Zibby speaks to journalist and debut author Katie Bishop about The Girls of Summer, a mesmerizing, unsettling, and gripping dual-timeline story about a woman who, in her mid-thirties, cannot stop thinking about the summer she spent in Greece as a teenager and the affair she had with a much older man. Katie explains how the MeToo movement inspired this story and how she makes places, relationships, and feelings come to life in her writing. She also shares her writing and publishing journey, her best advice for aspiring writers, and the book she just read and loved.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Katie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your novel, The Girls of Summer.

Katie Bishop: Thank you so much for having me. I love the podcast. I’m really excited to be here.

Zibby: Thank you. I love the book. I’ve been shouting it from the rooftops. It’s so good. It’s so interesting and different and immersive. It’s like the two sides of everybody’s life, when you’re older and then you’re younger and looking back and reckoning with what you have and what you didn’t have. The way you write, too, and the — it’s great. It’s just great.

Katie: Thank you so much. You’ve said everything that I wanted people to think about it there. Thank you so much.

Zibby: No problem. Why don’t you tell listeners what the book is about?

Katie: The way that I would probably describe The Girls of Summer is it’s a kind of “one that got away” story with a bit of a Me Too twist to it. It’s about a woman called Rachel. She’s in her mid-thirties. She’s quite settled. She’s married. She’s got a job that she likes. She’s also quite unhappy because she’s never really been able to let go of the memories of this magical summer that she had back when she was seventeen backpacking around the Greek islands and, in particular, a relationship that she had at the time with a guy called Alistair who was about fifteen years older than her. When we first meet Rachel, she is going back to this beautiful isolated Greek island where she spent that summer with her husband Tom. When she’s there, she has a chance encounter with a woman that she used to know back then. This really sends her spiraling back into all these incredible memories of that summer when she was making friends and partying and drinking and most importantly to her, having this relationship with this guy who she still really considers to be her first love. She decides that she actually wants to track him down. We really go along on that journey with Rachel as she searches for Alistair but also reconnects with all of these people from her past. As she does, she slowly starts to realize that maybe her memories of that summer weren’t quite how she’s always been remembering them. Maybe even how she perceived things, how they were actually going on at the time, wasn’t exactly what was actually happening.

Zibby: So interesting. I love it. The characters are so great. Her two relationships, which we as readers inhale simultaneously, Alistair and Tom, and how one is so full of passion and one is so full of comfort and what both things give you, it’s like the two sides of every relationship, really. These have been completely bifurcated, in a way. Tell me about how you came up with this book. Why are you writing this book? Tell me about you. Tell me everything. I want to hear it all.

Katie: I actually started writing the book at the start of the first lockdown in the UK, which I think really comes through once you know that and you’re reading it. Like everyone else, I was just stuck at home in my living room thinking, I really want to go on a holiday. I couldn’t go on holiday, so I thought, maybe I’ll write a book about this beautiful location that feels very escapist and just felt quite freeing for me to write at that time. Also, as you’re reading this — you probably picked up on this. There is an enormous sense of claustrophobia to that island setting. Again, when you know that I wrote it when I was stuck indoors, that all starts to make a little bit of sense. The place that the idea for the book really came from — I’d been working on another book that was not going so well. I felt like I needed something that was just a bit lighter and a little bit more escapist, which is quite funny because if you read the book, that is not how the book turned out. It’s much darker than I originally planned it. I was thinking I’d really like to write this “one that got away” story. It’s going to have this beautiful escapist setting. That was one of the ideas behind the book. At the same time, it had been a few years since the Me Too movement had really taken hold. I’d spent so much of that time having conversations with friends, thinking about my own experience.

It was almost like there was this collective horror and this collective reckoning when women were looking back at their experiences, their formative romantic and sexual experiences. We were having all these conversations. It was almost like everyone’s eyes were being opened to the way things actually were at the time and how we would’ve talked about things and maybe even laughed things off that happened to them. Now through this sharp lens of the Me Too movement, we were all thinking, wow, that was actually really bad. That really wasn’t how I perceived it at the time. Actually, now I’m looking at it as an adult. With this new way of looking at it, things were feeling very different. I thought, what if those two ideas came together? What if there was this amazing “one that got away” story and this great first love that had really shaped a lot of your life since and you’d based many things in your life around it since? What if that was the romance that you were then looking back on and thinking, “Wow, that actually wasn’t what it seemed to me at the time”? That was really the core of the idea.

Zibby: Question about the house. Henry Clark, is that his name? Henry?

Katie: Henry Taylor. Close.

Zibby: Henry Taylor. Sorry. Henry Taylor, his house and everything that happens and walking through and the wet footsteps and just all of it, it’s all so real. Everything on the island seems, to me, crystal clear in my head having read the book. Did you find actual houses? Is it all your imagination? Did you see a house on Zillow? I don’t even know. How did you craft where everybody was living and the bar? There’s such a sense of scene. I feel like this is a movie that I saw in my brain.

Katie: I’m so glad you thought that. To be honest, so much of it was my imagination, again, just because it was lockdown and we were so limited in how much we could travel. I would’ve loved to have done an amazing research trip to Greece and gone and looked at these beautiful villas and all these beaches and bars and stuff, but I just couldn’t at the time. A lot did come from my imagination. I have been to the Greek islands a few times. In particular, I did have a trip to a Greek island with a group of female friends when I was probably about nineteen, twenty. Definitely, the bar was really drawn from that experience. Also, more than that, more than the actual settings or looking for particular buildings or basing it on a particular resort or anything like that, it was really more about capturing that feeling that I felt at the time and that I think a lot of people have felt where it’s maybe your first time traveling, your first time away from home without your parents, your first trip with friends, whatever it is. There’s this enormous sense of possibility. Everything just feels heightened. Everything feels exciting. The setting was really important to me in portraying that because it really did have to feel magical. It really did have to feel like Rachel was going to do things that she wouldn’t necessarily do back home.

Zibby: Interesting. Tell more about the marriage to Tom. You talk a lot about all the unwritten things, unwritten language, the things that are not said but are so easily expressed between partners who have been together for a while, the looks across a dinner party table or that you can feel when things are thick at home after tense situations and all of that. Talk to me about how you got so deep into that particular relationship.

Katie: That was a relationship that I really enjoyed writing, which is interesting because I think if people were thinking about the book, it’s not necessarily the core relationship that people would think of. Obviously, this relationship between Rachel and Alistair feels so much bigger and so much more romantic to her at the time, whereas the relationship with her and Tom is really such a contrast to that. She meets him when she is in her mid-twenties. He’s a little bit older than her, but not much. Just three or four years, something like that. He’s a really safe place for her. She kind of falls into this relationship without really meaning to. There’s no enormous grand gesture or really beautiful falling-in-love period. She really does just feel like she falls into the relationship. Even though she does love Tom and she’s happy with him — as you said, they’ve got that really beautiful unspoken language that couples have where you can look at someone across the room at a party, and you can tell in their eyes, they’re like, should we leave? You’re like, yes, we’ll leave. You’ve had that whole conversation without actually saying anything. They’ve got all of that stuff. For Rachel, in the point in her life that she’s at, that relationship, to her, has kind of started to represent something different. That safety has started to feel a little bit suffocating. Even though she is really in love with Tom, she’s so drawn back to this time in her life where, again, everything just felt really, really possible.

I think that’s something a lot of women experience. In the novel, Rachel, she’s in her mid-thirties. I was a bit younger when I was writing it, actually. I was in my late twenties when I started writing the book. I think it’s something a lot of women in their twenties and thirties experience where you’ve gone from this place where you were in your late teens, your early twenties where the world just feels so open to you. It feels like every avenue is open to you. That could be, maybe you do want to get married and have children. Maybe you want to go and live abroad. Maybe you want to live in a big city like New York or London. It’s almost like every option is open to you. You could still do all of those things. As you get older, you just slowly start to feel like your possibilities are narrowing down to you because you have to make choices. Those might be choices that you’re really happy with. In Rachel’s particular case, she’s actually not very happy with her choices. Even if you’re happy with your choices and you’re happy with your life, by default, you have still ruled things out. For Rachel, that’s something that she’s really struggling with. That relationship with Tom, for her, represents a choice that she’s made, which means that all of those other avenues and the person that she felt like she was when she had all those possibilities just doesn’t really exist to her anymore.

Zibby: Yes. You wrote about that so well. I feel like you captured aging in general, not just that the paths have been set a little bit more, but just what it means to grapple with life when you’re not looking or feeling as good as you were. When Rachel thinks back longing for her youthful body and her skin, even Alistair, what he was like — everybody ages. I feel like the reflections on aging were so profound, and yet you’re so young. I’m like, these are really good. How is she doing this? She’s reading my mind in some of these areas, and yet she’s very, very young.

Katie: I’m glad that you like those parts. It was something that I really wanted to draw on. Something that was really important in getting across the dynamics of that relationship with Alistair is that as she gets older, Rachel feels like the body that she had when she was seventeen and the way that she looked and that kind of zest for life was a really powerful thing. She feels like there was enormous power in youth. That’s something that she’s lost as she’s got older. The novel is, of course, written in a dual timeline, so we see Rachel’s thoughts as an adult, and then we also see Rachel’s thoughts as a teenager. We switch between them, so we can really see the contrast between them. Of course, as the novel goes on, you slowly start to realize that that power that Rachel felt like she had was partly an illusion at the time and also partly something that she’s really applied to the situation in hindsight. The lack of power that you actually have when you’re that young was really something that people were able to take advantage of at the time.

Zibby: Take me back to your life a little bit. Where did you come from? When did you get into writing? Where does this book fit within the whole trajectory of your career? Give me a little more insight.

Katie: I’m from the UK, as you can probably tell from my accent. I’ve always, always loved to read and write. I kind of don’t remember a time when I didn’t write. It’s quite funny. When you go to my parents’ house now, they’ve still got boxes and boxes of exercise books that I filled up when I was a kid of all these stories that I was writing and all of these things. Like a lot of people, it kind of falls away a little bit when you get older. I still knew that I loved reading and I loved writing, but it didn’t feel like a career that was really open to me. I didn’t really think I was good enough. I went and I studied English literature at university and then graduated and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, I think like many people do. I worked in a supermarket for a year to save money to go backpacking, essentially. Again, you can see a lot of the inspiration for the book comes from my many travels I had in my early twenties. Went backpacking for a while. Came back. Still didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Decided that I wanted to go into publishing. I ended up working in academic publishing, which wasn’t really exactly what I wanted to do.

I wanted to be working on the fun books, working on the fiction. I did that for a few years. Wasn’t particularly happy doing it, so I started just playing around with writing. It was unlocking this skill that I really hadn’t used for such a long time. Since I was a kid, I hadn’t really tried writing very much stuff. I started working on a novel. I also, at the same time, started doing a little bit of freelance journalism, which, again, was just a way of flexing those writing muscles. That took off a little bit, so I decided to go part time at my job, which I timed absolutely terribly. I went part time, and that was when the pandemic hit. All of a sudden, I didn’t have any journalism work. It was a total nightmare. I’d been gearing up to do it and talking myself into doing it for such a long time. Then literally, as soon as I did it, pandemic. I’d been writing this other novel. I’d been trying to get an agent. It wasn’t working out. I thought, I’ve got this extra day of the week now that I was going to spend doing journalism. I’m not going to be doing that anymore. I thought, you know what, I need to try and make the best of this time. That was when I started writing The Girls of Summer.

Zibby: Wow. Then what was the process like of getting the agent and getting it sold and getting to this point?

Katie: It was a bit of a dream process of writing. I was really lucky with it. With this first book I tried to write, it had been a real, real struggle. It took me about four years to write and about twelve drafts. I hate redrafting, so it was a total nightmare for me. With The Girls of Summer, I just sat down and wrote it really quickly. I wrote it in probably about eight or nine months. I finished it. I thought, I’ve been here before. I know how this works. I’ve got another eleven drafts to go now, probably. I sat down, and I read it. I was actually quite happy with it, how it was then. I did do a few edits, probably spent two or three months editing, and then was ready to send it out to agents. I did a little shortlist of my top seven agents. Sent it out to them. Again, because I’d been through the process before of trying to get an agent, I thought, here we go. It will be months, several rounds of submission. Pretty quickly, almost every agent got back to me and said they wanted to see the full manuscript. I was quite quickly feeling like, okay, this is going better than the last time. Had offers from a few agents. Decided to go with my agent, who is Ariella Feiner at United Agents, who really stood out to me right from the start. She’s brilliant. Very lucky to be working with her. Then the process of getting a publishing deal was equally fast and equally as much of a whirlwind as well. She sent me over some notes to work on, some edits. Nothing major, but a fair bit of work. I was working two jobs at the time, so was quite busy.

She said, “Take a few months to do it.” Then a few days later, she called me. She said, “It’s occurred to me that publishing is going to be shutting down quite soon because it kind of shuts down a little bit over summer. Because the book is so topical, I’m worried that someone else is going to come along who’s maybe done something similar.” I don’t think she had anyone specific in mind. I just think she thought it was tied to the Me Too movement, very, very topical, that it was kind of bound to happen. She said, “I think we should get it out before publishing shuts down, and it shuts down at the end of this week. Do you think you can edit this entire book in a week?” I was like, “I will give it a go.” I just had this crazy, crazy, almost — it feels like a fever dream now, this week when I was having no sleep and just writing and trying to fix it and on the phone to my agent constantly. I somehow managed it. We sent it out to publishers at the end of that week. Within a few days, we had multiple preempts in the UK. I got my US deal, again, within a few days. I’ve got a fantastic editor in the US, which is Sarah Cantin at St. Martin’s Press. She’s brilliant. It was all just such a dream experience. It was two years ago, and I still can’t quite believe how lucky I was.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I love hearing success stories because they do inspire everybody to just keep going. You never know. Sometimes those first books, it’s not a waste of time. You would never have gotten to the second book without that first book, twelve drafts.

Katie: The Girls of Summer definitely wouldn’t have been the book that it turned out being if it wasn’t for that first book. I’m just so glad that I decided to scrap that first book in the first place and didn’t keep on trying with it when it wasn’t really going anywhere. Also, just really glad that I didn’t give up after that first book as well.

Zibby: It’s so funny. I do this podcast. I get tons of books. It looked really good. I was like, okay, I’ll put it in the “read” pile. Then I read a little bit. I was like, yes, this is in the “I want to have a podcast with her” pile. When I start reading, I forget the plots. I don’t look at the back. I just go in cold and know that there was something about it that I was interested in. I started reading it. I was like, wait, wait, wait, this is really good. Now that you’re saying that whole thing, I’m like, oh, my gosh. There was preempts and auctions and all this stuff. Usually, that’s a tip-off of, it’s going to be really great. I feel like I discovered this on my own, which of course, I didn’t. It’s just such a great feeling to find yourself in the midst of a great book. It just doesn’t get old. It’s ridiculous. It just doesn’t get old.

Katie: I’m so glad that you felt like that about The Girls of Summer.

Zibby: What are you working on now?

Katie: I’m working on a second book, but it is going slowly. This is the thing. I had this dream experience writing with The Girls of Summer and thought that I would go in and start writing a second book and that I’d feel the same. The experience of writing the second book so far has been much more akin to that first book. I’ve actually now written and scrapped a couple of drafts. I say a couple of drafts. A couple of books, really. I’m now onto my third idea, which feels a bit crazy. Again, because I have had that experience of writing a book and scrapping it before, I do feel quite comfortable with keeping on going. You’ve got to find that right idea. You’ve got to have the thinking time. I feel like I’m in a good place now where I’ve got an idea that I’m really excited about. I’m working on it. I’m really enjoying working on it.

Zibby: That’s another good thing. I think you can tell in the books when the writers are having fun writing the books. I feel like it comes through, versus really struggling. I don’t know. I think you can feel it. It’s like when somebody cooks a meal for you and you know they love you, and so it tastes different. You know what I mean?

Katie: That’s so true. I love that comparison. That’s so nice.

Zibby: I think you can tell a little bit. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Katie: I have a couple of bits of advice that I tell people who are aspiring authors. My first one is probably really obvious. It’s just to read as much as you possibly can. I don’t have any kind of formal writing education. I haven’t done a master’s or workshops or anything like that. I think the best way to learn how to write is just read as much as you can. Even if you’re reading things that you don’t like, you’re still learning the kind of writer that you want to be. I think that’s really important. Then my second bit of advice, which is a bit more of an unconventional one, it’s one that I know if someone had told me when I was an aspiring writer, I would’ve hated it, but I think it’s true. I think you need to treat your first manuscript that you write as a practice manuscript, which is really hard to get your head around. When you’re writing your first manuscript, you love it so much. You’re pouring your heart into it. I think that it takes so much of the pressure off to just think, this is a practice run. It’s all about learning actually how to write a novel in the first place.

The biggest thing that kills off creativity is that pressure of being like, this is my one shot at writing a novel. This is the one that I’m going to try and get a book deal with, all of that stuff. I also think we have a really weird way of looking at novels as well where we think the first one that people write, that is going to be the one that gets them an amazing book deal, that becomes a best-seller, or whatever, whereas I think you need to actually learn how to write a novel first. You’d never expect Leonardo da Vinci’s first painting to be the Mona Lisa. I just think you need to treat it as a practice run. Then if you finish it and you’re happy with it and you want to send it out to agents and you get a book deal with it and all of that good stuff, amazing. If you don’t, it’s already achieved exactly what you set out to do, which is just to teach you something about the kind of writer you are and the kind of book that you want to write and how to write a book in the first place.

Zibby: Interesting. I’m just curious, what is your relationship like with your parents? I feel like Rachel’s relationship with her parents was another central feature, a through line. Tell me about that if you don’t mind.

Katie: My parents are great. They’re really supportive. Obviously, we clashed when I was a teenager, probably at the age that Rachel was, as most people clash with their parents. They’re great. They’re both teachers. They both love reading, so they really, really inspired that love of reading in me. As you can imagine, as people who love reading, they’re just absolutely thrilled about this whole book deal and the book coming out. They’re so excited. For Rachel, it was really important that she had that really distant relationship with her parents because, again, that means that she has that desire to put as much distance between her home life — her parents live in the suburbs. She views it as very stayed, very boring. It means that she wants more. It means that she wants to put as much distance between them and herself as possible. Some of what she does in some of the situations that she gets into and the relationships that she builds with people is about that backlash against her parents I think many of us feel at that age.

Zibby: That makes sense. Amazing. What do you like to do when you’re not writing, when you are free to not be in your apartment all the time?

Katie: I do a lot of reading, as you might expect. I also do a lot of yoga. I love yoga and exercise classes, things like that. Sometimes when your job is so in your head, you need things that are in your body just for that contrast. Also, I really love cooking and baking. It’s a creative outlet, in a way, but it’s such a different creative outlet to writing. It’s so low pressure. If you burn whatever you’re making, no one really cares because you can order a takeaway. I love having that low-pressure creative outlet as well.

Zibby: Excellent. Amazing. Final thing. Are you reading anything great now? Do you have a favorite book to recommend?

Katie: The book that I have read recently that I have enjoyed the most is The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. I just think it had such a good hook to it. It’s really beautiful writing at the same time as being really propulsive, which I think is quite a difficult balance to achieve. Then the book that I’ve been recommending to absolutely everyone since I read it is The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller.

Zibby: I love that book.

Katie: Isn’t it amazing? It’s so great.

Zibby: Love. Yes. That was another book I shouted from the rooftops two years ago when it came out. Was it two years? Yeah. So good.

Katie: It’s absolutely beautiful. It plays with a lot of things that I’m really interested in that I wanted to do with The Girls of Summer in terms of thinking about memory and a big event that changed your life and looking back on that. A big thing for me as well is, setting is such a huge, huge thing with books. If a book’s got a really beautiful, evocative setting — I could probably just read a book-length description of a setting, and I would be happy. The setting for that is just incredible. It’s so powerful. It plays so perfectly into the themes of the novel.

Zibby: Let’s just jettison plot altogether. Who needs plot? Who needs characters?

Katie: Very few people would buy that. That is all I would write.

Zibby: Is this going to be a movie? Have you sold the rights?

Katie: No, we haven’t sold the rights yet. A lot of people have said that they can really imagine it as a film. Obviously, I’m hopeful. If there’s any film producers listening, I would love to hear from you. Something it’s being compared to a lot is The White Lotus. I can’t think of a higher compliment. I love The White Lotus. I could definitely imagine it as a film or TV series, but nothing yet.

Zibby: Amazing. Awesome. Katie, thank you so much. Thanks for the great book and the great chat. Good luck. I’ll be following along.

Katie: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you for making the time to speak to me. Thank you for being such a brilliant supporter of the book.

Zibby: No problem. Take care.

Katie: Bye.

Zibby: Bye.


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