Memory of Lost Senses.
They can expect to be challenged, and even a little confused, because that is the state of the protagonist, Cora. The reader follows Cora as she attempts to unravel the truth of her life after her return to England during the long hot summer of 1911. Amidst Cora’s failing memory, her many lies and delusions, is the perspective of her friend, a novelist named Sylvia, who has her own agenda and delusions, and who has come to stay with Cora to pen Cora’s memoirs. Added to this is Cecily, a young neighbour who is mesmerized by the cosmopolitan, much-travelled and enigmatic Cora.
The Memory of Lost Senses is a more complex read than my first novel, because of the multiple points of view, and because it moves back and forth in time. And, as it’s something of a mystery story, I think one has to immerse oneself in it and what’s being said by whom.
NAW- Tell us about the character of Cecily Chadwick. How did you develop the character?
At the start of the novel, Cecily stands on the verge of adult life: she is innocent, unhampered by experience, unrequited love or regret. And whilst Cora looks back – trying to remember and separate fact from fiction (her own), Cecily is caught up with the future. Unworldly, bored, stifled by the small-mindedness of village life, Cecily sees only the possibilities ahead, dreams of independence and travelling, and has ambitions of becoming a writer. Cora and her handsome young grandson, Jack, represent the glamour of a world beyond the confines of the village.
Later, the war, its deprivations and the loss of her young husband – Cora’s grandson, Jack – change everything for Cecily. Anchored in the place she wished to escape, and now with a child, she has only her memories to comfort her. As she struggles to hold onto the hope that Jack is alive and learns some of the sad truth about Cora’s life, her former romanticism is replaced with pragmatism. But unlike others around her, she is not prejudiced or bigoted. By the end of the novel, we learn that it has been Cecily who has been The Keeper of Secrets, and not Cora’s devoted friend Sylvia, the novelist. Cecily has not betrayed Cora’s trust, and for her, personal ambitions come second to love and family. As long as she has these, life in a country village is more than enough.
The Snow Globe is similar to The Last Summer in as much as it’s about a family having to come to terms with the immense changes during the post-war years of the 1920s. It begins Christmas 1926, when Daisy, the youngest member of the family, discovers that her adored father has been leading a double life. Her illusions are shattered and cause her to question everything – including marriage and the nature of love. The novel chronicles Daisy’s choices in the aftermath of her disillusionment, and also those of Daisy’s mother, Mabel: a woman who has tolerated her husband’s infidelity and ‘turned a blind eye’, but who now realises the time has come for her, too, to make changes.
However, I should add that despite its themes, The Snow Globe is actually lighter than my previous novels, and has been described by my American editor as a ‘comedy of manners’.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
When I’m not writing, I’m a mother, wife and daughter… dealing with the usual day to day activities involved in running a house and family. Though my children are older, they still need me and turn to me, and my parents are elderly now, so they need me too. I’m also very attached to our animals – two cats and a dog. Our other dog passed away recently and I was heartbroken and still miss her. I like to take walks on the heath land around my home in Hampshire, and from time to time I get out my easel and paint – or rather, play with paint! I catch up with my friends, who have to put up with my reclusive and anti-social behaviour when I’m immersed in my writing. And I’m a voracious reader and always have a few books on the go, and I like eating out, going to the theatre or cinema. But as much as anything, I just enjoy being at home with my husband and children, watching the usual stuff on TV – Masterchef, The Great British Bake Off or a good movie; or playing cards, or Scrabble – though no one ever wants to play with me!
NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?
Oh my, where to begin?
Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Jean Rhys, Elizabeth Taylor, DH Lawrence, Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth Von Arnim, F Scott Fitzgerald: all of them writers I love and have been inspired by. And Tolstoy, Turgenev, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Dickens and Daphne du Maurier. And then there are specific books: The Rector’s Daughter by Flora Mayor, The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard, The Observations by Jane Harris, Today by David Miller… and Jane Gardam and Penelope Lively; and Katie Hickman, and Kate Atkinson. And a few writers I’ve only just discovered, including Jessie Burton, Jo Baker and Lissa Evans… I could go on, and ON!
NAW-What are you currently reading?
I’ve gone back to reading non fiction – for research purposes, but I’ve also been reading a few of Susan Hill’s novels, a writer I greatly admire. And I’ve been rereading some of Virginia Woolf’s novels. I never tire of her words and though I’m usually awestruck by the beauty of her prose, I find her inspirational. I’m a great reader and keep all of my favourite books and writers close at hand. Having them around me when I write – even just to glance up at – reminds me of what I aspire to, and seems to help the creative process.
NAW- What will you be working on next?
I’m not actually writing at the moment. Having spent the last five years writing more or less continuously, and having had three novels published in the last three years, and with elderly and ailing parents, I feel the need for a break. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t planning the next book… I think it’ll be a first-person narrative, and set in the 1920s. I like that period, and I’m not finished with it yet!