13 Questions With Kate Elizabeth Russell

Author of the Zoella Book Club July pick My Dark Vanessa. We caught up with Kate to find out more...

First of all, how are you and how have you been coping in 2020?

I’m doing ok—I have secure housing, financial stability, and a job that allows me to work from home, so I am very fortunate. It’s been a strange experience releasing the novel into a pandemic, but everyone putting out a book right now is in the same position so it’s easy to keep perspective.

We loved reading My Dark Vanessa for our July book club, what was the process like for writing your debut novel?

I worked on My Dark Vanessa for a long time, about eighteen years total. A lot of the writing process took place in academic creative writing programs—I have three degrees in creative writing—so parts of the novel were being workshopped and critiqued on a regular basis. The final version of MDV was actually my PhD dissertation.

What inspired you to write My Dark Vanessa?

I started writing what about become MDV when I was a teenager, and it really started with Vanessa. As a character, she came to me fully formed which is something that’s hard to explain because it feels a little supernatural, like she already existed and I just happened to be tasked with writing her. Over the years, my obsessions ended up making their way into the novel, namely questions of consent and coercion, early aughts pop culture, postfeminism, and Lolita. Throughout the writing process, if I found myself really preoccupied with a topic, I’d try to figure out a way to work it into the book.

What was it like to become a Sunday Times Best Seller?

Surreal! So much of the publication process has been surreal, but to know that the book is out in the world and being read is incredibly gratifying.

We love the MDV memes, do you enjoy seeing people’s comedy takes on the book?

Yes, absolutely love the memes. The subject matter of MDV is of course very heavy, but I think there’s still space for humor in responses to the novel. And in general I try not to take myself too seriously.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on what I’m referring to as “Book 2.” No title yet, and it’s still brand new so it all feels very delicate, but I’m buzzing with excitement over it and it’s all I want to talk about, but I’m paranoid that talking about it too soon might ruin it. It’s such a comforting thing, though—to be back in the writing process and to have a project that, for now, is completely mine.

What are you reading at the moment?

I just read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel for the first time and it was interesting to compare the realities of COVID-19 to the fictional pandemic in that novel. I also read Notice by Heather Lewis, which was devastating, mind-blowing, gut-wrenching. That novel changed the way I think. Next up, I’m looking forward to reading Luster by Raven Leilani and I have the feeling I’m going to love it.

We love that you are a Zoe and Zoella fan! Who are some of your other favourite follows online?

Yes, I am a HUGE Zoe fan. (Please tell Zoe I love her.) Her vlogs were my go-to thing to watch when I was deep in the writing process and just needed to turn my brain off for a while and feel cozy and happy.

Overall, I tend to be pretty eclectic with who I follow, but YouTube is probably where I spend the most time taking in others’ content. The past few years I’ve really enjoyed watching booktubers and my husband and I like to watch travel vloggers together.

I also love comedians like Conner O’Malley who use social media to create performance art. My favourite thing is finding someone on YouTube and not being able to tell if it’s a persona or if it’s “real.” I’m just fascinated by the innovative ways people use social media. I’ve always said that if I were ever to get another PhD, I’d want to study the internet, specifically vlogging.

What do you do to switch off and relax?

Watching vlogs! But also: take my dog on long walks, listen to ambient music, and put screens away.

What do you always carry with you?

These days, a face mask and my favorite lavender hand sanitizer spray are the most important essentials. I also try to always have my notebook with me because if a writing idea comes to me, I need to get it down on paper right away or else risk it being lost forever. Other things that stay in my bag: a big pashmina that I use as a blanket for hanging out in the park, a rollerball perfume, a roll of dog poo bags (very glamorous).

What does your perfect weekend look like?

Either a couple of days of morning coffees at a nearby bakery followed by quiet time writing at home, or a short trip with my husband.

If you could only eat one meal again what would it be?

Not a meal, but sour gummies. Though, if you eat enough sour gummies, do they become a meal?

If you could give one positive message to our followers what would it be?

This has been a year of struggle and hardship, but it’s also been full of activism and awareness and long-silenced voices finally being heard. I hope everyone can stay engaged and committed to bettering themselves and their communities as we continue to take care of each other.