Sitting in her living room, Kirsty Webeck looks down at her small computer screen and…
When Canberra local Karen Viggers’ second novel The Lightkeeper’s Wife was published in France in March of this year she had no idea of the response it would go on to receive.
Renamed La Memoire des embruns (the memory of salty ocean spray) it sold over 120,000 copies within its two first months of publication, with French reviewers going as far as to describe the book as “a small miracle” and a “publishing sensation”. Karen could barely believe its success, saying “My initial response was shock and disbelief. How could it be possible?”, but its accomplishments had only just started.
It has now spent over 22 weeks on the French National Bestseller list topping out at #3, has sold over 200,000 copies and has received a French literary prize, Prix littéraire for the Les Petits Mots des Libraires award for a ‘Discovery Novel’. The novel has also been translated into Norwegian, Italian, and Slovenian.
The novel centers around Mary, who in the late stages of her life returns to Bruny Island in Tasmania where she previously lived with her family. She is struggling to cope with memories regret and family secrets, Karen saying “it is about lighthouses, Antarctica, and choices at the end of life.”
As for the reason for its success, Karen chalks it up to the novel’s themes, “It’s story of wild places, wild weather, and great emotion, all of which obviously appeal to the French.” Karen is planning to visit the country next year, making appearances at French book festivals.
Whilst only recently being published in Europe, Karen already has three books published in Australia. She sights her major inspirations as landscapes, nature, people, history and “the ways people daily confront the problems life throws at them.”. Karen grew up in Healesville, located in the Yarra Valley in Victoria and moved to Canberra to do her PHD at ANU. Her most recent work The Grass Castle is set locally and Karen enjoyed being able to soak in the area whilst writing.
“If I ever ran out of energy, all I had to do was walk up into the bushland near my home and look out across the mountains to renew my enthusiasm,” says Karen.
As for future projects, she has recently completed a draft of her next novel.
“I’ve just sent my next novel to my agent and publisher, so now I hold my breath and wait for feedback and the next wave of work,” she explains. Fans need not worry about Karen running out of ideas for future novels, stating she is “Sitting on my shelf, I have a myriad of other half-formed book ideas, waiting. My greatest fear is that there won’t be enough life for me to get to them all, so I’ll just have to keep working away.”
For now, Karen is most excited about a holiday to the Kruger National Park in South Africa in October “Holidays are always the best time for new story ideas and inspiration.”