Doodles, doodles everywhere congratulates author Katarina West on the success of her debut novel, Witchcraft Couture! Let's welcome her on the blog for an exclusive interview with DDE today. Read on.
1. What inspired you to write Witchcraft Couture?
OK, so Witchcraft Couture is a story of a talented but insecure fashion designer who in the midst of his umpteenth creative block finds a magical machine that transforms all his clothes into works of art. There were two things that inspired me to write this story. One was that I too have suffered from creative blocks: there was a period when I kept deleting my texts, and nothing I wrote was good enough for the ruthless critic inside my mind. Then one day I started to think creative blocks in a larger context. I knew that I wanted to write about them, because there’s something about talent and success that intrigues me. I mean, why some people make a name for themselves so easily, whereas others – often equally talented – never really fulfil the hopes they nurture? What’s the secret?
Also, much of Witchcraft Couture revolves around the magic machine my protagonist finds. It’s called the Sampo, and that isn’t the least bit my own invention. It’s the essence of the Finnish national epic Kalevala, and it has always fascinated me: I knew that one day I’d like to write about it. In the Finnish folk legend the Sampo isn’t a dress-making machine but an occult tool, and whoever possesses it is the most powerful person in the world. It’s a little like Tolkien’s Ring – which is no surprise, because Tolkien was a great fan of the Kalevala, and taught himself some Finnish so that he could read it in its original language.
2. Can you give our readers an idea about what they should expect in Witchcraft Couture?
One reviewer once wrote that Witchcraft Couture is a fairy tale in the old sense, when fairy tales were still sinister and mysterious. I think this is a brilliant way to sum up my novel! It’s a dark novel, both a fantasy story and a chronicle of a psychological drama, and most of it is written in a diary format. Reading it you can’t quite know what is real and what’s imagined. It leaves you with a disquieting sense of the surreal, plus plenty of questions. Like, does success always come with a price – and if it does, what’s the price we’re willing to pay for it?
3. Do you decide the character traits before you sit down to write the book, or as you go along?
Ideally, yes, I decide them beforehand. But you know, homo fictus is just as stubborn a creature as homo sapiens, and at times my characters start to behave in a way I didn’t expect, or develop in a direction I didn’t intend. On those occasions I shut down my computer and take a notepad and sit down and try to figure out what’s happening, and why. Those therapy sessions with my characters are always frustrating for me! But unless you know your characters like you know your best friends in real life, you can’t really go on with your novel.
4. Can you tell us what kind of research went behind Witchcraft Couture?
I have no background in fashion, so writing Witchcraft Couture entailed plenty of research. Above all it meant that I read a lot. I read books on fashion history and the industry as a whole, and books about textile technology, which were great for my novel. I even read books about setting up your own fashion label! I also interviewed fashion designers, and here it helped that I live in Italy, which is one of the Meccas of international fashion and design. These conversations were truly enlightening and I can’t but admire fashion designers, for their ability to work in such a mercilessly hectic environment. And you know, while doing this research I realised that notwithstanding the importance and size of the fashion industry, there are no ‘serious’ novels on it. There are chick lit type novels, which are deliciously entertaining and fun, but they don’t necessarily portray the fashion world in a realistic light. I hope my novel is one of the instigators of a new type of ‘fashion fiction’.
5. If you had to pick one favorite character from the book, who would you pick and why?
I think it would be Mrs. Brandolini, a silly, talkative elderly woman who was my protagonist’s secretary. Not because she was particularly intriguing or larger-than-life, but because all the other characters in my novel were so complex and tormented, and not even particularly likable. It was Mrs. Brandolini who kept me company while I was writing Witchcraft Couture.
6. Tell us about some of the biggest challenges you face in your writing process.
I think that many novelists agree with me that the first draft is a nightmare. No matter what you do it always looks horrible, and the only reasonable thing to do is to get it down on paper as quickly as possible. But that’s a challenge too, because that’s when the perfectionist in me comes out, and doubts if anything at all will ever emerge from that jungle of chapters. After that starts the fun part. I simply love editing.
7. What is your favorite place to think or write down your ideas?
My study. It’s my sanctuary. I have a worn and rather uncomfortable armchair in one corner, and that’s where I sit, under a poorly functioning floor lamp, writing down my ideas. There are writers who go to a café or a library to write – I could never do that. For me it’s enough to step inside my study, and I’m already in my fictional world.
8. If you weren't writing, what would you want to be doing for a living?
I have a PhD in humanitarian studies and always thought that I’d be an aid worker in one of the world’s many war zones. Instead I became a novelist living in a poorly heated farmhouse in Tuscany. Life works in its mysterious ways, doesn’t it?
9. Lastly, if you could give the upcoming debut writers a tip on being an awesome author, what would it be?
One, write regularly, and be disciplined. Two, be true to yourself: write what you want to write, and not necessarily what’s the latest publishing trend. Three, be active, and find as much as information about being a professional writer as you can. And finally, be patient: it takes time to become an author. Good luck!!
Oscar Pellegrini is a talented fashion designer with a deadly enemy: his own critical mind. He destroys much of what he designs and has been drifting for years, gradually retreating from the fashion business he loves but holding on to his dreams of success.
A chance meeting with a former girlfriend triggers a creative crisis so deep that Oscar escapes to Russia, where he drinks and despairs like never before. Just when he thinks he has lost everything he discovers a magical machine that turns ordinary outfits into irresistible sartorial triumphs. Oscar takes the machine back to Italy – and before he knows it, he has become famous for his designs, and celebrities and socialites are fighting to be first to wear his gorgeous garments.
But the happily-ever-after ending for the fashion messiah turns into a nightmare when his dresses acquire a life of their own, gaining energy and evil as time goes on. Haunted by his creations, a dark secret he is no longer able to hide, Oscar finds himself fighting for his life and sanity, and searching for the answer to a question he never knew existed.
Is there such a thing as stolen genius, and if there is, can it turn against the very person who stole it?
Buy the book
About the author
Katarina West was born in Helsinki, Finland, into a bilingual family that in addition to humans consisted of dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, canaries, rabbits and – thanks to her biology teacher mother – stuffed owls and squirrels.
She spent time travelling in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and went on to study at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London and the European University Institute in Florence, where she completed a PhD in political science and published a book based on it, Agents of Altruism. During those student years she started work as a journalist, and continued writing for various Finnish magazines and newspapers for over ten years, writing on various topics from current events and humanitarian issues to celebrity interviews and short stories. She also briefly worked as a university lecturer on humanitarian issues in Northern Italy.
Katarina lives in an old farmhouse in Chianti with her husband and son and when not writing, she is fully immersed in Tuscan country life, from jam-making and olive-picking to tractor maintenance.
Witchcraft Couture is her first novel and, unlike the unearthly clothes in its pages, her outfits are not shining.