It’s such a pleasure to welcome author Julia Kite to my blog today for my stop on the blog tour for The Hope and Anchor! Before Julia takes over, here’s what her novel is all about.
Author : Julia Kite
Title : The Hope and the Anchor
Pages : 302
Publisher : Unbound
Publication date : February 8, 2018
In the depths of winter in West London, Neely Sharpe’s life is turned upside down: Not only has her career reached a dead end, but her girlfriend, Angela, is missing. In desperation, Neely scours the city to try to find out what has happened, traveling from London’s pubs and snowy streets, down to the depths of the sewers. As her hunt continues, networks of friends, family, and old adversaries become entangled and she ends up delving into Angela’s past. Nothing could prepare her for what she will discover about the hidden life of the woman she loves. The Hope and Anchor is an atmospheric debut novel which captures the dreams London holds for its natives and newcomers alike, and what happens when the dreamers finally have to wake up.
IN PRAISE OF UNLIKEABLE WOMEN
We all want to be liked. Or, perhaps more accurately, we don’t want to be hated. Most of us would be fine if the rest of the world remained completely indifferent to our everyday behaviour. Unfortunately, the only way to provoke that kind of response is to ensure there’s nothing potentially objectionable about your existence, and anybody that utterly bland would not have any particularly interesting about herself, either.
A character’s flaws move along the action of a book. Her less-than-perfect decisions, her mistakes and her shortcomings, ensure crucial tension. When I started writing The Hope and Anchor, I knew my protagonist, Neely, was not going to be the world’s most sympathetic character. Neely seems to create a lot of problems for herself. The book begins the morning after she went out and got drunk and fooled around with one of her friends, which might not seem like such a terrible thing to do if it weren’t for the fact that Neely lives with her girlfriend, Angela – and this friend is spoken for, too. Neely is a failed academic whose career is going nowhere. At times she is eaten up with self-loathing over how she has made a hash of her life thus far, even though on the face of it, she’s better off than a lot of other people, including Angela. It’s hard to feel sorry for the university graduate who hates her job when at least she has one that pays enough to live off. Throughout the book, it’s clear that Neely is an intelligent person, yet she does things that make little sense because she is so mentally thrown after Angela disappears. Who lets three complete strangers into their flat and invites them to spend the night when they’re off their faces? Neely does, and I’m sure readers will find a few moments where they want to take her by the shoulders and shake her for being so clueless.
But that’s the point. While the central tension of the story – the disappearance of her girlfriend – is not due directly to Neely’s actions, I wanted her to second-guess her judgment, question her self-concept, and ruminate over whether she had any role in what happened. By seeing Neely as a deeply flawed young woman, the reader can later give her room to redeem herself. Eventually Neely comes face to face with more trouble than she’s ever imagined. While I don’t want readers to be thinking, “Well, NOW you really have something to worry about, you moaning piece of work,” because the purpose of Angela’s misfortune isn’t to punish anybody else in her life, I did want to set up Neely’s development as a character in a way that shows the only way she can get a grip and make anything of her life is to ditch all her old expectations of what her life would be.
And then there’s Andy, Angela’s older sister. I loved writing Andy as a character, even if I’d probably want to stand at least a hundred feet away from her if I met her in real life. She had quite a violent and self-destructive streak in her youth, and she has tried to put her rough upbringing, where she felt like she had to quite literally fight all of Angela’s battles, behind her. Nowadays, she’s a middle-class mum of two in the suburbs, but Angela’s disappearance forces her back to a place and a mindset that she would rather never revisit. Slowly, she loses her grip on the façade she’s built up over the years. My goal was for Andy to have this kind of simmering tension crackling off the page. Life has repeatedly victimised her sister, but Andy thinks that if she can get the first crack in, she can avoid being a victim herself. Better to be feared, and untouchable, than to give someone a chance to see any of your vulnerabilities by opening up yourself to love. But when she can’t protect her sister as an adult, there’s nowhere for her rage to go.
Throughout The Hope and Anchor, Angela exists in absence. She is a memory, a flashback. The two women invested in finding out what happened to her, and why, both have enough issues to power a small city – and they are not necessarily fully resolved at the end of the book. But I didn’t want them to be, because if I wrapped up every loose end, then I would be sending the message that life can be so easily parcelled and tidied. In real life, women are complex people. We sometimes act in ways that sabotage our happiness, smart people make stupid decisions, loving people put up brick walls topped with razor wire, and life deals out casual cruelty in ample measures to people who don’t deserve it. I wanted to capture life as it is lived, in an unforgiving city.
But wait – it’s not all bleak. After all, a book that’s a complete downer works almost as poorly as a book with no flawed characters! For all their problems, Neely and Andy come out of this book wiser. Neely may not have achieved great things, but she lives and plans for a future. Andy may be a mess, but she’s doing everything she can to make sure her children won’t. And Angela? Well, maybe she wasn’t really a passive victim destined to be consigned to news cuttings. I wouldn’t want my readers to feel obligated to like or even identify with these flawed, difficult women, but I do hope they will stick with them for the ride.
Julia Kite lives in Manhattan, and calls New York City and London home. She is a graduate of Columbia University and the London School of Economics. Obsessed with cities and the people in them, she started her career researching housing and urban regeneration, and she now directs policy and research for a transportation improvement organisation. Before she began working to make New York City’s streets better for cyclists, she was taking long rides along the Grand Union Canal in West London. She is a member of the Columbia Fiction Foundry, an alumna of quiz shows The Chase and Jeopardy, an urban wildlife rehabilitator, a keen amateur baker, and the owner of an opinionated parrot. The Hope and Anchor is her first novel, a work of fiction about a very real place she holds dear.