It’s difficult to fathom quite how she does it with such a busy professional life, but somehow award-winning broadcaster and journalist Kirsty Wark this year found time to write her second novel.
The House by the Loch, which was published in June, is the follow-up to the Newsnight presenter’s well-received 2014 literary debut with The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle. Set on the island of Arran, a place that Wark says is “very special” to her, that book was partly inspired by her great aunt and was a portrait of one woman’s long, extraordinary, yet ordinary, life. The narrative wove together past and present, memoir and romance, the hidden and the unsaid, to compelling effect.
Wark returns to those themes in The House by the Loch, following the fortunes of three generations of one family and the lochside home that plays a significant role in all their lives. The story begins shortly after the Second World War – when Walter MacMillan marries glamorous but troubled Jean Thompson and takes her to live in his house on the remote Loch Doon – and continues right up to the present day.
“Family, secrets and the way that familial relationships and events shape who we become are areas that matter to me and interest me,” says Wark. “This novel was inspired by the idea that things happen to families that are unexpected and I wanted to explore how a family copes with that and also how things from the past can come to light. Every family has secrets, some are disastrous and some aren’t – and some are more damaging than others.” The way this all plays out in The House by the Loch is deftly handled by Wark. Her characters are well-drawn and believable and the way in which they relate to each other is closely-observed and authentic. The setting, in Dumfries and Galloway, is also key.
“Landscape is so integral to everything that’s happening in the novel,” she says. “That area of Scotland is beautiful but not very well known and I needed the story to be rooted somewhere that’s quite undiscovered.” It’s a place Wark knows well and she says “it holds many happy childhood memories for me of fishing trips with my father.”
Given the positive response to her first novel, the enthusiastic reviews so far for the second and the fact that she has already started on a third, it seems fiction writing is going to continue to feature in Wark’s life. Although she does admit that, as a well-known public figure, putting herself out there as a first-time novelist was “scary”. “It would have been cowardice not to use my own name but I did wonder if people might look at it differently because I was known. Working on this one has been incredibly important. It has given me a confidence in my writing.” While she won’t be giving up broadcasting any time soon – “I enjoy it so much I’d find it difficult not to do that; I love working on Newsnight and it’s so exciting at the moment”– writing is clearly a passion she will find time for, no matter how busy she is. “I write on planes, trains, in the kitchen at home, anywhere I can really.”
Kirsty Wark appears at Ilkley Literature Festival, October 13. ilkleyliteraturefestival.co.uk