Kathryn Evans and her first novel
- Credit: Archant
Kathryn Evans is an actor and farmer’s wife who has just published her first novel. With so many strings to her bow, perhaps it’s no surprise that her young adult novel, More of Me, has a divided soul as its protagonist. Words by Sue Scott
There is a pile of unread books on Sussex farmer Nick Evans’ side of the bed – his just-published wife Kathryn’s isn’t among them.
She shrugs. “Curiosity will get the better of him eventually,” she says, reaching for one of the strawberries on which they founded their soft fruit business 16 years ago and which are partly responsible for her debut teen fiction, More Of Me, released by Usborne this month.
“Eat some or I’ll scoff the lot,” she says as she pushes a punnet towards me and scoops a kitten off the kitchen worktop for the umpteenth time, placing it firmly on the floor.
The book’s not what you’d expect - insofar as you could predict what a belly-dancing farmer’s wife, ex-actor and mother of two, who keeps multiple retailers supplied with berries, might come up with. Did I mention she also fences competitively?
The title isn’t meant to be autobiographical, but More Of Me, perhaps inevitably, contains quite a lot of Kathryn. She admits she “wasn’t a very happy child”, her career as a grower means she knows way more than most people about the lifecycle of a bug, and her big influences as a kid were HG Wells and Doctor Who. All of which combine to create one freaky but believable ride.
“When Doctor Who came back on TV, I remember sitting on the sofa with my kids and thinking ‘Please like this’,” she says. “I love the sense of the ‘other’.”
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More Of Me allows her to explore it multiple times. To her boyfriend, school chums and teachers, Kathryn’s hero Teva is a typical teen; at home she’s anything but, because every year since she was a toddler, Teva has separated into two, until there are multiple versions of herself living in each other’s shadow. You could say it’s existentialism for beginners.
“I really identify with the character of Six – the sad, quiet child,” says Kathryn. “My mother died when I was little and though I’ve got a lovely stepmother, who really became my mum, we didn’t always see eye to eye.”
A Navy kid, Kathryn and her three siblings did most of their growing up in Portsmouth and by the age of 12 she’d morphed into a “cocky, confident, back-chatting” pre-teen. More of Me is the book she’d have liked her young self to have read. It’s a Lonely Planet Guide to finding your way through all the conflicting, confusing and uncomfortable aspects of growing up that tend to conflate in your teenage years – the moment when you tell your parents you don’t want to be treated like a child, even though you’re terrified of becoming an adult; when you desperately distance yourself from the kid you were with an aching longing never to let him or her go.
Any plot that explores the simultaneous existence of a dozen ‘yous’, giving you the benefit of arm’s-length introspection while affording you the opportunity to, quite literally, beat yourself up, would surely have ticked Jean-Paul Sartre’s box must-read box. Probably Freud’s too, come to think of it.
“I think a lot of young adult [YA] fiction is read by adults and they don’t even realise it,” says Kathryn. The themes are universal.
“We all put things off and it comes to tomorrow and you blame – or thank – the you of yesterday for not doing them. I thought, what if those different versions of you really did exist?“
She focused on a young audience because “I’m really interested in that stage in a child’s life when all the synapses are firing”, and she describes her style as “Contemporary with a sci-fi twist and a dollop of horror. Though it took quite a long time to find what I do best.”
Kathryn showed early promise as a writer: her first published work, a poem about a volcano, was aged nine – “I remember the utter thrill of seeing my words in print” – but she was set on a stage career and took herself off to study drama at Bangor University where she fell in love with agricultural student Nick. They married and moved to a “crappy caravan” in Sidlesham to try to make a living as market gardeners while she worked in the Green Room at Chichester Theatre. Some years later they would return to the Manhood Peninsula to set up Haygrove Sidlesham, a nursery specialising in growing raspberries and strawberries under glass.
“I’ve written bits and pieces all my life,” says Kathryn. “But when my daughter Emily was little I started telling her stories. Acting doesn’t fit very well with farming – you can’t tour for a start – but I missed being in the theatre; I missed creating lots of characters, so I wrote a picture book. The first editor I sent it to got back to me, basically suggesting I learned how to write.”
So she did and for 15 years the rejections continued to come in. Now Kathryn shares an agent with Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer, whose fictional boy genius is being brought to the screen by Kenneth Branagh. Even he might find casting More Of Me a challenge.
Kathryn still works full-time for the farm, but now most of her day is spent working on the accounts in her untidy farm office that at night serves as her writer’s den.
From her window, Kathryn can see the glasshouses where beneficial insects used to control pests on the crop are engaged in a continuous process of metamorphosis.
“It probably sowed a seed for the book,” she says, “but the heart of the story is about letting go of your past and taking the best bits of yourself forward. I hope anyone reading it will come away thinking, whatever happens, it’s going to be okay.”
More Of Me by Kathryn Evans was published on February 1 by Usborne, priced £6.99.
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