Bolton School Former Pupils
Kate Long (1976-1983)
Kate is the author of seven novels, the first of which, The Bad Mother's Handbook, was adapted into an ITV drama starring Catherine Tate.
What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?
I tended to like subjects because of the teachers, so I enjoyed Latin because I loved Mrs Tate’s anecdotes, and art because Mrs Chambers was so laid-back and cool. But English, a subject about which I was lukewarm when I entered School in 1976, was transformed for me into my number one favourite by the wonderful Mrs Johnston and, later, Miss Windle, both of whom encouraged me and helped build up my confidence.
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
I took a BA in English at Bristol University, and a PGCE at Exmouth. Afterwards I taught English for fifteen years.
What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role?
I’m an author of commercial fiction, producing a book a year. It took me a decade to get a full-length manuscript accepted by a mainstream publisher – plenty of rejections along the way – but in the meantime I had short stories placed in magazines and competitions, which kept my spirits up. The Bad Mother’s Handbook, my debut novel, came out in 2004 and was a big hit, serialised on Radio 4 and then made into an ITV drama.
What/who influenced your career choice?
I’ve always been a big reader, so every author I ever enjoyed was an inspiration, whatever style they embraced, from Beatrix Potter to Lionel Shriver.
What/who has been your biggest inspiration?
It was my mum who got me into books – not only did she read to me at bedtimes, but we read to each other for fun till I was about fifteen, which is quite an achievement on her part. There was also a local librarian, Mrs Quinn, who took a particular interest in my reading progress and recommended titles to me. I’m not sure adults always appreciate how far a kind word can travel when they’re dealing with the young.
Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
I’d say you have to be disciplined – don’t wait for the muse to call, roll up your sleeves and get writing, and you should find the ideas will come. The more you write, the easier the process becomes. So I start at 9.15am and carry on until I’ve hit my daily word count, and, unless there’s some absolute crisis, I never take days off.
You also have to be thick-skinned, because there will be rejections and bad reviews and tactless comments at every stage of the game. Joanne Harris once told me she uses negative reviews as cat litter! But the hurtful stuff is more than balanced by the lovely emails and letters you get from readers who say your work has touched them in some way. There’s nothing nicer for an author.
What do you like most about your job?
I like the fact that I have this regular and legitimate escape into my own head. That’s been important during times in my life where reality proved very testing, such as when my husband had a bad motorbike accident. Being able to slip into a world where you control everyone’s fate is pretty therapeutic. It’s an island of calm amidst the chaos.
What is your biggest challenge in your current role?
It can be scary being self-employed, working from contract to contract. I try to focus just on writing as well as I can, so that I’m not fretting about aspects of my career that are beyond my control. I do have an excellent literary agent on my side, which helps.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
Having a Sunday Times number one bestseller was amazing, and finding myself invited onto Woman’s Hour to meet the great Jenni Murray. But I suppose the highlight has to be working with Catherine Tate, Anne Reid, Steve Pemberton and Robert Pattinson on the television adaptation. What a privilege to see behind the scenes and watch how a film is put together. I was very, very lucky.
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
Bolton School was the first environment where I felt I was understood, and where I felt I’d found friends. That sense of acceptance enabled me to follow my interests and express myself more confidently. And, needless to say, the English teaching I received was inspirational.
What advice would you give to our pupils interested in your field of work?
Read for the joy of it, and as widely as you can. When it comes to your own writing, a regular word count or target is helpful, but make it one you can achieve or you might feel discouraged. Keep a special notebook for your ideas and jot them down as soon as they come, because if you don’t, they will vanish into the ether, no matter how brilliant they were. Once you feel confident enough, joining a real or online writing group will get you used to receiving criticism, which is something all authors have to learn to deal with. Listen humbly to reader feedback, but at the same time, don’t let anyone put you off. Believe in your voice and in what you want to say.