Having spent a month AWOL in April with no interviews or guest posts on Linda’s Book Bag, I’m delighted to be back to my normal blogging today with an interview with Kate Dunn, author of The Dragonfly.
The Dragonfly was published by Aurora Metro on 27th April 2017 and is available for purchase here.
When Colin discovers his son is on a murder charge in France, he trails his small boat, The Dragonfly, across the channel to stay in Paris to try and help him. There he meets his grand-daughter the irrepressible Delphine for the first time. They embark on an exciting boat journey through the picturesque French canals, heading south through Burgundy, until the butter melts.
Along the way, they catch up with Tyler, a spirited American, and through various mishaps and misunderstandings, they land big fish, cultivate new loves and uncover a burning secret.
But can Colin finally help his son get off the hook?
Shortlisted for the 4th Virginia Prize for Fiction, The Dragonfly is the new novel by Kate Dunn: ‘a charming family drama set on the waterways (and in the prisons!) of France.’ (Claire King, author of The Night Rainbow and Everything Love Is). A beautifully written and expertly plotted adventure: ‘Quirky and warm-hearted, with darker undertones that keep you gripped. Kate Dunn is a fine storyteller.’ (Ben Elton)
An Interview with Kate Dunn
Hello Kate and welcome to Linda’s Book Bag. Thanks so much for agreeing to tell me about your latest book, The Dragonfly.
Tell me, what was the inspiration for your new novel The Dragonfly?
My husband and I have done a lot of racketing around the French waterways and we once saw, tied up next to us in a marina, a tiny little boat only about four metres long and we got chatting to the owner and he and his granddaughter had been on an epic journey lasting 36 days and counting! They were an extraordinary couple and I was fascinated by the challenges for such an ill-assorted pair living in an incredibly confined space and having to cope with the havoc that boating on the canals and rivers can sometimes wreak. So that was the starting point for my novel, which is an account of the relationship between a middle-aged Englishman, Colin and his French granddaughter, Delphine, who are thrown together when her mother is killed. To keep her out of harm’s way and offer some kind of diversion, he takes her on holiday on his tiny day boat The Dragonfly, and they have numerous adventures together as they sail south from Paris.
Did writing The Dragonfly help you relive places you’ve visited and things you’ve seen?
It certainly did. The novel has sprung directly from my own experience, so most of the mistakes that Colin makes are ones that my husband and I have made ourselves, and a number of their adventures are in fact our adventures, or ones we have been told about by other boaters (there’s a real community on the waterways, with a great sense of pooled resources and information). And the location is incredibly important to me in my writing – I think it’s a vital anchor to any story, so I go to a good deal of trouble to make it as vivid, real and accurate as I can.
Was description easier because you could see the reality in your mind’s eye?
I’m not sure about that. I think you need to have an incredibly vivid image in your mind’s eye of anything that you are writing about, whether it’s real or imagined. Sometimes it can be a bit restrictive, having to adhere slavishly to something real – I think you can run the risk of ending up with a kind of literal transcription, rather than something you have creatively taken ownership of – if that makes sense.
(It certainly does – and I hadn’t thought of it quite like that.)
Was it actually quite difficult to capture the essence of what you’d experienced and turn it into part of a fictional work?
Some of the waterways in France are just so staggeringly beautiful that any kind of description is inevitably going to fall short – so that is always a challenge. When I’m drawing on my own experiences (which I don’t often do, The Dragonfly was rather a steep learning curve in that respect) I think that the emotional truth of what has happened and the impact that it has had on you is as important as any concrete details about the experience itself. It’s a balancing act as you do need some of these details to help make the story specific rather than generalised. I think a few individual insights are always more telling than a wash of too much information.
(I agree that it is the emotional pull that really makes a novel.)
Were there places you hadn’t been and had to research vicariously or by visiting them?
Every place that features in The Dragonfly is somewhere that we have sailed to ourselves, although my husband recently reminded me (rather sorely it must be said) that I made him go back miles and miles to a particular lock to check whether it had chestnut or beech trees growing beside it. And the Internet is a wonderful tool for research – I did find myself checking things on Google Earth / the French tourist board / whatever as I was writing to make sure that the background information was as accurate as possible.
What were you hoping to achieve by drawing on your own experience?
I have a passionate love for France so I wanted the novel to be a hymn of affectionate (and sometimes irritable) praise to a country that I really love and admire. I wrote it at a difficult time in my life, following the sudden death of my father and my son leaving home to go to college, so writing about Colin and the sadness that he feels about being estranged from his son Michael was a way of addressing my own grief and sense of dislocation. Although it is quite a light and amusing story, what underpins it is something a little darker. Maybe I wanted to show to myself that by working through my own feelings I could develop resilience and find a kind of resolution. It’s a book about reconciliation – perhaps the actual journey that my characters undertake mirrors my own journey through bereavement and out the other side – I hadn’t thought of that before!
After a year like I had last year Kate, I can totally empathise with those sentiments. Thanks so much for sharing some of the background to The Dragonfly with us today.
About Kate Dunn
Kate Dunn comes from a long line of writers and actors: her great-great-grandfather Hugh Williams was a Welsh chartist who published revolutionary poetry, her grandfather, another Hugh Williams, was a celebrated film star and playwright and she is the niece of the poet Hugo Williams and the actor Simon Williams.
Kate has acted in repertory, toured around Britain, the Far and Middle East and appeared in three West End plays, as well as a number of television productions. She has a PhD in Drama from Manchester University.
Following the birth of her son Jack she turned to writing and has had four books published including Rebecca’s Children, Always and Always – the Wartime Letters of Hugh and Margaret Williams, Exit Through the Fireplace – The Great Days of Rep
and Do Not Adjust Your Set – The Early Days of Live Television.
The Dragonfly was short listed for the Virginia Prize awarded to encourage fresh women’s voices in fiction.