Kate Griffin was born within the sound of Bow bells, making her a true-born cockney. She has worked as an assistant to an antiques dealer, a journalist for local newspapers and now works for The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, Kate’s first book, won the Stylist / Faber crime writing competition. The latest in the Kitty Peck series, The Daughter of Sorrow is out now.
What is your earliest memory?
London, December 1966. I’m sitting between my mum and dad on the top deck of the number 73 bus on the way back to our attic flat in Islington. We’re going down Oxford Street. I’m two and a half and I’ve just been taken to see Father Christmas at Bourne and Hollingsworth (that dates me!). His assistant ‘Uncle Holly’ (who was incredibly sinister) has given me a yellow plastic toy trumpet which I ‘play’ all the way home. The memory of the Christmas lights and the excitement of it all is incredibly clear. I think it’s why, even today, I love Christmas with a childish passion.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My husband, Stephen. I’d be a lost soul without him.
What keeps you awake at night?
Everything – I’m a total insomniac and always have been. I think it’s mostly the voice (my voice) in my head that keeps me awake, it never shuts up.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I’m not sure ‘identify’ is quite the right word, but I have a soft spot for Nell Gwynn whose story is truly remarkable. I admire her wit, talent, tenacity, common sense and obvious kindness.
Which living person do you most admire?
Dame Maggie Smith
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to act. I think I still do! When I’m writing I read my characters’ conversations aloud to myself. I do ALL the voices. No wonder my neighbours avoid me!
What’s the worst job you’ve done?
When I was at university I took a summer holiday job as a waitress at a Tex-Mex restaurant in a theme park. I had to dress as a cow girl and say ‘Yee hah!’ after taking every order, as in, ‘Do you want fries with that? Yee hah!’ I’m not sure if it was the fact the manager realised my heart wasn’t in it or the fact that I got nearly every order wrong that saw me fired after a week. Also, I’m really tiny which meant the ‘uniform’ (a pleather skirt, checked shirt and stetson) made me look like a womble from Idaho.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Managing to keep friends from every stage of my life, right back to school days.
Where is your favourite historical place?
That’s such a hard question! Probably the Tower of London for the sake of the stories locked into its walls. I do love a good cathedral too, especially Wells in Somerset, and then there’s Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End, which partly inspired my Kitty Peck books. Wiltons is completely magical!
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
I’d love to say something philosophical, but it would probably be a small tabby cat with a fondness for prawns and napping on the sofa in front of a real fire.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Box sets and red wine – the two are not mutually exclusive.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Kitty uses ‘tell truth’ all the time, because she never quite sees it. I think I’m guilty of something like that too. I hear myself in meetings saying, ‘to be honest’, or ‘to be frank’, when, actually, I’m know I’m not being either, but don’t want to rock the boat or cause upset. I also catch myself saying ‘that’s fine’ when, really, it isn’t.
If you could edit your past, what would you change?
Apart from regretting the fact that I never seriously tried to get into the theatre, I wish I’d believed in myself earlier. Up until my mid 40s I saw writing as something other people did. I worked as a journalist and as a press officer (I’m still a part time communications manager for a conservation charity) but I was always telling other people’s stories, never my own. I wish I’d listened to everyone who encouraged me to write. I wasted a lot of time coasting.
Nb. I’d also like to be four inches taller which would take me to 5ft 3’. It’s not much to ask is it?
Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be able to play the piano. I’m completely unmusical.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
Ha! Great, but slightly odd question. Um… I’d very much like it to be Maisie Williams who is currently the ferociously deadly Arya Stark in Game of Thrones. Or, if it was ‘Griffin!’ the musical, maybe Sheridan Smith?
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
Can I have two options please?
1. To the reign of Henry VIII just after he married Anne. What a moment of change! The air must have crackled with intrigue and fear.
2. The Palace of Versailles before the revolution – same reason really. It must have been extraordinary in every way, but especially visually.
Where would you most like to be right now?
Walking along the promenade between Penzance and Newlyn in Cornwall. It’s sunny, the sea of Mounts Bay is azure blue and I have a Jelberts ice-cream in my hand.
What is your most treasured possession?
A small, very lovely oil painting dating from 1900 of a girl in profile. She has red hair pinned up by a yellow rose. It was purchased with a tiny legacy left to me by my mum who died 15 years ago. We wanted to buy something meaningful with it. Mum was a red head too so it seemed just right.
Which musicians are currently on your playlist?
I’ll listen to anything really, classical and pop. I quite like ‘wordy songs’. The Divine Comedy, The Kinks, Bowie, Madonna, Squeeze, Kate Bush, The Pet Shop Boys, Ella Fitzgerald, Rufus Wainwright and Noel Coward crop up quite regularly on my at home playlist. And if I’m really honest, there’s a lot of disco and Abba. I danced in a shop yesterday when Earth Wind and Fire’s Fantasy started playing. My husband abandoned me in disgust.
Who are your favourite writers?
Almost impossible to answer, but for classics: Evelyn Waugh, Charles Dickens, Stella Gibbons, AA Milne, Jane Austen, Angela Carter, Oscar Wilde, EF Benson, MR James, Saki.
Contemporary: CJ Sansom, Lissa Evans, Anthony Quinn, Peter Ackroyd, MJ Carter…
Oh dear, I could fill a page and still not mention everyone!
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Becky Sharp from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.
What is top of your bucket list?
A trip to Venice with my husband who has never been. He doesn’t fly and he doesn’t like boats or water much either, so it’s a challenge!
Tell us something not many people know about you.
Despite the incredible height difference (!), I’ve acted opposite Paul Bettany twice. Once as Cecily to his Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest and once as Hermia to his Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was clearly a brilliant rising star, very funny and completely gorgeous – all the teenagers from a local performing arts school hated me.