Katie Allen’s debut novel, Everything Happens for a Reason, was published by Orenda Books on 10 June 2021.
Katie kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Everything Happens for a Reason.
In essence, it’s about a woman’s attempt to make sense of a sudden and devastating loss. The premise is undeniably sad but readers say (not my place to claim this) that it’s also funny and heart-warming.
Rachel had longed to be a mother and when she at last fell pregnant, she thought she’d planned everything down to the last detail. Then her son, Luke, was stillborn.
Drowning in grief and convinced she is to blame, when someone tells her ‘everything happens for a reason’, the words consume her. One possible reason stands out: last summer Rachel stopped a stranger from jumping in front of a train. She becomes convinced that saving that man cost her the life of her son. She resolves to track the stranger down and make his life matter.
The book is told as emails, but I won’t give away who they are to!
2. What inspired the book?
The starting point is autobiographical. Our son Finn was stillborn in 2010. Like my character Rachel, I had a fairly uncomplicated pregnancy then a few days before my due date I went into labour. Later that day, Finn’s movements slowed down and I went to hospital. A scan showed his heart had stopped and we went home without our baby. One of the hardest things in the days that followed was sharing the news of Finn’s death with friends and family. People were kind, sent flowers, visited, a few didn’t know what to say. One person texted back that “everything happens for a reason”. The words infuriated me but I also couldn’t quite resist them. I so wanted our sudden loss to make sense. Over time I let the phrase go (or thought I had!) but years later when the character of Rachel came to me, a woman alone on maternity leave without a baby, I knew that phrase would drive her to take extreme action.
Stillbirth is a sad subject and will put some readers off (it certainly deterred some publishers), but the truth is that stillbirths happen more than we are prepared to admit and for those who go through the death of a baby, this veil of silence makes their pain and isolation even more acute. I hope the book also resonates with any reader who has suffered a bereavement and, like my protagonist, has had to learn how to keep living without the person they long for.
From time to time, I’ve regretted sharing my own story and exploring baby loss in a book – it makes me feel so vulnerable and it’s been upsetting to see people turn away from the book the way some people turned away from me when I was grieving. But I have had some incredibly moving messages from readers, including other grieving parents, and they make me glad I saw this through.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I am a mix. I like to plan a little but then get to know my characters and let them take me away from the plan. Voice is really important to me and I want my characters to have a particular way of speaking and seeing things.
4. Having been through the publishing process, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
I loved how generous my editing colleagues were. I did one edit with my agent, Caroline Hardman, and all her suggestions made sense to me and improved the book, in my opinion. Then I edited with Karen Sullivan at my publisher Orenda Books. Again, Karen was brilliant to work with and just wanted to make the book as good as we could get it. Finally, we did an edit with Orenda’s editorial director West Camel where we sorted out more nitty gritty things. I started the book on a Masters in creative writing and my main tutor Clare Allan was amazing. But I found some of the other feedback unhelpful and overly subjective. What surprised me about working with people in publishing was how much more constructive and collaborative the process was. It wasn’t so much ‘I don’t like this, I like this’, but rather, ‘Here you are trying to do this and it could work better if you did it this way (more simply, from a different perspective, in a different tense etc.).’
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I love baking, doing art and crafts with my kids and since the pandemic started, I’ve learned to sew. It started with facemasks and then matching dog bandanas. I also play the piano sometimes. I absolutely love walking my dog, Miko, and talking to other dog people and meeting their dogs. I’m that scary dog person who will accost you when you are trying to walk in peace. And I read – but I can’t honestly say that’s relaxing. I analyse the smallest things and my mind drifts back to whatever I am working on.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes.
I adore this book. It’s always on my desk and my Kindle and I open it at random and read bits as if it’s a parallel world I can pretend I live in. I met Homes at a book event when I had just left my job as a journalist to do a Masters and write my novel. I told her she’d inspired me to give fiction a go and she made me promise I’d finish my novel. I’ve tried contacting her since to tell her I kept my promise but to no avail – maybe I need to be as persistent as Rachel.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
This is a devilishly clever question and I so wish I had thought to use it back when I was a journalist.
I wish someone had asked which of my characters in Everything Happens for a Reason I would most like to spend time with. And the answer would have to be Ben the dogwalker. I’d love to see if I could do a better job than Rachel of getting him to open up and to forgive himself for a past mistake. I would also love to meet all the dogs he walks, particularly Biscuit the beagle.
About the Book
Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss.
When a misguided well-wisher tells her that “everything happens for a reason”, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son.
Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, Josephine, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results…
About the Author
Everything Happens for a Reason is Katie’s first novel. She used to be a journalist and columnist at the Guardian and Observer, and started her career as a Reuters correspondent in Berlin and London.
The events in Everything Happens for a Reason are fiction, but the premise is loosely autobiographical. Katie’s son, Finn, was stillborn in 2010, and her character’s experience of grief and being on maternity leave without a baby is based on her own. And yes, someone did say to her ‘Everything happens for a reason’.
Katie grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in South London with her husband, children, dog, cat and stick insects. When she’s not writing or walking children and dogs, Katie loves baking, playing the piano, reading news and wishing she had written other people’s brilliant novels.
You can buy a copy of Everything Happens for a Reason here. (This is an affiliate link so I may earn a few pence if you buy one from here. Other retailers are available).
You can also buy it direct from the Orenda website. I don’t get any money from any sales but you can get a nice, fancy, signed copy in the sale.