Author interview: Karen Raney, All the Water in the World

Karen Raney’s hotly-anticipated debut novel All the Water in the World arrived in bookshops just one week ago. Perfect for fans of Celeste Ng, John Boyne and Jodi Picoult, there is already a big-screen adaptation on the horizon with rights optioned by Monumental Pictures and Lionsgate! The Overdue Book Review was invited to ask author Karen Raney some questions about this debut release and her writing journey so far.

Hi Karen, please can you introduce yourself and your work?

I grew up in the US and came to the UK in my twenties, where I studied art and ended up settling and working as a painter, academic and editor. My previous publications have been on art and art theory. Currently I live in London and teach fine art at the University of East London.

In 2016 I gained an MA in creative writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, and won the 2017 Pat Kavanagh Prize.  All the Water in the World is my first published novel. This story is about the bond between a mother and daughter in the shadow of illness. Set in Washington D.C., rural Pennsylvania, and London, the novel is told from the point of view of both Eve, the mother, and Maddy, the daughter, and is concerned with family secrets, first love, loss and grief, the climate crisis, and the consolations of art.

At what age did you start writing and how/when did you know you could make a career from being an author?

I started writing when I was around nine. I still have some of my hilarious first attempts.  I could not get beyond the first two pages of a story.  My notebook was filled with many beginnings and no endings.  I have had a number of careers, as a nurse, a painter, an editor, teacher and academic; I can now add ‘author of fiction’ to the list.

How do you approach writing a new book? Are you a plotter or a ‘pantser’ (someone who makes it up as they go)?

Panster to start with, then plotter for a while, then return to being a panster to resolve the story. I start with something that intrigues or troubles me and see where it goes, what’s in it for me, emotionally and aesthetically. Once the characters of All the Water in the World and the basic storyline were in place, I started to think in a more focused way about structure, plot and alternative endings.  But plans only get me so far and before long I have to relinquish some control and let things take their course. Late in the writing, I had not decided how this book would finish, some scenes were yet to be resolved, and I was still playing around with the interleaving of the chapters.

It’s a strange process where you are the one guiding and shaping the thing, and at the same time you’re on the sidelines, watching.  I think of the developing narrative as a kind of gravitational field that pulls in ideas which might serve and enrich it. In this way, family secrets, the climate crisis and the consolations of art, all became part of the story of Maddy and Eve.

What are you working on right now and when will we be able to get our hands on your latest release?

All the Water in the World is released in the UK 23rd January 2020.  Currently, I am working on short stories and the start of a new novel.

What do you typically do on the publication day of a new book?

Raise a toast with friends and family and start writing the next one. On my UK publication day for All the Water in the World I was in Gotland, at the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators, having a celebratory dinner with the other writers.

How easy or difficult has it been getting published? Have you got any advice for budding authors?

Once I was taken on by my fabulous agent, the agency did the work of finding my publishers.  My advice is to get as much feedback from experienced writers as possible, so that you can write your best book, and trust that the rest will follow.

What’s next for you – is there anything you can reveal at this stage for us to look out for in future?

All the Water in the World has been optioned for film by Monumental Pictures / Lionsgate.  I am hoping that we can look forward to the film…

And finally, what is your favourite book (or books if you can’t choose just one!) and why?

I often find myself gravitating to American writers, though I have made my home in England, and to writers of short fiction. This may be related to the fact that I am also a visual artist.  In a painting, as in a short story, shape and structure are paramount and all the parts are more or less visible at once.  I am a fan of the short stories of George Saunders, Edith Pearlman, Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Mansfield, Tobias Wolff, Frank O’Connor, V.S. Prichett, Colm Toibin, David Malouf and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie.

Karen’s debut novel All the Water in the World is out now (published on 23rd January 2020). For more content from the blog tour, check out the following blogs over the next few days:



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