Dreams come true

Childhood memories and an inspiration from the past are part of the rich tapestry of themes woven into Kim Edwards' novel.

Kim Edwards' avid note-taking has proved very fruitful. Photo / Deborah Feingold
Kim Edwards' avid note-taking has proved very fruitful. Photo / Deborah Feingold

When your first novel spends 20 weeks at No1 on the New York Times best-seller list, you'd be forgiven for getting a serious case of the collywobbles over producing a second.

But Kim Edwards is a cool customer. As she tells me over the phone from her home in Lexington, Kentucky, she'd been working on her writing for two decades by the time The Memory Keeper's Daughter became a smash hit.

"I'd written myself through bad times so I knew I could write through good ones," she says, "and fortunately I'd already started on my next book by the time The Memory Keeper's Daughter made such a splash in the world. So even though I was busy and distracted by everything that was happening I knew I had a place to come back to."

The Lake of Dreams (Penguin, $40) is set in the area where Edwards grew up, the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. It's the story of Lucy Jarrett, who returns to her childhood home and, by chance, uncovers a family mystery that helps her solve her own dilemmas. A page-turner, much like The Memory Keeper's Daughter was, it also has a strong sense of local history that ties into a rich tapestry of themes such as making stained glass, and women's suffrage.

"I'd been thinking about this book off and on for a long time, way before I was ready to write a novel," Edwards says. "The first idea came when I was a student in 1986 and went to see Halley's Comet. The comet itself was disappointing because we couldn't see it very well but I thought it would be a wonderful way to tie an intergenerational novel together so I made a note about it."

Edwards is an inveterate note taker, constantly jotting in journals and transferring interesting thoughts and ideas to files she's been keeping for years.

"To begin with I didn't know what these notes were for," she says. "They were my way of staying aware of what was going on around me and recording the impressions the world made on me. I jotted things down and eventually they seemed to be part of the same thematic idea and formed part of the story."

Since she was a child, Edwards has known she wanted to be a writer, although it seemed an unlikely dream at first. "I used to make my mother read aloud to me for hours before I could manage it myself," she recalls. "I love stories and the power and beauty of language and the things hidden within words when you start to study them."

Edwards spent several years supporting her writing habit by teaching English in Southeast Asia, a biographical detail she uses in the opening chapters of Lucy's story in The Lake of Dreams.

She's not one of those novelists who rigorously plots every detail of a story. Her approach is far more organic. When she began this book, for instance, she had no plans for the all-important second strand of storyline about Lucy's mysterious ancestor Rose.

"I knew the past would play some part in things but I didn't know the story of Rose when I set out. She came along with great insistence, interrupting Lucy's story and then, of course, became crucial for her self-understanding."

Rose's tragedy is that she is separated from her child - a theme that seems to be repeated from The Memory Keeper's Daughter. But Edwards says she realised the two novels had elements in common only as she was in the process of writing.

"On reflection, in both books I'm looking at the pressures social expectations and cultural mores put on relationships. The parent-child bond is one of the strongest and I'm fascinated with the way it can still be affected."

Edwards, a mother of two, somehow balanced the writing of her first novel with raising small children and teaching at the University of Kentucky.

"I don't know how I did that now," she says.

"Writing ideally needs an uncluttered mental space where you don't have other things pressing on the edges. I only managed the intense concentration needed to write The Lake Of Dreams because I'm on a four-year period of leave from teaching."

It took her three years to write The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The Lake Of Dreams took about four years because it was interrupted by book tours and public appearances. Right now, Edwards is taking a break to regenerate and gather ideas for her next story.

"It's an interesting time to be a novelist," she says. "The landscape for books has changed radically since The Memory Keeper's Daughter came out.

"In the United States, book chains are disappearing and e-books are taking off.

"I feel the changes that are happening now are as momentous as when the Gutenberg Press was introduced, but have no real sense of finding order from the chaos.

"It's hard to anticipate.

"If it takes four years for me to write another book what will the landscape be like by then?"

- NZ Herald

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