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Tag: katarina west

Writing is travelling into the unknown: author Katarina West on her inspiration, the “perfect novel” and more

About the author: Born in Helsinki, Finland, Katarina West lives in an old farmhouse in Chianti with her husband and son, and when not writing, she is fully immersed in the Tuscan country life, from jam-making and olive-oil-picking to tractor maintainence. Witchcraft Couture is her first novel.

About the book: Witchcraft Couture is a dark fantasy steeped in Finnish mythology, a cautionary tale reminiscent of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, written in the lush style of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Here is the review on Tabula Rasa. 
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In this interview, Katarina discusses her writing process and inspirations, leaving us with her brilliant concoction of the “perfect novel.”
Why do
you write?
it’s the thing I love most to do, because I don’t know how else to exist, and
because I have done it – in one way or the other – for most of my life. It’s
not the easiest choice for a profession, and in some sense I believe it’s not a
choice at all, but something you just have to do, no matter what. There have
been dark periods and crises during which I decided I will not write any more. But
after a while I was always back writing again.
What do
want readers to take away from your writing?
A possibility
to escape, in the widest and deepest sense of the term, which is something I
appreciate most as a reader. That wonderful feeling when you enter an imaginary
universe, complete with its characters, sensory details, little stories and
emotions, and when you’re inside that world it feels more real than your
everyday life. And after you have finished the novel it still lingers in your
mind, and you keep wondering why the characters acted the way they acted, and
why the end was the way it was, and what must have happened to the characters
after the story ended.
say, “Write what you know.” Do you agree?
Yes and
no. Once I read an interview of Somerset Maugham – who is one of my favourite
authors – and he said something similar, and afterwards I have often tried to
follow that advice, choosing settings and social backgrounds I know well. And
in a sense it is true, that you write best about something that you have
experienced and breathed in your own life. But then there is also the fact that
writing itself is an act of gambling, it’s about closing your eyes and
travelling into the unknown, and going beyond the boundaries of what you
already know.
did you find the inspiration for Witchcraft Couture?
things inspired me. One was the Finnish national epic
Kalevala and the magic tool, Sampo, which plays a leading role in
it. The Sampo has always fascinated me, and already years before I started to
Witchcraft Couture I knew that
one day I would like to write about the Sampo. Another inspiration was my own
life, or actually my writing, and the fact that in the past I suffered from
creative blocks. So I wanted to write about a man – a fashion designer – who
was just as insecure as I was, and destroyed his designs the same way I
destroyed my texts. And then one day he found a magic machine that transformed
even his worst designs into masterpieces. So this was the start, and it
intrigued me.
are your three all-time favourite books and why?
My all-time favourite book is Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground, which I read
during a summer holiday when I was about sixteen. I read it several times in a
period of four, five days, first in a haste and devouring each word, and then
slowly, underlining sentences, thinking, studying. It was something I had never
read before; it was like falling in love. That was the first time I realised
how complex fictional characters can be – and once you’ve started journeying on
that road, there’s no turning back. Afterwards I’ve always sought that same
earthquake-like reading experience, but sadly, no other book has ever had quite
the same effect on me – not even Dostoyevsky’s other, more famous novels.

As for the two other all-time favourites… well,
it varies. I have periods when a certain author is my absolute favourite and I
try to read whatever he or she has written. But then that period comes to an
end, I don’t know why, and I find someone else.

I suppose I’m always constructing in my mind the
Perfect Novel. Everything in it is absolutely flawless: its characters have the
warmth of John Irving’s best heroes, its language the intensity of Toni
Morrison’s books, or the sarcasm of Etgar Keret’s stories, or the bubbly
lightness of Sophie Kinsella’s narrative voice, or rich fantasy of Stephen
King’s thrillers… And yes, I could go on forever with this list, because I
really am omnivorous when it comes to reading.

Lovely interview, thanks Katarina! And readers, Witchcraft Couture is available to buy on Amazon. Grab your copy now!
Don’t you love the idea of the Perfect Novel? Mine would have some combination of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (like Good Omens) with J. K. Rowling’s characters and Stephen King’s genre-defiance. What would be the ingredients to your perfect novel?

Witchcraft Couture by Katarina West

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on November 20. Don’t forget to grab your copy! Also, watch out for an interview with author Katarina West in the coming week, discussing her favourite reads and inspirations.
Summary: Is there such a thing as stolen genius, and if there is, can it turn against the very person who stole it?
Oscar Pellegrini is a talented fashion designer with a deadly enemy: his own critical mind. He destroys much of what he designs and has been drifting for years. A chance encounter with a former girlfriend triggers a creative crisis so deep that he escapes to Russia. Just when he thinks he has lost everything, he discovers a magical machine, called the Sampo, that can turn ordinary outfits into irresistible shining triumphs. Oscar takes the machine back to Italy – and before he knows it, he has become a fashion messiah Celebrities and socialites are fighting to wear his gorgeous garments. But the happily-ever-after ending turns into a nightmare, as he is haunted by his creations. Drawing inspiration from Finnish mythology and the epic Kalevala, Katarina West has spun a story on madness, guilt and cumbersome art.
My thoughts: Katarina West’s writing reminded me of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. She has a sort of romantic writing style, which goes beyond vivid detailed descriptions. The writing is evocative and sensual. And written in the form of a diary, it is personal taken to an almost voyeuristic extreme; be it when Oscar talks about his creative block, his guilt and self-doubt or his lovers. Something like this –
There were also times when my thoughts embarrassed me: it seemed such an ordinary thing to do, to fall in love. Yet then I happened to see her, and at that very instant I turned all rigid, and soft, and felt roused, and nervous, and insecure, and hopeful, and intrigued, and beneath all that, in the depths of my nerves and veins, in that terrible vortex of dreams and desires, I felt her presence, and it kept drawing me towards her; and that attraction had no rational cause, it entailed no why, or when, or how – no, it simply existed, with the inevitable simplicity of a law of physics, and as such, it was flesh over reason, blood over spirit, and once it had come upon you, there was nothing you could do about it. 
Oscar Pellegrini is an unreliable narrator. He is moody, neurotic, obsessive, insecure and as the Sampo begins to affect him, he becomes increasingly crazed and incoherent. His creative blocks at the beginning, his spurts of inspiration and the final breakdowns soon get tedious and repetitive. The pace of the book is far too slow for what is essentially a mystery, the build-up is gradual and eventually, after trudging through half the book, my curiosity over what the Sampo would do to Oscar waned. This genre-defying slowness and length also makes it like Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. So if you had issues with one, you might not like the other.
At its core, Witchcraft Couture is simply a “magic always comes with a price” cautionary tale. Oscar is gifted in the style of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille from Perfume by Patrick Süskind. Except, in Oscar’s case, the extra-ordinary in him is an external force, like a lifeline, making him an anti-hero not unlike Dorian Gray, whose power rests in his portrait. Witchcraft Couture is a unique turn on a classic tale – you can draw comparisons with everything from Doctor Faustus to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 
I love the way West has portrayed the artist. Oscar’s talent has a life of its own. His crises, his muses and frenzied work, his visionary ideas and the way he perceives the world through colour and texture, along with all his troubles characteristic of a genius – his inability to fit in, his mood swings, his obnoxious fantasies – the book conveys them remarkably aptly. West shows us both Oscar’s artistic point-of-view and his rational understanding of what the world thinks of him. He makes a very interesting impression that sticks with you. Katarina West displays the world of fashion in as much honest and gory detail as the world of publishing is shown in Rowling’s The Silkworm. One of my favourite descriptions is,
There is no vaccination against creative blocks. And nowhere else are they as devastating as in fashion which, unlike art or literature, dies the moment it is born.
For those who love lush prose, long winding monologues and character-driven stories, for fashion and art enthusiasts, I highly recommend Witchcraft Couture by Katarina West. This book made me mull over and ask myself the eternal unanswerable question: what matters more – plot, characters or a little of both. Which would you pick?