You’ve just been shortlisted for the Young Writer of the Year Award. How does it feel? What does being shortlisted mean to you?
It’s a phenomenal feeling. A novel is, firstly, a private dialogue with one’s self. When it becomes public, you are opening a dialogue with those who might read it, hoping to build relationships through language and narrative. It’s wonderful that a story so close to me has also resonated with others.
When did you first start writing? What drew you into it?
I’ve written all my life – I don’t know how to be any other way. Writing has always been my way of engaging with the world around me. I used to make little books as a child. My first “novel” was called The Lion Who Ate the Ladybird, and it went something like this: ‘One day, a lion went for a walk. The lion met a ladybird. The lion ate the ladybird. The end.’ It was illustrated. I may have peaked then.
How did you come to write Testament?
In 2011, my grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away. I was very close with George, and I felt lost without him. At the same time, my grandmother, who is Hungarian Jewish, began to tell me about her experiences as a Holocaust survivor for the first time. I turned to fiction as a way of articulating my grief for George, and all I was learning about the Holocaust in Hungary – an area that hasn’t been given a great deal of attention in the English language.
Tell us a bit more about the writing process: How long did it take you, what did it involve?
Testament took six years to write. For me, writing and research are intertwined. I spent a lot of time in archives and libraries, from the Weiner Library in London to the Open Society Archive in Budapest, and a lot of time travelling to the places I was writing about, from Berlin to Belgrade, Prague to the Lake District. As I followed in the footsteps of my characters – along the empty streets of the former ghetto Theresienstadt, to the shores of Lake Windermere, and the hills of Sopron in Hungary – my characters’ steps became surer, their paths more defined.
Which writers do you look up to? What do you like in them?
It’s a long list, so I’ll stick to contemporary writers. Hilary Mantel, for the tangibility she brings to character and place, the images that linger, and her intelligence. Ali Smith, for her dazzling bravery and generosity. Zadie Smith, for so much, but especially her ear for rhythm and language. Deborah Levy, for her illumination.
What are you planning to do next?
I’ve just finished my second novel, A True Relation. It’s a tale of smuggling and adventure on the high seas in Devon, in the early eighteenth century. It begins in the Great Storm of 1703, as smuggling captain Tom West murders his lover Grace, and takes her daughter, Molly, to live aboard his ship as a boy. I believe that how we remember history determines history. I am exploring gender, genre, and the marginalisation of historic female figures, writers and artists in our national memory.
Kim Sherwood was born in Camden in 1989 and lives in Bath. She studied Creative Writing at UEA and is now Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England. Her pieces have appeared in Mslexia, Lighthouse, and Going Down Swinging. Kim began researching and writing Testament, her first novel, after her grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away and her grandmother began to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust Survivor for the first time. It won the 2016 Bath Novel Award, was longlisted for the 2019 Desmond Elliot Prize and shortlisted for the 2019 Author’s Club Best First Novel Award.