Interview with Kay Bell, Author of The American Governess
15 Jul 2019
What can you tell us about your new release, The American Governess?
The American Governess is a novel about life, love and loss. It’s 1967. Young Becky Golding leaves New York to work as a teacher on a cattle station in North Queensland Australia. Told partly from the perspective of her indigenous housekeeper and friend, The American Governess is a coming-of-age story, set at a time when there was social unrest in both USA and Australia, and when women’s roles were evolving. The novel explores the isolation and hostility of the Australian bush as well as its extraordinary beauty, and the challenges graziers face every day just to earn a living.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
I’ve written fiction for as long as I can remember. When I write, I create a world into which I can escape. That appeals to me. I was a voracious reader as a child; while other kids dreamed of becoming rock stars or firemen, I dreamed of becoming an author. I am lucky to be encouraged by my husband, TW Lawless, who is also an author, and to have a very supportive family.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
Wow, only five? I recently reread Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet and remembered exactly why I adored it when I first read it as a child. To that I’d add (for various reasons and not necessarily in this order) Frederick Forsyth’s The Odessa File, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. And am I allowed to mention my husband’s debut novel, Homecountry? There are so many more I’d love to add to the list. I guess my tastes are diverse.
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
If we’re suspending reality, I’m tempted to say James Joyce. I’d probe him with, “Ulysses: please explain”. Although I don’t know that anyone would take on a second episode after that.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
Creation. People who never were. The beauty of words, their sound, the beat of a phrase and the rhythm of life exposed on a page. I love it all.
What is a typical day like for you?
I begin writing first thing after breakfast. I’m notorious for putting everything else second, and I mean everything. When I’m writing, “I’ll [insert verb here] in a minute” never happens. Before I know it, I’ve been going for hours and haven’t heard a thing. Meanwhile, life’s spinning around me but never seems to catch hold. A quick break and it’s back to the computer. I’m happiest when I’m writing. Anything. Even emails.
What scene in The American Governess was your favorite to write?
That’s a bit like asking a parent which child they love the best. I don’t want to reveal a spoiler, so I’ll just say the bit where Chase visits Nellie at her home nearing the end of the book. It’s probably pretty obvious that I love Nellie. Heck, I love them all. Except possibly Gladys MacGregor.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
The measure of a person does not reside in their bank balance. I made that one up.
In an increasingly self-centred world, I think we need to remind ourselves that kindness and respect are not signs of weakness.
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