Leeds – Location and My Inspiration by Katherine Dewar

From Leeds to New Zealand and back again, debut novelist, Katherine Dewar, tells us about the inspiration behind her book, Ruby and the Blue Sky which launches in Leeds on Friday 15th July.

Katherine Dewar cover profile shot - colour low resSometimes my writing starts with a place. This time I had the idea first, the ‘what if ..?’, but it was a rootless, vagabond thing. It lurked around, feeling lost. Until I returned to Leeds in 2011, and found someone had hung neon signs flashing ‘location’ between every lamp post. Not literally, of course. I’m a novelist. I make things up.

That first day back, I roamed my old home city taking pictures. Not of the friends I was with, but of the places my protagonist lived; where she would drink, where she would buy guitars and where she would face her biggest challenge. I went out again, on my own, and took more photos. Then I sat in the little café that used to perch upstairs in the Merrion Centre and I drank tea and I wrote. I did the same in the Adelphi, over a beer.

Leeds didn’t just become the location. It became inspiration. Once I knew Leeds was Ruby’s home, her story took shape; it grew heft and memory. It found its form in the city’s bright spaces and its dingy corners. By the time the scraps and shards were ready to stitch into a first draft it could never have been set anywhere else.

A place, especially a character’s home, is important to me as a writer. It doesn’t just shape their actions in the narrative but underpins their world view, their feelings, their hopes, their ideas. To write Ruby’s story, I had to discover not only how she felt about where she came from, but why she was still there. Her connection to Leeds, her rootedness in its streets and its sound, its light and its land, became one of her greatest strengths.

Leeds gave her a place to stand and belong. I left Leeds twenty years ago, after nearly a decade there. Here in my new, home, in Aotearoa, New Zealand, there is a single, beautiful word in te reo Māori, our first people’s language, to describe this idea of belonging to and drawing strength from a place. The word is tūrangawaewae.

So Leeds is Ruby’s tūrangawaewae, but the location also reflects my sense that change and challenge rarely come from the dominant centres of power. The most interesting things, the audacious innovations, generally happen on the edges. They flourish in places where there are empty spaces to take over and gaps in time and noise to fill with new thinking. Change also often comes where there is less to gain from the status quo. Leeds brings all this in the way a capital city never could.

It also brings a strong radical tradition and a proven history of people able to adapt; to shift from textiles to finance and now to a new, creative, maker culture. This sense of possibility makes Leeds the perfect place to set a novel about tackling climate change; a novel about fame, power, sacrifice – and tea.

Ruby-and-the-blue-sky-FC-finalKatherine Dewar’s first novel, Ruby and the Blue Sky, will be launched at the Adelphi Hotel, 3 Hunslett Road, Leeds at 6pm on Friday 15th July. All welcome. Click interested or going here for event updates.
For details of the Leeds Locations prize draw and chances to win signed copies of the book like Ruby and the Blue Sky on Facebook or follow @KatherineDewar on Twitter.

Katherine was raised in North Yorkshire and has a BA in Political Studies from the University of Leeds. She lived, worked and fell in love in the city before moving to New Zealand where she now lives, in a house by the sea, with her partner whom she met here. Katherine runs an ethical marketing business and speaks and teaches about sustainability. Her first novel, Ruby and the Blue Sky, is a feminist climate change thriller, set in Leeds.

Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend and the Northern Short Story Festival. She continues to be its Director.

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