Five Questions for Author Kate Taylor
Kate Taylor’s second novel, A Man in Uniform, is an compelling detective story that uses an historical event, the Dreyfus Affair, to build a rich, character driven intrigue. Athena McKenzie-Parkin sat down with Taylor to talk history, writing and book clubs.
Athena McKenzie-Parkin: How did you first hear about the Dreyfus Affair?
Kate Taylor: I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about it, but I’ve known about it since I was a teenager. I was always really interested in history as a kid and I studied history at university, so I’d heard of it and I didn’t really know what it was, but it sounded so exotic and interesting, ‘The Dreyfus Affair.’ The first time I really studied it in any way, it was in a history course I took one summer at Carleton University about church and state in European society and the Dreyfus Affair was famous because it lead to all sorts of changes, that still reverberate in France today, that led to the complete secularization of, for instance, the French education system. Napoleon had started that process and it was finished by the Dreyfus affair. Because the church took the anti-Dreyfus side and were highly anti-Semitic, it became a way to punish the church afterwards. That was when I first studied it and was really intrigued by it because the cliché of history is kings and battles and history tends to be the story of great deeds and great disasters, so what was sort of funny about the Dreyfus affair was here was this thing that changed French society and it began with a mistake. Perhaps a malicious mistake, but a mistake and it grew into a gross miscarriage of justice. When I was writing my first novel (Mme. Proust and the Kosher Kitchen), the Dreyfus Affair appears in passing because the Proust family was split over it, such as many people in France were at the time. So I did a little more research then and became even more interested in it. And that was the point I realized there is a thriller in this. There is a period of the paper chase that lead to people realizing that not only is Dreyfus not guilty, we know who is. That period of the paper chase was like a detective story.
AMP: Does your exposure to theatre influence how you approach writing fiction?
KT: I’ve never thought about that. The last time I wrote a dramatic scene was in high school. So I never tried to write a play. The thing about theatre that I found useful in fiction is the clichéd actor’s line, ‘what’s my motivation, what’s my motivation?’ For the actor, the job is making the motivation come alive on stage. An awful lot of fiction, both drama and literary fiction, is about human motivation. So there is a relationship between theatre and this and it’s about motivation.
AMP: Do you enjoy traveling around to talk about the book?
KT: The thing I really enjoy are the question periods after a reading. And I did a lot of book clubs for the first book and it’s amazing. They say incredibly touching things to you and they talk about the characters as if they are real people, which is an incredible vindication as a writer.