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Kate Worsley: Thursday 7th March 2024

The East Anglian landscape strikes resonance in us all; we know and love it. So, when a novel draws upon that special connection, and imagines two newcomers starting afresh in a place we hold dear, a treat is in store. This was the case when Kate Worsley came to talk about her novel Foxash.

Aptly, the evening fell on World Book Day, and we launched into a reading from the start of her novel, treated to rich, earthy descriptions diffusing from the page, sprouting and flourishing in our imaginations. The scene was set ready for the Q&A, hosted by Andrew Burton, digging into Kate’s inspirations, and marvelling in the fruits of her labour. 

Having been a journalist for many years, Kate iterated the importance of research. The novel is based on The Land Settlement Association, a British Government backed body at the height of the Depression, whose aim was to build a healthier country and reduce unemployment, by buying up farms and retraining unemployed labourers. Kate likened the scheme to acting like a silver bullet in solving many of society's biggest challenges. Whilst this is only the basis of the novel, with the couple Lettie and Tommy taking centre stage, Kate had to rediscover a forgotten part of our local history, and this proved challenging. She spent over a year delving into museums, archives and interviewing the children whose parents were part of the movement. And, of course, she had to visit the sites of these communities too, both Foxash, near Manningtree in Essex and the Suffolk site near Newbourne, getting a feel for the landscape and homes that ground the novel and build the foundation for those sumptuous descriptions within the book. 

Conversation then touched on the importance of her themes. Whilst formerly inspired to write about witches, she felt that the market was already saturated and so she altered her perspective to ideas surrounding those women: fertility, potency, and the natural world. She built her female characters to embody those ideas. Kate too felt inclined to write about complimenting antitheses, such as male and female. Light and darkness was also prevalent. Tommy had been a miner, and so the contrast of darkness with light was influential. Other examples were invoked; seeds to germinate need darkness. The revolutions of night and day, and winter to summer follow the same pattern. We could all tell that Kate had expertly entwined these themes into the novel, and that naturally led us to the discussion of religious allusion.  

Many of these natural opposites balance powerfully and hark back to Paganism, where the land is the giver of life and the seasons and weather in charge of their fate. Kate read a wonderful passage, with Lettie impulsively declaring they and their neighbours should have a party for the summer solstice. Their home seemed full of tension and foreboding. Heavily pregnant, Lettie felt compelled to mark the height of light, and the moment where the days descend into darkness ‘The swell, split, stretch, the blind search for light… . The sky always seems to be wide awake, calling. I do feel extraordinary… . As if, anything I ask of them, they might do. Anything I want, I might have’(169).

Having discussed the novel, the conversation naturally turned to Kate’s next endeavours. We were all lucky enough to be let in upon the fact that yes, another novel is on the way, this time set in both Preston and Switzerland. Those who know of Kate’s work so far can’t help but notice the pattern emerging, the tie to the elemental. Her debut novel, She Rises, is set at sea, the churning, choppiness of liquid. Foxash, is the solid, earthy, grounded work. So the next? Perfume, and air, and relationships, and, boy, will it be a joy.

Every detail within this novel was specific and, unsurprisingly, took years to write. But what advice would she impart after this process? Writing is like having children. Don’t do it, unless you really really want to. And the story you want to tell – everyone has one! You’ll be doing it for a long time, so only do it for your own satisfaction. Do it for you. Her love for her work shone, and we left having all thoroughly enjoyed our evening with such a skilful and attentive author. Foxash celebrates our local history and landscape. 

James Phillips


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