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Kathryn Simmonds
What initially sparked your interest in the Women's Peace Camp and what made you want to write this story? 
I was writing a short story in which my main character visited Greenham in her youth, and as I began reading more about the era I became more fascinated and my story grew. Greenham was such a unique endeavour and women who might never have crossed paths in daily life were turning up, united by a cause. Against the mass protests, so colourful and dramatic, I wanted to tell the story of a young woman who arrives at the camp without much clue, and gradually gets an education.
Did the novel involve a massive amount of research? The detail seems very authentic – was that imagined or did you rely on first-hand accounts?
Yes, I did do a lot of research because the subject required it – this wasn’t a place I knew personally – but it was a task I relished and I spent hours going through the Greenham archives at The Women’s Library and reading old copies of Spare Rib. I loved history at school and Greenham is recent history which meant I could speak to women who were involved. I tried to know the world of the camp as thoroughly as I could before departing from it, because in the end the job of the fiction writer is to invent.
Why did you choose to write LOVE AND FALLOUT from the perspective of the present-day Tessa as well as Tessa the young woman?
I wanted Greenham to feel alive and relevant; if I’d chosen to make it an ‘historical’ novel set only in the 1980s, there wouldn’t be an opportunity to make connections, to think about the ripples spreading out from the past into the present. Setting the novel in two time frames was a way to touch on a few things that interested me – contrasting attitudes towards feminism, for example, and the legacy Greenham had on non-violent direct action.

The novel sets an individual history against a collective history – Tessa’s Greenham is the source of difficult feelings for her and she’s tried to escape them. But past and present exist together, they rub up against each other constantly and our pasts shape the people we become, so having the two time strands helped illustrate this. Greenham is used as a loose metaphor for the struggle to achieve peace, personal peace, because that’s essentially what Tessa is looking for.
The tension between the personal and the political is a running theme throughout the novel. I loved Pete's outburst (“I don't want a goat for Christmas.” etc) and to some extent we can all sympathise with his position. Tessa has lived by her principles partly to the detriment of her marriage. I wonder whether you feel that Tessa has perhaps gone too far?
Well, much as I love Tessa, I can see it would be very hard to be married to someone who’s always on a mission, always trying to save the world. The ‘doers’ are the people society relies on, but what if they never stop ‘doing’? What drives Tessa isn’t simple altruism, (although that’s part of it), and the novel seeks to explain what made her the person she’s become, why she finds it so hard to step back. That’s another question that interested me: there are always good people, those who are devoted and selfless, but human nature is complex; how altruistic are we? Is the act of doing good feeding another need?
Do you feel happier as a poet, short story writer or a novelist?
I feel happiest when the writing is going well, whatever form it takes. At difficult stages in the novel I’d think ‘Why did I start this?’ and have the urge to suddenly turn to poetry or something else as a distraction. I’ve learned that all writing has the same elements - rhythm, structure and metaphor – you just have to find different ways to handle them. Having said that, if a poem isn’t working, it’s a lot easier to throw it in the bin.
Who would you invite to your ideal book group?
In no particular order (and bearing in mind we’d need a fairly large room): Dorothy Parker; Cary Grant; Philip Larkin; Edith Sitwell (just for her voice); Simon Hopkinson (he could supply the snacks); Harold Pinter (he could supply the difficult silences); John Carey; Shirley Williams (the voice of reason in case of any disputes). I’d also ask Bob Dylan to provide a musical interlude, then I could finally ask him what ‘Desolation Row’ is all about. Virginia Woolf wouldn’t be invited - genius though she is - she’d try to make everyone feel inferior and no one needs that at a book group.
Lastly, which writers do you most like to read?
Short story writers would have to include Flannery O’Connor, Katharine Mansfield, Raymond Carver and William Trevor. And I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the latest collection by George Saunders. Like many women I began reading Jane Austen as a teenager and she’s an abiding presence. I’m also a fan of Muriel Spark. Contemporary novelists would include Anne Tyler, Zadie Smith, Colm Toibin and Marina Lewycka. There’s usually a poetry collection on the go too, and I return to Frank O’Hara, Philip Larkin, George Herbert and Edward Lear. I’m also excited by the newly reissued poems of Rosemary Tonks. Whether I want to or not, the other thing I read a lot of are children’s picture books and Julia Donaldson has cleaned up for good reason - Stick Man is a work of brilliance.
Kathryn Simmonds

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