My second novel, Absolute Truth, For Beginners is essentially a love story, narrating how an insecure twenty-something art history graduate, Elisa Mancini, falls in love with Judith Shapiro, a famous mathematician thirty-two years her senior. That’s why I thought that it would be apt to start this guest blog with a relationship metaphor.
Because there are two ways of finding your Perfect Match, right? There’s the quick way, and there’s the slow way: you fall in love at first sight, or then your friendship slowly transforms into something deeper and different altogether. In a similar way, there are two ways of finding your Perfect Story. That is, either the story overtakes you like a blitzkrieg, and you’ve got everything perfect in your head in a matter of minutes, or even seconds: just think of JK Rowling on a crowded platform when the idea of a scrawny, bespectacled boy with miraculous skills hit her. Or then it grows on you so slowly that you don’t even know where it came from.
This novel belongs to the second category. For its birth was slow – so slow that today I have no recollection when the idea first came to me, and why. Moreover, what led me to write Absolute Truth, For Beginners was not Elisa and Judith’s affair, but Judith’s work, the so called theory of absolute time. That was the starting point. I grew interested in time, and started to collect all kinds of material on it: time in physics, time in mathematics, time in art, time in psychology, animals’ conception of time, the history of watch-making, you name it.
My drawers were brimming with material on time, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I had a story in my mind, but it was lightyears away from the novel that is going to be published today. It was about magical realism rather than contemporary fiction (something which shows that there is indeed a link between my first novel Witchcraft Couture, which is basically a fantasy novel, and this one), and the story evolved around a strange school for particularly talented children. Elisa and Judith were present in that story in their pre-historical, Neanderthal forms. But they were just two of the very many people in that story.
It wasn’t an easy story, and on numerous occasions I was so frustrated with it that I was close to throwing everything into the dustbin. But the story refused to be killed. It just didn’t leave me alone. I put it away, determined not to write it any more… and a few months later it would be back on my mind, and I would find myself racking my brains as to how to change the story, how to make it function.
Which, actually, makes me think about relationships again. Because just like far too many love affairs start with fireworks and fanfare – and then wither away when reality and everyday problems kick in – several novel ideas come to life in a flash of extraordinary inspiration, and then simply draw their last breath somewhere during the first manuscript version. Alternatively, there are stories that come with plenty of structural and character problems; but there is something in them, something compelling, which makes you return to them again and again and again. And that’s why in the end they are the lucky manuscripts. They’re the ones that transforms into novels, and reach the finishing line.
This is what happened with Absolute Truth, For Beginners: I cut out the school stuff, and eliminated everything else except Elisa, Judith and Judith’s theory of time. That’s when I decided that Judith and Elisa would have an affair, and that the theory of absolute time should be a scientific theory rather than a fantasy-novel philosophy. The more I wrote the new version of Absolute Truth, For Beginners, the more the story started to blossom. During the last months leading to the publication I wrote and rewrote the novel with an almost feverish intensity: rarely have I enjoyed writing a novel so much as I did during that period. It was then that I knew that Absolute Truth, For Beginners had finally found the shape it was meant to have.
Because books, you see, can have happy endings. Just like relationships.
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About the Author
Katarina West is the author of Witchcraft Couture, her debut novel. She was born in Helsinki, Finland, into a bilingual family that in addition to humans consisted of dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, canaries, rabbits and – thanks to her biology teacher mother – stuffed owls and squirrels. She spent time travelling in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and went on to study at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London and the European University Institute in Florence, where she completed a PhD in political science and published a book based on it, Agents of Altruism. During those student years she started work as a journalist, and continued writing for various Finnish magazines and newspapers for over ten years, writing on various topics from current events and humanitarian issues to celebrity interviews and short stories. She also briefly worked as a university lecturer on humanitarian issues in Northern Italy. Katarina lives in an old farmhouse in Chianti with her husband and son and when not writing, she is fully immersed in Tuscan country life, from jam-making and olive-picking to tractor maintenance. Find out more at her website and follow Katarina on Facebook and Twitter @WestKatarina.