Author interview – Kerry Postle

For the first of my author interviews I spoke with historical novelist Kerry Postle about her debut, The Artist’s Muse. If you haven’t read this beautifully written story about Austrian artist’s muse Wally Neuzil, I highly recommend it. And, if you have read it, you will no doubt enjoy this behind-the-scenes-peak into Kerry’s research and writing process.

In the Author’s Note of The Artist’s Muse you say that you were inspired to write Wally’s story after a visit to Leopald’s Museum. What did you do next?

Like all good exhibitions, Schiele at the Leopold in 2015 posed so many more questions than it answered, all of them about Wally. I couldn’t stop thinking about her, the girl with the red hair, in so many of the artist’s paintings. She was everywhere. Her suffering, hidden in full sight, so seemingly acceptable, disturbed me. I felt compelled to give her a voice.

After finding very few details about Wally’s life I decided to look at her through Schiele’s paintings. These would structure most of Wally’s journey.

Next I threw myself into researching the social history (specifically the role of women) of the time as well as looking into how this expressed itself in specific aspects of the culture. What I discovered helped furnish me with how she would have been regarded as well as providing me with enough details to fill in any gaps in her personal story, particularly pre Schiele. I had an outline. I was ready to write her story.

Can you tell us a little about your writing process? 

The writing process – that gloriously messy business which, if continued until the end, can turn into something that looks remarkably like a novel.

I am certainly not a planner and so, for me, in the beginning, most days would be spent researching. I have books and books full of ‘useful’ notes. It was when I couldn’t remember where I’d put them that I decided to just get on with the writing. I would set myself a word count target. No matter the quality. There’s something very satisfying about having 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 words of your novel written. You then at least have something to work on.

This was the most enjoyable part of the process – working on and playing with the language. I would read it out, changing it until the sounds flowed. Then, if I ran out of inspiration, I would seek it in the writing of my favourite authors , then write some more.

The least enjoyable part was having to cut all that ‘useful’ research I’d spent days (weeks) of my life doing. (Though when I read novels which are research-stodgy I’m pleased I’ve whittled the facts away. Probably could have cut away some more. Lesson for next time.)

As for fun, oh, I’ve loved writing ‘The Artist’s Muse’! To amuse myself I’ve peopled the story with a young Stalin, the would-be artist Adolf Hitler and Freud’s dog; laughed over euphemisms for sex; and tried to convey the lechery of a certain type of man with descriptive putdowns where Wally’s disgust oozes from the page. Ah, the writing process. It’s been a blast!

Is there one piece of research, a visit, book, film etc… that stands out as providing the most insight, and why?

There are two. The first is Otto Weininger’s ‘Sex and Character’. A popular text in turn of the century Vienna in which the  author details the precise differences between men and women, setting them out with scientific precision. Women are formless, they are matter without a soul, only able to claim some purpose when moulded by a man.
The other is ‘History of a Working Girl’ by Adelheid Popp, an Austrian feminist of the time who wrote her memoirs charting her early working life as she fought her way out of poverty. Much of Wally’s early life owes much to this.

Throughout the novel Wally has a distinctive voice, did this come to you easily, or did you find you had to write for a while before you heard her?

I wanted to give Wally an authentic voice and so I continually asked myself what it would feel like to be without a father, to be without a job. What would I do if I had no money? Had no choice but to do things I didn’t want to do. To put myself in her skin was the key. As the narrator I also wanted her to judge and express opinions which she could never have articulated out loud – to give her a voice which she was never allowed to have in society. Once I followed this process Wally’s voice came easily.

Did you find there were lots of gaps in history that you had to fill with fiction? How did this process work for you?

Yes, in truth there were many gaps that needed to be filled. There was so little information on Wally in particular. However, this was a gift as it meant I could dress her life in historical details that told the story I wanted to tell on her behalf. I used Adelheid Popp’s autobiography to add authentic detail and so stay true to the spirit of the age.

If they made The Artist’s Muse into a film, I think Eddie Redmayne would make a great Egon Schiele. Who could you see playing Wally?

Yes, I completely agree – Eddie Redmayne would be a perfect Egon Schiele. Hope he’s not busy next year. As for Wally, now she’s more difficult. I did think Games of Thrones actress, Sophie Turner. She has the red hair. And experience as the long suffering victim. But I’d like someone a bit more feisty. Think I need to get out to the cinema more. But I think either Tilda Swindon or Cate Blanchett would make a deliciously obnoxious Emilie Floge. As for Klimt, I’m thinking an aged Ralph Fiennes.

What can you tell us about your next novel?

As for my next novel, it’s set in Andalucia at the start of the Spanish Civil War. The trigger to the action will be a true event that will disrupt the lives of my three main characters forever, throwing them all in very different directions.

The Artist’s Muse by Kerry Postle is available to buy as an ebook on Amazon, Kobo and iBooks.