Q&A: Katherine Reay, Author of A Portrait of Emily Price

katherinereay-jpg103116Katherine Reay made her fiction debut in 2013 with Dear Mr. Knightly, a romantic tale with a soupçon of Jane Austen and new adult appeal. It was a 2014 Christy Award finalist and won two Carol Awards (for Best Debut and Best Contemporary). Her next two novels, Lizzie & Jane and The Brontë Plot, also incorporate literary references with story lines about young women making crucial life decisions. In her latest, A Portrait of Emily Price (LJ 11/1/16, p. 66), Reay’s titular heroine reconsiders her new marriage and life in Italy.

Your new novel differs in subject matter and feel from your previous books. Can you speak to that?
KR: This is a different book than I [originally] wanted to write. My prior novels showed how we “live in story” and were love letters to literary works like [Pride and Prejudice], The Taming of the Shrew, and The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. This one has some of the same themes, but I wanted to address the new adult market, particularly young women [who read the genre]. It was important to me to portray characters who are at a crossroads. They might make choices that may not be seen as the right ones to those on the outside looking in but can often lead to unexpected joy.

portraitofprice-jpg103116What is A Portrait of Emily Price about?
It is about a fragile young woman and her search for joy and self-worth. The character of Ben, Emily’s love interest, is almost unbelievably good, and Emily needs time and the faith to believe that she could be loved by someone that wonderful. Her turning point is when she loses her job, and therefore, her definition of self. She makes a choice based on [what] her heart, not her head [tells her], of accepting Ben’s proposal of marriage and moves to Italy. Then she second-guesses herself when [her situation] is not as easy as she expected. Problems fitting in with Ben’s family cause her to run back to the United States and [to] what she thought was comfortable. But Emily finds that she is no longer the same woman, and what was once pleasing no longer satisfies. Can you describe your novels in one or two words?
Turning points. These books are about critical moments in young women’s lives resulting from the choices they make. Fiction comes [into our consciousness] sideways and can speak powerful truths to us through story. I am hopeful that readers of my books will take some of those truths to heart and use them as a guide in their own life journeys.

Where do the ideas for your books come from?
Usually my ideas are a result of something I’ve read that is not fiction. Something will catch my eye and spark an idea. I think, what would it take to do this thing and how would the characters work through this situation. What would it look like? In A Portrait of Emily Price I wondered what it would take for someone so fragile and risk-averse to believe in herself and to leave her [comfort zone] and take a giant leap of faith.

So, will there be another love letter to books? More titles focused on new adults? What’s next?
These four books (Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane, The Brontë Plot, and A Portrait of Emily Price) stand well together on the theme of turning points. My next novel will go in a different direction.

Would you like to share any information about that direction?
Not yet. I want to give my readers a chance to read the four [books] that I’ve already written and allow myself time to develop this novel, which will be very different. I plan on taking as long as I need to write it. I want to make each book better than the last and slightly dissimilar. I don’t want to spit out the same thing time after time.—Christine Sharbrough

This article was published in Library Journal's November 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.