Weaving story: an interview with Lauren Chater

Weaving story: an interview with Lauren Chater

Each lace shawl begins and ends the same way – with a circle. Everything is connected with a thread as fine as gossamer, each life affected by what has come before it and what will come after. 

I first met Lauren Chater in 2015 at the Historical Novel Society of Australasia inaugural conference. She had entered their ‘First Pages’ contest, and I read out a portion of her debut novel, The Lace Weaver, to a very appreciative audience. Lauren went on to win the contest and this year The Lace Weaver was published by Simon and Schuster.  It has been described as heartbreaking and poignant. You can read more about Lauren and her books at her author website.

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

It probably comes as no surprise that I was a massive book nerd when I was a child. Some of my best and earliest memories are of hanging out in the school library or being snuggled up in bed, reading books by Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter. I should probably thank my parents for my insatiable love of reading; they clearly passed their passion for stories down to me and to this day, we still swap books and discuss our favourite reads whenever we get together. Some of my favourite books were (and still are) The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston, The Hobbit by Tolkien and The Little Grey Men by B.B. We read lots of Patricia Wrightson and Ruth Park in our house, too, because dad loved those authors. There’s a reason their work is so enduring; they are essentially stories that inform us about who we are and the choices we make. Kids don’t worry about ‘genre’ – they just love good storytelling. I think we would do well to remember that as adults!

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

I think people need stories for a variety of different reasons: to provide comfort, to help them confront their own prejudice, to expand their thinking, to escape reality. There’s no reason why a book should have to do all those things at once, though and I dislike books that are heavy-handed or force you to conform to a deliberate agenda. You should be able to read a book and disagree with what the author is suggesting. There are so many opinions and alternate views out there and the waters are increasingly muddied by our obsession with social media. A book is a quiet thing; it’s a space which says ‘Hey! Step inside and spend some time in this reality. Imagine if things were this way.’ It’s a liminal place, a safe haven where you can’t be instantly judged or shouted down. It gives you room to breathe and gather your thoughts. I think books and stories are more valuable than ever in this digital age.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?


That’s a tricky question to answer because like most writers, I experience crippling self-doubt on a daily basis. I suppose if I have one magical power it’s to (hopefully) persuade my reader to investigate the place or time period I’m writing about. I hope my passion and enthusiasm for research translates through my work and that it inspires others to learn more.

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

Best question ever. As a child, I was obsessed with fairy tales and I developed a weird obsession with Baba Yaga, the witch who flies about in a cauldron and lives in a house on chicken legs. She’s actually quite terrifying, but my sister and I used to pretend to be her and chase each other. I actually remember hunting my sister down in my imaginary cauldron (we were clearly strange children!) I recently heard the author Kate Forsyth talking about Baba Yaga and apparently she is not actually evil (in the Russian fairy tale, it’s the stepmother who is bad and ends up being punished in the end for her wickedness). Rather, Baba Yaga is neither good nor evil, but a catalyst for growth and change, a metaphor for the inevitability of losing ones’ innocence in the woods. I thought that was so interesting.

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

With every book, I do seem to be trying to get at new ideas, which are very slippery and constantly elude me. I do think that I will keep writing about women, though. Women fascinate me; their capacity to band together to survive, their shared stories and knowledge passed down through generations, their resilience when faced with loss. Let’s be honest, we are the stronger sex, right (JOKING)? I like to challenge myself and there’s no greater feeling than when two seemingly unconnected ideas suddenly merge in some strange, serendipitous way. I call it The Funnel – you pour in the research and ideas, and words come out. That’s real magic.

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Lauren is not only a wonderful writer, but an extraordinarily talented cookie maker. Her blog, The Well-Read Cookie, is a delight (but be warned, salivation will ensue from even a short browse!). Her second book, Well Read Cookies, featuring some of her amazing cookie designs, will be released on 22 October 2018 and will fly off the shelves like… well, like cookies, so make sure you pre-order you copy soon! And if you can’t get enough of cookie goodness, make sure you follow her on Instagram.

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