My guest today on Espresso Tales is Katharine Johnson, whose latest book, The Secret, launches today.
Katharine Johnson is a journalist with a passion for books, old houses and all
things Italian (except tiramisu). She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, three children and madcap spaniel. When she's not writing you can usually find her exploring cities, drinking coffee, playing netball badly or being a room guide in a stately home.
Megan: Thank you for joining me, Katharine. What can I get you to drink?
Katharine: I'd love a cortado coffee, please.
Megan: Sounds great! Australia, we have the piccolo, which is a little similar. Now, tell me about your latest book.
Katharine: The Secret will be published on 1st June. It’s about a secret harboured by Villa Leonida, the same Tuscan house that was at the centre of The Silence which came out last summer. If you’ve read The Silence you’ll recognise one or two characters and see some connections but if you haven't it doesn't matter because The Secret is a standalone story. It's about two friends growing up in wartime Italy and a secret they share that has devastating consequences. In the present day Irena’s son is determined to uncover the truth about his mother’s past while Martina’s daughter is desperate to keep it hidden.
Megan: I absolutely adored The Silence. One of my favourite books of the past year. What has inspired these books, and your writing more broadly?
Katharine: I’m fascinated by old houses, Italy, other people and secrets - so if you put those things together you come up with Villa Leonida. I like to put ordinary people into extraordinary situations and see how they cope, and I like seeing how a single bad decision can set off a chain of consequences that changes the course of their life.
Megan: What's next for you - what are you currently working on? Will we return to Italy with you, or something nearer to home?
Katharine: I’m a bit of a scatterbrain so my computer is full of bits of stories. I've been working on a history book about suffragettes in Windsor this year as well as The Secret. Now that I've got that off to the publisher I can't wait to get into a new novel. I have a psychological thriller on the go, and am about a third of the way through a Shallow Grave-meets-The Secret History story about a group of housemates who discover a body after a party. And I'm also toying with a series of cosy crime detective stories set in Windsor, my nearest town. All I need is time!
Megan: I found a number of interesting elements in The Silence. I hope I'm not giving too much away but there is an interesting issue in your book that deals with speech issues. Do you undertake a lot of research for your novels?
Katharine: For The Silence I didn't have to do much research because it’s not a procedural crime story but I did have it read by a speech therapist, a GP and a police firearms expert, all of whose help was invaluable.
Abby stops talking to most people after a traumatic incident. I had some understanding of selective mutism because I stopped talking myself when I was six although with much less justification than Abby! But I had a speech therapist read the manuscript to check it was plausible and she made some useful suggestions and updated me on speech therapy practice in the 1990s.
Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings was inspired by a true story my grandmother told me about a ring she passed down to me but I did quite a lot of research about 1930s England and being a soldier in Italy and Africa in WW2 for Jack’s army scenes. This got me interested in what the war must have been like from the civilians’ point of view in Italy so I came back to it in The Secret. I did a lot of reading and online research, watched old films and in Italy I’ve visited villages similar to Santa Zita, the museum at Sant Anna di Stazzema and the Gothic Line fortifications near my home in the Lucca area.
Megan: I always imagine that any books that deal with history require a lot of plotting to get the timelines accurate - do you plot or are you more of a 'pantser'?
Katharine: Interesting - I'm not sure if this is planning or mucking about but I make lists, drink coffee, put a lot of thought into choosing names, write plots and compile full dossiers on my characters. But I can't say I always stick to them.
Megan: As we finish up, I'm always interested in which of an author's fictional characters they would most like to have coffee with. Who would you choose and why?
Katharine: Oh what a lovely question! I’d most like to have a coffee with Jack from Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings. A lot of people don't like him - he's not always truthful and has made some pretty bad mistakes but then he is misunderstood.
Megan: Thank you for joining me, Katharine and best of luck with The Secret. I can't wait to read it!
Katharine: Thanks for having me today Megan - I've really enjoyed visiting.
To order The Secret, visit http://mybook.to/thesecretjohnson
To follow Katharine on social media or visit her blog: