10 July 2020

Interview with Kayte Nunn, author of The Silk House

Author Kayte Nunn
Author Kayte Nunn
Today I have great pleasure in welcoming Australian author Kayte Nunn to Carpe Librum. Kayte has written The Botanist's Daughter, The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant and The Silk House and was kind enough to join me here today and answer a few questions about her latest book The Silk House, her interest in witchcraft, what she's reading next and what she's writing now.

Thanks for joining us Kayte. As I write, Melbourne is in lockdown. Have the events of this year had an impact on your reading and writing? If so, have they had a positive, negative or neutral effect?
Certainly to begin with they had a negative effect as I was so distracted that I couldn’t concentrate properly on writing or editing – a final read-through of The Silk House took me twice as long as it normally would have done. Then, both my daughters were doing school at home for a month or so and that was rather distracting. However, since then, where we live at least, things have settled into a new normal (for which I am very thankful and know we are very lucky) and I’m just trying to get on with things and not watch too much news coverage.

How different was the publication and release of your new novel The Silk House compared to last year's release of The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant?
Very different – normally I would visit bookshops in Sydney and Brisbane and meet booksellers and do a number of events at which I would meet readers. However, this year my events are online, so I can do them without leaving home! I am missing the interaction with readers – it’s harder to gauge their reactions in a crowded Zoom event – but the upside is that more people are able to access these events. I hope in future years that there might be a mix of the two.

I hope so too. The cover design for The Silk House is absolutely stunning and I just love the byline: Weaving. Healing. Haunting. It immediately drew me in. What can you tell us about the cover design process for this novel?
Thank you! I’m very fortunate that my publisher, Rebecca Saunders, involves me at the beginning of the process, so we investigate different angles and discuss what might work and what not. It’s then a process of refinement to arrive at the final cover. I was once a magazine editor, and briefing and deciding on covers – and cover lines – was one of my favourite parts of the job, so it’s nice to be able to continue that with my books!
The Silk House by Kayte Nunn cover
Published by Hachette Australia

What research did you undertake to enable you to successfully bring England - the silk weaving industry and life as a housemaid - in the late 1700s to life on the page?
There is a restored silk merchant’s house in the town where I grew up, so being able to see that was invaluable in imagining the practicalities of life in those times. I also did a great deal of general reading about life in 18th century England, and particularly as it pertained to servants and an emerging merchant class, and also about the silk weaving industry in Spitalfields at that time.

Did the botanical knowledge gathered and obtained in the writing of The Botanist's Daughter help you with Rowan's knowledge of herbalism and the medicinal properties of plants in The Silk House?
Somewhat. I did further research about the medicinal properties of plants, even finding out what books on herbal lore would have been available then.

What is it about herbal lore and apothecaries we readers find so fascinating? Could Rowan really have found all of those plants growing in her local area? Were apothecaries required to maintain client confidentiality? Tell us more.
I think anything with unusual properties is fascinating, particularly if it can be found growing wild and only someone with the right knowledge can unlock its power.

I made sure that the plants Rowan finds were all native to that part of England at the time, to the best of my ability. I love the sound of plants native to England – cuckoo pint, medlar, foxglove, etc so it was a pleasure to include them. Finally, I would imagine that it would have been in an apothecary’s best interests to be discreet about his customers.

In The Silk House, we learn in the blurb that a 'length of fabric woven with a pattern of deadly flowers will have far-reaching consequences for all who dwell in the silk house.' Do you believe an item can be - intentionally or un-intentionally - imbued with evil or bad luck?
If I really think about it logically, probably not, but then I am also a fairly superstitious person, so who knows?

I enjoyed that our main character and history teacher Thea Rust is researching persecution ideologies and witchcraft in sixteenth and seventeenth century England. Can you share a little about your own interest in witchcraft?
It developed as I wrote this book and began to research women accused of witchcraft in Wiltshire, of which I discovered there were quite a few, and notable cases. As part of my history A’Level (many years ago now) I undertook a project based on research of my choosing at the local records office – how I wish I had known about the women tried and often killed for being witches then, for I surely would have chosen that as my project!
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell book cover
Read an extract here

What book/s is on your bedside table at the moment?
A huge pile, but notably Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, and Joanna Nell’s soon-to-be-released The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home.

I'm looking forward to reading Hamnet too! Is there a book release you're looking forward to or a book you'd like to read before the end of the year?
I’m craving a bit of glamour and escapism, particularly as travel is off the agenda at the moment, so I can’t wait to get my hands on Kevin Kwan’s Sex and Vanity.

I've read that you're almost always working on multiple projects at a time. Can you share anything about your next novel with us?
I’ve finished the structural edit of a book for next year, set in Burma during the Second World War and Ireland leading up to New Year’s Eve 1999.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I hope my readers love The Silk House as much as they did my previous two books – with each book I write I try my hardest to write a better, more compelling, page-turning story.

Thanks so much for your time Kayte! I certainly enjoyed The Silk House and I'm really looking forward to reading your next book.

Would you like to comment?

  1. This was my first book by KatyeNunn book, but it won;t be my last.

    1. Thanks Marg, great to hear you're a fan of Kayte Nunn's books now too.

  2. I really enjoyed this interview. Thanks!

    1. Awesome, thanks Theresa! I tried to come up with some original questions she may not have been asked before.


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