Loaded Questions with Kelly Hewitt
Not Yet Drown'd by Peg Kingman
September, 2007 -- 384 pages -- $24.95
Not Yet Drown'd, Peg Kingman's debut novel, is full of multi-faceted characters, a detailed storyline, and beautiful settings that take the reader from Scotland, across the Atlantic, and to Imperial India. Kingman has done a great job of paying attention to the culture and history of the countries featured in the book which makes the diverse settings all the more palatable. The story is of a young widow, Catherine MacDonald, who faces a crisis in the wake of her husband's death. A series of events set Catherine fleeing from Scotland to India in search of her twin brother whom she had believed to be dead. The cast of characters quickly form around Catherine, the central character. We have her step daughter who is actively being sought by relations determined to remove her from Catherine's charge. There's also two maids that come into Catherine's service as her boat leaves shore headed for a surprising journey. I would recommend this book for the setting, the cast of characters, and Kingman's attention to detail. To top it all off I can say that at the end of my interview experience with Peg she proved to be kind,
helpful and genuine.
Kelly Hewitt: Not Yet Drown’d is your debut novel. What part of the process, from writing to getting it on the shelf, have you found to be the most surprising? Have you learned any important lessons along the way?
Peg Kingman: The most valuable lesson I've learned is not to dread and loathe the rewrite process. I now recognize that revisions are golden opportunities. The difference between pretty good and superb may just be a rewrite (or three). And how lucky we are, we writers, that our craft doesn't require that we get it right in real time, in front of an audience (as performing musicians must, for example)! We get to pat and pick and carve at it - in private - until we get exactly what we want. If you're working in watercolor, one clumsy brushstroke wrecks your whole painting - but we writers just hit that handy Delete key, and try again.
Another lesson I've learned - a corollary - is not to be appalled and discouraged by the hideousness of my first draft. It's not a sign that the project is doomed or that I'm on the wrong track; it only means I'm trying to do something that is difficult. Now I know that I'll take all the necessary time and care required to fix it - later.
Peg: Oddly enough, it was not until I was two-thirds of the way through writing Not Yet Drown'd that I finally visited India. Nevertheless, India had figured large in my imaginative life since my early twenties (when I'd first attempted a serious novel with an Indian setting), and for nearly thirty years I have been collecting and reading history and memoirs about the experience of the British in India. Why? I can't account for this in any rational way (but was fascinated to learn that Patrick O'Brian's early "entertainment" Hussein, set in India, was written when he was in his early twenties, and before he'd ever visited India).
As for Scotland - I first visited there as an au pair when I was seventeen. I fell madly - embarrassingly - in love with the place and the people, and ever since have returned there whenever I could.
Kelly: You have quite a cast of characters in this book and a few very different settings. Was there any one particular scene or setting that was harder to write than the rest?
Peg: The hardest - and most frightening - scene for me to write was when I finally assembled my entire cast of characters in one room (well, a shipboard cuddy cabin, actually), around a dining table. I knew that they must be talking animatedly with one another - I could see their lips moving! - but what were they saying? I could not hear a word. It was as though a thick soundproof sheet of glass separated me from them. I had to wait, and listen very hard, very patiently, until, as I grew to know each individual better, I gradually could hear them, very faintly at first . . .and set down what they had to say. Quite weird.
Kelly: When reading your biography (available at PegKingman.com) it become clear that you're quite an eclectic person -- at one point working as a tea merchant and a beginning bagpiper. The connection between Scotland and India suddenly becomes clear. Where do you think you get your tastes in such different activities and cultures?
Peg: Perhaps from never having felt quite at home in the here-and-now of mainstream American culture? In terms of my imaginative life, I have never really inhabited the twentieth century - far less the twenty-first. I seldom understand what's going on in real time, unfortunately. . . it takes a lot of time passing before I get it. (I'm not the person to write contemporary analysis or commentary). On the other hand, working in distant time and place settings lets me slip in what seems to me some pretty trenchant stuff about the more timeless (as opposed to timely) aspects of human experience.
Kelly: I have read that you have two teenage sons. How do they feel about having a mother who is becoming a pretty successful author?
Peg: Three teenage sons, actually. I put your question to one of them, who said that he's "pretty impressed that someone who's just our mother, to us - is world- well, country-renowned." Another son assures me that this book is a "good piece of art" and that he'd like to have the cover image on a T-shirt. The son who made the technical drawings for Not Yet Drown'd tells me that he's proud to be my "offspring." What I hope they have absorbed from observing my work process is that creative work requires painstaking care, energy, courage, and persistence - and is nevertheless well worth doing, even though one may become (what must seem to them) ancient before achieving anything resembling recognition or success.
Kelly: You're probably already tired of hearing this question but I suppose I owe it to my readers to ask: What's next? Can you tell us anything about upcoming projects that might give us a chance to read more of your work?
Peg: I can tell you this: My working title for the next novel is Too Long in This Condition (though that could change, depending on what my publisher thinks of it). Expect to encounter several of the same characters, at another time, in a different part of the world, with a different problem. (Didn't give away much, did I?)