Kirsty Stonell Walker became an Historian of the Victorian, mainly because it rhymed. In almost twenty years’ worth of study she has written the only biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s most notorious model and muse, Fanny Cornforth. In 2014, she published a novel based on the life of Alexa Wilding, Pre-Raphaelite Muse and Woman of Mystery. Her novel We Are Villains All, published in 2015, is a murder mystery set around the lives of a Victorian poet and his best friend, a photographer. Published in the autumn of 2018, Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang reveals the lives of Pre-Raphaelite models, muses and artists, lushly illustrated by portraits by renown illustrator and artist, Kingsley Nebechi, alongside the wonderful original paintings. Kirsty has written The Kissed Mouth blog since 2011, airing Victorian dirty linen in a humorous and thought-provoking way.
What was the last book you read?
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. It was recommended to me just at an opportune moment as I was in the middle of a conflict at work and it teaches you to pick your battles and see the battles that others are bringing to their relationship with you. It’s an amazing book and changes the way you see your relationships forever and stops you wanting to slap your co-workers. Always a good thing.
What did you read it on?
On audiobook, which I’ve been told is cheating but I do a lot of driving so love to have a book playing as I travel about. The narrator is very important because it can make or break your engagement with a novel. I heard one, narrated by a famous Hollywood actress who I love, which was appalling as she sounded like she was dozing off to sleep. My favourite is any Agatha Christie narrated by Hugh Fraser, because he does all the voices to perfection. His old Australian lady is a revelation.
Which is your favourite bookshop or e-bookstore and why?
Sadly no longer there, I spent a great many of my teenage hours in a second hand book shop called ‘D’Arcy Books’ in my home town of Devizes. Squeezed into a bit of a Georgian house, it was filled with every book you could want, all priced cheaply. I built a formidable book collection from there and cried when the couple retired because they always had what you wanted. They made me a book collector and I thank them, even if my bank balance, husband or anyone who has ever had to help us move house doesn’t.
Name your favourite app and why.
A while ago, there was an app released where you are a bird flying around the ‘Strawberry Thief’ design by William Morris, slowly filling in colour as you eat strawberries. It is ridiculously zen and is the sort of game your kids can play in front of judgmental grandparents without comment.
Go on, let us know your musical guilty pleasure.
There is no such thing, I refuse to feel shame about any of the utter nonsense I listen to, however, as anyone who has ever been stuck in a car with me will testify, I sing loudly. I don’t mean just, you know, loud. I mean that point where your ears tingle in a bad way. My parents, with their sense of humour, paid for me to have singing lessons which increased my volume. I got a big pair of lungs and I will sing at you. My Native American name is ‘Travels Alone’.
And your one from the world of fiction?
I am a massive Harry Potter fan (I’m Ravenclaw) and have no time for people being snooty about books. We’re so lucky to be able to read so many different books and think the joy should be in reading something that makes you happy. I can’t be doing with books, lauded by others, that don’t hold my attention. If I really need to read something and I’m hating it I force it in via audiobook. There was a novel that my friends adored but I just couldn’t bear it and so audio-ed the hell out of it, just so I could justify my loathing. The writer just didn’t shut up about tea cups and then everyone died, for some reason. Sod that, I’m off to read Gone Girl.
What was your first job?
I worked in a wool shop, a great idea at the time because I was (and still am) a dedicated knitter. However, the trio of old women who employed me just wanted an able-bodied and expendable youngster for ‘store room duties’. The store room was on the second floor where most of the floor boards had been removed and I had to jump from beam to beam to retrieve balls of wool. They called me squirrel. Happy days.
What are the most common traps for aspiring writers?
There are two: That everyone who criticises you knows what they are talking about and that everyone who criticises you doesn’t know what they are talking about. It’s a painful process learning what to listen to and what to block out and plough on.
If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t worry, keep going, it will pay off. Also, you aren’t weird, you have Asperger’s. Mind you, you are also a bit weird, but that works for you. Go with it.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Terrible, as I’m guessing is the case for most writers who have other stuff in their lives. It has to be stuffed in alongside school runs, going to work, being at work, cooking dinner, talking to loved ones and so on, but I find the work expands like gas to fill all the crevices in your life so you can do it. Many people ask me where I find the time but if you want to write, you just find the time, usually whilst doing other things all at the same time. Once the first draft is done it all gets a bit more organised, but up to that point, it’s Hell on toast.
Kirsty Stonell Walker is speaking at our 2018 Writer’s Summit. To book your ticket, and learn more about our programme, see here.