The Equation for Why blog series is about the idea of ikigai, or “the happiness of always being busy”. In it, I talk to inspiring women writers who honour their joy, one word and one story at a time.
Who is Kate Hilton?
Kate Hilton is the bestselling author of The Hole in the Middle and Just Like Family. Her forthcoming novel, Better Luck Next Time, will be published internationally in 2020. Before settling on fiction writing, Kate pursued careers in law, university administration, publishing, and major gift fundraising. While she rarely uses her law degree these days, she's delighted that her English degree has turned out to be so useful. Kate's non-fiction writing has appeared in The National Post, Canadian Living, and The Huffington Post, on topics ranging from working motherhood to creativity to reinvention. She lives in a blended family—including a husband, two sons, a stepdaughter, and a rescue dog—in Toronto.
Why "Better Luck Next Time"? Why was this the story you wanted (or needed!) to tell?
I find that I’m drawn to characters confronting the disappointments and possibilities of midlife (defined broadly!). Like many writers, I’m inspired to create stories that I want to read, and that I haven’t found on the shelves. Better Luck Next Time is a novel about how people move on after a monumental upset – in their health, or career, or relationships, or even their beliefs about themselves. We all have certain expectations about how our lives will unfold, and most of us think we know exactly who we are. Inevitably, life surprises us. I’m interested in this moment of surprise, and how we emerge from it.
A theme to your stories seems to be dismantling that perception of women "having it all" and, perhaps, the idea of what "the perfect life" really is under the surface. Another is representing the dynamics of female bonds in friendships and families. Can you speak to why these ideas are so important to your work?
I grew up believing that “having it all” was the goal – a high-flying career and a successful family, both supported by a marriage in which everything was shared equally. Of course, none of us had ever seen this arrangement modelled, but everyone agreed that it was both desirable and possible. For many of us, the reality of modern marriage and family has been messier than advertised. So often when I meet readers, they thank me for busting the myth of the “perfect” life. I’m always glad that women relate to my stories, but I wish that fewer of them felt like failures for falling short of an imaginary and impossible standard.
And yes, female bonds are a perennial source of fascination for me. I grew up with sisters and attended a girls’ school, so I’ve never romanticized these relationships, even as I treasure the many close friendships I have with other women. In fiction, as in life, women’s relationships are deliciously complex; they can be rich and necessary, and also fraught and even damaging at the same time. I’m particularly interested in how women weaponize standards of perfection against each other. I suspect that “having it all” was an aspiration invented by women for women.
Why do you write? Would you say writing is your purpose, your "why" in life? How does writing make you feel?
My first novel burst out of me as I was approaching my fortieth birthday. I’d suppressed my creative impulses for far too long and suddenly my brain was full of characters and scenes. It was a strange and wonderful experience that totally changed my life. I continue to write because it feels like the best way to honour who I am and what I have to contribute. I don’t always love the act of writing, but I love chasing a story, gathering the pieces together, making it whole. There are few things in life as satisfying.
Why is it important for you to connect with others through storytelling?
You mentioned purpose in your last question, and that's a big part of it. I tend to think that connection with others is one of the essential reasons any of us has for being, and writing is my way of extending connection out beyond my immediate circle. I want to entertain, certainly, but I also want people to know that they aren’t alone in their struggles. I want them to feel seen.
What are your writing routines or rituals?
Sigh. They are not well-enough established these days. I’m living with far too many teenagers in lockdown and I just write when I can. I wrote this interview sitting on my living room sofa, sharing my computer with my son who is doing a summer math course (his computer is being repaired), and I got interrupted approximately eight million times. I wish I could wake up very early in the morning to write, but I’m hopelessly stupid when I do. I rely on that random magic when everyone else in the house is between meals and distracted with screens and I can sneak upstairs with my dog and get a couple of hours of writing in. She snores, but the sound is very soothing.
Better Luck Next Time by Kate Hilton (Contemporary Fiction), Allen & Unwin, $29.99, buy now
It isn't easy being related to a feminist icon, especially when she's celebrating the greatest moment of her storied career.
Just ask the daughters of Lydia Hennessey, who could have it all if only they'd stop self-destructing. Mariana, the eldest, is on the verge of throwing away a distinguished reputation in journalism, along with her marriage. Nina, the middle daughter, has returned from a medical mission overseas as a changed woman but won't discuss it with anyone. And Beata, the youngest, has a hostile teenaged son who just discovered the existence of a father who didn't know about him either. Meanwhile, their cousin Zoe is making divorce look like a death-match while her brother, Zack, is grappling with the fallout from his popular television dramedy, which is based far too closely on Lydia herself.
Over the course of an eventful year, the Hennessey children contend with the big struggles of midlife: ageing parents, raging teens, crumbling marriages and bodies, new loves and the choice between playing it safe or taking life-altering risks. And as they inch toward a new definition of happiness they might even persuade their parents-and themselves-that they're all grown up.