Publisher Georgia Richter introduces our 2023 Fogarty Literary Award winner: The Skeleton House by Katherine Allum

As one of the Fogarty Literary Award judges, I am delighted to present to you our third Fogarty Literary Award winner’s book: The Skeleton House. This book caught my attention from the very first sentence. I rode the waves of foreboding and revelation with my heart in my mouth. It is one of those books that make you feel you truly know these people – an example of fiction at its most powerful and real. As I read, I knew I had found our winner.

I recently caught up with Katherine and asked her to share more insights into the book and its writing.

You write about this community and this landscape as if it were very familiar to you. Is it?

When I was eleven, my family moved to a small town in the desert and, like Meg, I’m also OTM (Other Than Mormon). I don’t think I fully appreciated the beauty of the landscape and some of the opportunities I had as a kid until I left. Living in a small town means that your life crisscrosses others in an entwined, intimate way that creates a sense of belonging and accountability that comes of people knowing who you and your parents are.

Add the moody and sometimes spooky desert landscape – and all the strange creatures that come with it – and it is a fascinating and entertaining setting to play with.

Where did the seed of this novel begin, and where did your characters come from?

Crickets and creosote. A teenage boy and girl on a red quad bike, roaring down a dirt road into nowhere, their pale throats exposed as they holler to the thick, indigo desert night. They disappear and the sun rises. There’s a skeleton house, its timber frame silhouetted against the dawn sky.

It started out as a coming-of-age story. The first draft was a dual narrative with half the novel being Meg’s journal. These were mostly stories and creative writing exercises, including a fight with Meg’s dad written as an overly dramatic script (exit, pursued by bear). The journal didn’t make the final cut, but it was a valuable exercise in character exploration.

First-person narratives are especially persistent, and the voice came before the character. Meg sort of showed up, crossed her arms and said, ‘Ok … write me, already.’ I had to oblige. It doesn’t feel like crafting characters; I uncovered them.

What do you know now that you did not at the beginning of writing this novel?

Be bold – you’ll always have your old drafts. I took ‘kill your darlings’ to the extreme with this book, in multiple ways. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic lockdown in London, I deleted half of it (c. 50,000 words) and wrote it back up. The earlier drafts had none of the tense foreboding because there wasn’t any breathing room. I learned so much from this novel – I think I plan more now, but I also am more likely to take risks and be bold with the plot.

What’s next for Katherine Allum?

Chatting with more amazing folks about words and all things art (I never feel awkward in a room full of book people). Writing more books! I have a few ideas percolating – I am editing Book 2, drafting Book 3, and Book 4 is in that fuzzy honeymoon idea stage. Brace yourself for a big homeschool family.

The Skeleton House will be launched by Annie Fogarty on Thursday 6 June. It’s now available in all good bookstores and online.

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