Katie Lowe is a UK-based writer whose debut novel The Furies was released this May by HarperCollins in the UK and is coming later in October to the US with St. Martin’s Press. In her review for Sublime Horror, Rebecca Wojturska said that “Lowe has done a fantastic job of weaving so many threads together to create a hauntingly dark tale of adolescent female fury.” Here, Rebecca speaks to Lowe about The Furies, Lowe’s blogging and PhD, and the Gothic.
Rebecca Wojturska: What inspired The Furies and what was the thought process behind writing the book?
Katie Lowe: I’ve wanted to write a book about teenage girls for a long time. I loved the movie, The Craft, when I was a teenager and I struggled with the teenage part of life because it was so intense. The things that I felt and thought about at that age were more full-on than they are now. So, I really wanted to explore that. But also, there’s a lot about witchcraft in there which I personally find fascinating, and there’s that idea of women standing outside of the patriarchy and facing up to what can be horrific consequences for them. There’s this lineage of people going back to the medieval time, and you can trace that and see the history of people who stood in that position, and I find that so interesting. That was my way into this. Viewing the relatively contemporary teenage experience through that context.
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RW: I feel like I saw a lot of my own teenage years in it, more so than I was expecting! Is that something you set out to do? To capture the angry coming-of-age years for girls?
KL: Yeah, I did want to do that because books about teenage girls and books for teenage girls are often nice, sweet and lovely and there’s this dismissal of young women’s anger. For men, it’s a coming-of-age story and they get to explore their emotions and be as terrible as they want to be. For girls it’s not treated as seriously as I’d like it to be. For me with this book I wanted to do it some kind of justice. My teenage years were probably not really different from anyone else’s, but it was that intensity of experiencing things at that age which I certainly took seriously at that time. I’m sure if I read back through my diaries now I’d be dying inside but there was a seriousness to it and I wanted to try and capture that. Obviously, I’m 31 now but it was interesting writing it because of going back into those feelings. So, listening to all the music that I used to listen to and buying old items of 90s clothing just to try and recapture that time in my life. It was strangely rewarding.
RW: Was it strongly based on your own personal experience? Except for, hopefully, the dead girl on the swing!
KL: I didn’t murder anyone! None of the actual parts of the plot are based on my experience but it certainly draws on various things. For a while I had three friends and we used to go and sit in a coffee shop, have coffee and it was cool. I thought that could be one little thing that I would put in there that was me and definitely my experience. But I didn’t want it to be an autobiographical novel. Although there’s definitely links to things that happened to me or my friends, or things that I relate to that happened in the book, they didn’t necessarily happen in my life.
RW: Probably safer that way!
KL: Absolutely! Less animal sacrifice!
RW: I’d heard of the blog you run, Fat Girl PhD, and was wondering if blogging about body image, feminism and health informed how you wrote The Furies?
KL: Yeah, it kind of did. I stepped away from the blog for a while before I started writing The Furies. I think that a bit has carried over from one to the other. For example, I was angry a lot during writing Fat Girl PhD, about structural issues with feminism, body image and the way women are seen in culture. It wind me up! That’s the sort of thing that I’d love to put into fiction but I wasn’t sure how to do it. So, the lectures that [the teacher] Annabel give are very feminist and taken to the logical extreme. One of the things that I tried to get Robin to do, is she’s constantly picking at her weight and how she looks, she’s very aware all the time of her size and how she is. I wanted to reflect the way that women are used to assessing each other’s values through their size or the way they look or the way they feel about each other. I wanted that to get into Violet’s head and be an issue for her.
RW: I think you got that across and handled it really well. I saw you’re going to do your PhD soon on female rage in literary modernism and the #MeToo movement – congratulations! Was the PhD inspired by writing The Furies or did it come about the opposite way?
KL: It kind of was actually. I was writing The Furies and doing all this research on the Greek myths and paintings as well as research into angry women in literature. But also, while I was writing the book I didn’t have a TV and my internet wasn’t working very well; I was working and reading a lot of contemporary fiction. I noticed that so many women are writing about these angry female characters, a sort of simmering rage that’s going on, and it was happening before the #MeToo movement kicked off. I sold The Furies in September 2017 and about a week later the Harvey Weinstein allegations came out and two weeks later #MeToo went global. So, I was aware there was a female rage simmering in literature before #MeToo happened but obviously it’s massively heightened over the last two years and I think it’s such an interesting topic. I thought there’s a PhD to be written here and I’d love to be the person that gets to write it. It was one of those things where The Furies made it happen but also was just good timing.
RW: You’re writing the kind of books that you can critique in your own PhD!
KL: Yes! I know. I thought, can I use my own book? One thing I found is my supervisor is quite receptive to talking to me about my book, so that’s really interesting.
RW: I really enjoyed the Gothic elements within the book. There was some doubling, some haunting from the past. Are you a fan of Gothic literature or was it unconscious Gothic creeping in?
KL: The first adult novel I ever read was Carrie by Stephen King. I was like eleven, my mum should not have let me read that book at that age, but I picked it off the bookshelf! I found horror fascinating then moved onto books like Dracula, Frankenstein and everything Shirley Jackson has written. I devoured these books then completely forgot about them! Then I did my masters and undergrad in modernism and it almost seemed like they’d been sitting in the back of my mind. After I finished The Furies, I realised I had a real hankering to read all of these books that I’d forgotten about! So I found myself refreshing my memory on the Gothic over the last year or so, which has been amazing! I’ve always been a fan, but I’ve been a fan in denial for about fifteen years.
RW: Well, it’s the return of the repressed; it always comes back! Do you have a favourite horror or Gothic book?
KL: Oooooh. Well, I mean I adore Carrie. I watched the original film last week with my sister and I’d forgotten how brilliant it is. But I guess if I had to choose an all-time favourite… I saw you did an interview with Michelle Paver and I adore her. Everything she’s ever written. That Thin Air she wrote a couple of years ago actually made me envious. She’s just incredible and everything she does is brilliant so she’s top of the list. But then, Carrie…
RW: So, are you in the process of writing book two or is it in the pipeline?
KL: Yeah, I’m in the process of it. I feel like I’ve been in the process of it for a long time! I was working full-time but I’ve given the job up and now I’m a full-time writer. I’ve got all this time and I’m actually making some headway with the second book, which is great but it’s been really odd trying to write something else than The Furies. Because The Furies was, well not easy to write, but it was one of those things were I knew exactly what I wanted to do from the beginning, so it was seven months of being completely in the zone, knowing exactly what I wanted to achieve, and when it was done I knew it was done. Whereas with this one it’s sort of ghosts, but also a psychological thriller, it’s a little bit of different things and it has been hard to figure out how all those elements will fit together, but I think I have it all figured out now. I’ve just got to get it all on the page!
RW: Don’t want to give too much away, but how would you describe your next book in three words?
KL: Spooky. Intense. Twisty.
RW: I’m looking forward to it already! Do you have any plans for a Furies book tour of sorts?
KL: Not yet. I have a couple of things coming up here and there. So, bit of a backstory but my parents met at WHSmith and my dad worked there for about forty years, and I actually worked there for nine years, so I’m actually doing a book signing in his WHSmith! I’m also doing a couple of events in between, mainly book club events, and I’m doing a literature event in October as well too.
RW: I’m looking forward to The Furies being published so I can talk to people about it!
KL: Thank you! I went into a shop today and saw it being put on a shelf and had my surreal publishing moment a couple of days early, which was really exciting!
RW: Did you always want to be an author, or was it that you wanted to write this particular book?
KL: I always wanted to write but I didn’t know that I’d be able to do fiction. There’s a picture of me when I was eight, and I begged my parents to buy me a typewriter, so I’m sat in front of this typewriter with this Aladdin t-shirt on. So, fast forward to 2014 and I’ve got my agent, who I’m still with now, she’s amazing, and we talked about nonfiction books based on the blog and it hasn’t gone anywhere, and she said “why don’t you try fiction, I think you’d be really good at it“ and I thought that would be like pulling a rabbit out of a hat! But I went off and had a crack at it, but every time I thought this is terrible, I can’t do this, this is awful. Then I had a long torturous approach to writing another book which was terrible, but I finished it and thought great, this is done now, I don’t every have to write another book and then the next thing I know it’s like a lightning bolt moment with The Furies! So I guess I knew I wanted to write.
RW: Thank you so much for your time!
KL: Thank you!