Harriet Kline – Q&A

Harriet Kline is the author of This Shining Life, published by Doubleday on 1 July 2021.

She kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about This Shining Life.

This Shining Life is about a boy who is puzzling his way through grief while the adults around him learn their own lessons about love and loss. It is a meditation on grief, told through the interweaving voices of a bereaved family. Despite the subject matter – the death of a much beloved man – it has an uplifting, life affirming message and Rachel Joyce has described it as “exquisitely beautiful and compelling”.

2. What inspired the book?

I was present at the death of a dear friend and though this was one of the saddest times of my life, it was also the moment when I was most connected to my feelings. I could not hide from the awful truth of what was happening and had to accept each moment as it unfolded. This connection with the present brought with it not only sorrow but a sense that I was utterly alive. I wanted to write about this, and to explore the reasons why we cannot feel like this all the time.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

I work very instinctively without planning and my process is a complete mess, which can be frightening at times!

4. Was there anything about the publishing process that surprised you?

I was nervous about being edited but it was an absolute pleasure. I loved having someone else’s intelligent and experienced eye on my work and I learned so much from it.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I work part time as a registrar for births, deaths and marriages which is a great job for meeting all sorts of people and getting glimpses of their lives. To relax I love to be outside among trees. I love rivers and open moorland too and what makes me happiest is being somewhere away from the noise of roads.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

A delightfully difficult question and I suspect my answer would change from day to day. Right now, I’m thinking it would be Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. There is so much to learn from this book, about structuring stories, creating characters and imagery, about compassion and love. It’s also wonderful to lose myself in the world of the book without thinking of it critically at all.

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?

I haven’t been asked about the setting in This Shining Life and the part it plays in the various journeys through bereavement. I chose a rural setting because it can offer beauty and restoration, but the countryside can also be a lonely and even dangerous place. This, I think is true of grief. In some ways I think the way the characters interact with their environment can say as much about their inner journey as the things they say, so I had great fun writing about people stomping through the mud in the dark, observing insects in the summer hedges and wading into rivers fully clothed!

About the Book

For Rich, life is golden.
He fizzes with happiness and love.

When Rich dies, he leaves behind a family without a father, a husband, a son and a best friend.

His wife, Ruth, can’t imagine living without him and finds herself faced with a grief she’s not sure she can find her way through. At the same time, their young son Ollie becomes intent on working out the meaning of life. Because everything happens for a reason. Doesn’t it?

But when they discover a mismatched collection of presents left by Rich for his loved ones, it provides a puzzle for them to solve, one that will help Ruth navigate her sorrow and help Ollie come to terms with what’s happened.

Together, they will learn to lay the ghosts of the past to rest, and treasure the true gift that Rich has left them: the ability to embrace life and love every moment.

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