Qatar Stars: Kate Lord-Brown
Originally from Devon in South West England, full-time mum and author Kate Lord Brown has found herself living the expat dream with postings that have taken her to Spain and now Doha. Luckily she can find inspiration everywhere and has been able to churn out two top-selling books less than a year apart. Ahlan! Qatar caught up with her to find out how she juggles it all so well.
You wrote your first book, The Beauty Chorus, in the UK and your second, The Perfume Garden in Qatar, having carried out the research in Spain. Do you take inspiration from your surroundings?
Definitely – The Beauty Chorus is a story about three brave, glamorous young women who flew fighter planes in the 1940s, and was inspired by the amount of time I’ve spent on airfields as the wife of a British pilot. The idea for The Perfume Garden came when we lived in the orange groves near Valencia in Spain. I loved the beauty of the country, and was inspired to find out more about the history of the place.
I’ve worked in the Middle East most of my life – my ‘day job’ in the UK was curating art collections for palaces and embassies across the region, and I’d love to write a book set here.
You managed to write The Perfume Garden in under a year – that’s impressive! Do you set yourself strict deadlines?
Thank you! Yes, I do work to a schedule. It’s the only way to handle the juggling act of a young family, home and career. I fit my work around the children – when they were babies I would write while they slept, and now I work when they are at school, starting a new book each September. Years of research led up to writing The Perfume Garden, so by the time I sat down to write the story, it came very quickly.
Give us an idea of a typical day as Kate Lord Brown.
Like many people in Doha, I’m up early at 5.30am for the school run. I get home by 8.00am, and if I am writing a first draft of a new story, I’ll sit down at the desk and work straight through until 12.30pm when it’s time to collect the children. The afternoon and evening is dedicated to them. Then at night, if my husband is away on a long-haul flight, I’ll sit down and write or edit until bedtime. It depends on the stage I’m at with the book – research, reading and editing are more flexible and you can escape from your desk to a cafe, the pool or the garden!
You seem to be doing what so many women strive for – being able to successfully balance work and family life. Do some things have to give?
I’m a ‘trailing spouse’ like many expat women here, and lucky that my work as a writer is portable – but I think every working woman feels it is a constant juggling act! This change of career was a deliberate choice, because I wanted to be there at home for my children – my husband and I were both fortunate enough to have mothers at home, and I wanted to do the same, but also have a rewarding career. I loved working in a gallery in Chelsea, travelling in the Middle East or hopping across to Paris to buy art for clients, but I gave that up for my family. As the wife of an airline pilot, you’re the one who’s constantly there for the children – it’s challenging, particularly living as an expat without family nearby, but being a mother is the most important job in the world.
Do you have days when the words just aren’t coming?
There are definitely days when you would rather do anything else than sit down with a blank page! The best thing is to get a change of scene – go for a walk, go to the gym, and let the story unfold gently like a film in your thoughts. Normally by the time you sit down to write, the words are there. I’ve found that once you are deeply involved with a story, you can’t wait to sit down and write – those days the words just fly through you, and it’s a wonderful feeling.
Where do your story and character ideas come from?
Perhaps every good story starts with a question. The Beauty Chorus was inspired by a tiny article with a photograph of a stunningly beautiful young woman getting into a Spitfire fighter plane. I thought ‘why don’t people know about these incredible women?’ – and that led to months of research, and the privilege of talking to the real ‘Spitfire Girls’ who are now in their eighties. My new story was inspired by a piece of priceless jewellery, and I’ve been working with the gentleman who takes care of the Queen’s jewels, which has been great fun. I think writers are like treasure hunters – you are always looking for something remarkable or unnoticed, whether it’s a snippet of an article or an interesting person you glimpse in a cafe.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
It was always a dream. I wrote as a hobby for years and was first published at school. In London, I used to get up an hour early to write before going to work. Then, when we travelled around the world I started to get articles and stories published. Writing is a craft and like anything it takes years of practice (and a mountain of rejection slips!) to learn. I was a finalist on UK ITV’s ‘People’s Author’ contest, and shortly after that my debut novel was published.
This is a hard one… name your top three all-time favourite books.
That is hard! I’d say: Light Years by James Salter, Any Human Heart by William Boyd, and The Leopard by Giuseppe Lampedusa.
Do you have a trusted ‘someone’ who you let read your rough drafts? Do you find they give you an unbiased opinion and can that be hard to hear?
I’m lucky to have a wonderful agent in London, whose advice and instincts I trust completely. I’ve also just finished a Masters degree with a UK university, working with writers across the world, and we’ve developed a close and supportive critique group over the three years. Part of you wants them to say, “It’s perfect, don’t change anything!” But getting tough, constructive feedback is the best way to improve.
So, Kate, what’s next?
I’m thrilled to be appearing and teaching workshops at the Emirates Literary Festival in Dubai (5 to 9 March 2013), and will be working on the launch of The Perfume Garden this Spring.
My Qatar Essentials
Kate spills the beans on her fave places in Qatar – perfect for writers seeking inspiration…
1. The Museum of Islamic Art. I love the collection. You can see the best of modern and traditional Qatar side by side.
2. Breakfast at Carluccio’s on the Pearl. If I ever miss London, this is a taste of home – but with stunning sea views and a beautiful climate.
3.Oriental Carpets in Al Sadd. I love this store, a treasure-trove of textiles and antiques.
4.Our garden. Thanks to the plant souq near the airport, we’ve planted our own little oasis out back.
5.Souq Waqif. You really get a sense of what a relaxed, multicultural city this is.
Kate’s Top Tips for Budding Writers
Love what you write and write what you love.
Read as much as you can.
Join a writer’s group.
Put a completed story away for a month then go back to it with fresh eyes before sending it to a publisher or agent.
Write a little bit every day.
Believe in yourself – if you really want to write a book, you can.
INFO: The Beauty Chorus is available on www.amazon.co.uk. The Perfume Garden will be available on Amazon in paperback from April, and is currently available on Kindle and as an audio download. Learn more about Kate at www.katelordbrown.com.