When I asked Judith Kinghorn if I could conduct an interview with her I had no idea that I’d just let myself in for a very tall order. First of all she has already provided an extensive question and answer section on her website which covered the most basic questions to the most complex. I had to put on my thinking cap and dream up some questions which would make her want to co-operate, she is, after all, a bestselling author and a busy one at that! Thankfully I managed to ask her Mitford related questions and she provided very detailed answers. Click here to visit Judith’s personal website.
How long have you been an admirer of the Mitford girls and how did this happen?
I read ‘The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford when I was seventeen and away at boarding school. It was a novel doing the rounds at that time, and despite having been published for almost four decades everyone raved about it. Needless to say I loved it; loved the characters, the wit, and the dazzlingly sharp observations. After that, I read ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ and ‘Wigs on the Green’ and, a few years later, Mary S Lovell’s wonderful book, ‘The Mitford Girls’. Since then, I’ve read many books – either about them or by them, including Anne de Courcy’s biography of Diana Mosley, ‘Hons and Rebels’ by Jessica Mitford, and ‘Debs at War’ also by Anne de Courcy. Last year I read ‘Wait for Me’ by Deborah Devonshire and ‘In Tearing Haste’ (the letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh-Fermor); and I’m always dipping into my Penguin copy of ‘The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh’, which is brilliantly witty and bitchy and funny.
Do the Mitfords inspire the plots and characters of your novels?
I‘ve not been conscious of it, but I’m sure that they’re there – somewhere! Whenever I’m researching, I read biographies, letters, memoirs and novels from that particular time, not only for details and historic context, but in order to try and capture the voice(s) and language. There’s no doubt that my reading – including some of the books I’ve just mentioned – helps me do that.
Have you ever based a (future) character on a specific Mitford girl? And if so, which one was it?
I haven’t based any character on a Mitford girl and I don’t think I would ever attempt to. My characters are all fictitious. There are influences there, of course, from reading about various people’s lives, but they tend to be an amalgamation of influences and impressions, and are always filtered through my imagination.
Dead or alive, which member of the Mitford family would you invite to a dinner party?
Either Nancy or Deborah. I’d love to have both! In fact, I’d love to have them all, so that I could sit back and watch the dynamics and interplay between them all. And of course, I’d have my notebook and pen there!
Who is your favourite Mitford girl and why?
I’m not sure. I think they are/were all fascinating in different ways… But perhaps Nancy: because she was the novelist and because she was so clever and funny.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?
My début, The Last Summer, was borne from a desire to write a first person narrative, one set around the time of the First World War and told from a female perspective. I’d already done a huge amount of research for another novel I’d been working on, but I had this itch to write something more romantic and intimate. At first, the idea was simply to write something for myself. I didn’t think of it as The Novel, the one that would get me a book deal. I didn’t think about publication at all. But after six months of writing – and loving it – I had a first draft, and decided I had nothing to lose by emailing the first chapters to a few agents. One came back to me very quickly – within a couple of hours – requesting the full manuscript and an ‘exclusive’ (which meant I couldn’t show the work to anyone else). I agreed. At that time the novel wasn’t quite finished, but a couple of months later, once I’d finished writing and editing, it was auctioned and I had a book deal.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read! And read widely. Read the classics, read as much as you can by truly great authors and those respected and successful in their genre. Study the craft of writing through them. Then, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite; hone and polish your work until it shines.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m currently working on my third novel, which is set between the late 1920s and the Second World War. Similar to ‘The Last Summer’, it’s the story of a large dysfunctional family – and this time, one with four daughters! It’s about the rise and fall in their fortunes, their loves and losses. I’m really enjoying writing it, so I very much hope that readers will enjoy it, too!