An Interview With Karen Perkins - A Long-Listed Novelist In Mslexia Novel Competition 2011
We recently chatted with K A Perkins (Karen) whose book Dead Reckoning was among the long listed books in Mslexia Novel Competition in 2011. She has some extraordinary good and bad experiences of life during her early age that drove her to be a great writer. She has been a national and European Ladies champion in sailing. Her talent is further proven by her association with Peter Mutanda, a world famous poet, playwright and director from Zimbabwe who has done a lot of work in South Africa and is still very active.
Tell us about your childhood and schooling days.
I was very lucky to have had a 'proper' childhood. I grew up with my parents and younger sister in a small Yorkshire village – my playgrounds were fields, woods and the river. My parents were keen sailors, and we spent most weekends at the sailing club, which was a fantastic place to grow up. I learned to sail aged seven and played on the shore when not actually on the water.
My first school was the village primary – in constant threat of closure because there were only about twenty pupils. This is where I learnt to read and I can still remember being overjoyed when I was allowed to read books from the Junior's library a year early as I had read every single book in the Infant's library by the time I was six.
Later I was at Harrogate Grammar School. With over 1600 pupils it was a bit of a culture-shock!
What were your aspirations during those days?
I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up – it hadn't occurred to me as a child that I could actually write books as well as read them.
Please tell us about your Parents, family etc.
My family is very close, although I didn't see much of my wider family. Dad's side of the family lived 500 miles away, and Mum's were in Germany, so we only saw them once a year.
What drove you towards writing?
I have always been a bookworm – Mum says I was a very easy child as I spent all my time sat in a corner with a book, but it didn't occur to me that I could actually write books until a sporting injury left me disabled.
I was a very keen dinghy sailor, and regularly travelled around the country to compete. In 1995 I went a step further and competed at the Contender European Championships in Germany. The Contender is an extreme boat – a single-handed trapeze dinghy with a large sail, and I was used to sailing on reservoirs – two hour long races on the Baltic were a bit of a shock! One race in particular was very tough, and I found out later that half of the competitors retired from it. I was the only woman to finish the race but I hurt my back quite badly, although I did win the Ladies title.
It was only a few months later that I realized how bad the situation was. I was in extreme pain, that only got worse, and it took fifteen years to find the source. I lost my job and career as a financial advisor and also lost hope for any kind of meaningful future. One day I picked up a pen and just started writing – even though I could only hold the pen for ten minutes at a time. I could not leave it alone, though, it was like a hunger and so I trained myself to use my left hand as well as my right and, when I had filled in three notebooks, I realized I was writing a book. Seven years later, that book has been published as Dead Reckoning, and I have also written a novella to introduce it, called An Ill Wind. I can't imagine not writing now, even though I still have flare ups of my condition and there are weeks where I again can't hold a pen for more than ten minutes. Even so, I have also published two children's books, written together with my partner, Peter Mutanda, and am close to completing the first draft of my third fiction title, Thores-Cross.
An Ill Wind and Dead Reckoning are both set in the Seventeenth Century Caribbean aboard pirate ships (so I can sail in my imagination, at least) and follow the stories of Gabriella Berryngton and Leo Santiago as they struggle to find a life for themselves in a brutal time and place. The books were very much born from the pain and frustration I've suffered myself for so many years. Thores-Cross is very different, and is a haunting novel about superstition and isolation set in the North Yorkshire Moors. It's a dual-time narrative taking place in the present and in the very early 1700s, and tells the story of Jennet. Her isolated community turns on her through no fault of her own, and her influence stretches through the centuries. When I was a child playing on the shores of the sailing club, I found an old inkpot built into a dry-stone wall. It fascinated me, and I kept trying to think of reasons why somebody would hide an inkpot in a wall like that, and knew that one day I would write a story about it. The real story of that inkpot is probably very mundane, but that find so many years ago inspired Thores-Cross, and that inkpot is what connects my two characters across time. I hope to publish Thores-Cross in the summer of 2013.
What are your further goals now?
Obviously, I want my health to recover and be free of pain, and I would love to spend everyday writing and be able to make a living through writing books. I don't know how I managed before I started writing, but it is a part of me now. I have ideas for another half a dozen books in the Valkyrie Series (the pirate books), and at least another half-dozen ideas for stand-alone books. We also want to expand our series of Children's books; they are inspired by traditional African folktales, which have been handed down through the generations by song and dance. Both myself and Peter feel it is important to turn these stories into books for children of all cultures over the world to enjoy, and especially for African children living in the diaspora to read and connect with their culture.