My latest guest in the Meet A Welsh Author series is Katie Munnik, a Canadian who fell in love so much in love with Cardiff she’s made it her home. The city forms the backdrop to her latest novel The Aerialists, a fictionalised account of a 14-year-old girl who fell to her death in a ballooning accident during the Cardiff Exhibition of 1896.
Earliest Reading Memory
My earliest reading memory might be reading Ladybird Books with my granny. She brought the set of What to Look For: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, by E. L. Grant Watson, and we read them together when I was very small. She’d grown up in a city but lived her adult life in small towns and villages, and a visit to her house always included country walks, whatever the weather. She was very good and encouraging me to notice things around me. The shape of leaves, the colour of buds.
Back inside again, I remember sitting on her lap with my books, looking at the pictures while she read, and suddenly I realized that that the printed words mattered. The detailed illustrations showed me the world, but the words had things to tell me that I couldn’t see with my own eyes. Words might make me see better. That felt – and feels – like magic.
The Author Who Changed My Mind
Reading The Weight of Oranges and Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels in high school, I learned that the line between fiction and poetry doesn’t need to be rigid. As a writer, you can do both, and sometimes on the same page.
The Author I Keep Returning To
Alice Munro. Her short stories are sharp and exact, and challenge surface readings of both literature and life. These are stories that seem simple but are never easy. I’ve read them all and I will keep reading them as masterclasses in observation.
Most Recommended Book
Miriam Toews’s Women Talking is simply astonishing. The record of a secret conversation among a group of women who face a life-altering choice to leave their community and all that they know or to stay and condone terrible violence in their midst. Please read it.
An Unexpected Pleasure
I might say that Wales has been an unexpected pleasure for me. I arrived here because my husband got a job at Cardiff University and, as it was his first lecturing contract after his PhD, we assumed we’d have a couple of years here and then move on.
But Cardiff caught us and held on. Seven years later, we love it. It is a vibrant city — small enough that I can cycle everywhere, big enough to offer a choice of bookshops and excellent restaurants. And I’ve found the creative community is diverse, inclusive and encouraging. Just before Christmas 2021, we bought our first house, and I think we might stay a while.
The Last Book I Bought
Sophie Buchaillard’s debut This Is Not Who We Are published by Seren Books. It tells the story of pen pals Victoria and Iris, two girls caught up in the recent history of Rwanda and France and explores the lines between fact and fiction.
I Would Love To Have Dinner With …
Mavis Gallant in Paris in 1960. Barry Lopez at Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island. Michael Ondaatje somewhere in Toronto, Charlotte Bronte anywhere she likes. But currently, I’m looking forward to meeting up with my high school English teacher very soon. The thesaurus she gave me when I graduated still sits right beside my desk. Seeing her again will be a real treat.
My Favourite Writing Place
For a summer spot, my new garden is ideal, with space enough to shift my chair and chase the sun through the day. In the winter, I like a good coffee shop with a well-tended fire.
The Author Behind The Name: Katie Munnik
Katie Munnik is a Canadian writer who now lives in Cardiff, Wales. She is a graduate of Queen’s University, the University of St Andrews and the Humber School for Writers.
In 2017, she won the Borough Press Open Submission. Her debut novel The Heart Beats in Secret was a USA Today Bestseller.
The Aerialist: Synopsis
The Aerialists was inspired by the life of Louisa Maud Evans, a fourteen-year old hot girl whose 5,000 ft descent by parachute from a hot air balloon was meant to be a huge attraction at the Cardiff Exhibition. But the 100,000 spectators never saw her land. Instead her body was pulled from the sea three days later. Katie Munnick says her novel is “an attempt to remember a few daring balloonists and honour their innovation and courage”
Paris, 1891 Laura is living on the streets, far from the American Prairies where she was born. When rescued by the entrancing aerialists, Ena and Auguste Gaudron, she soon finds herself ensconced in the family hot air balloon business, and offered the chance to learn how to fly.
Cardiff, 1896 The Gaudrons accept an invitation to be part of the Cardiff Fine Art, Industrial and Maritime Exhibition, presenting a daring show of balloon ascents and parachute descents.
Then late one night, a young girl, Grace, knocks on the Gaudrons’ door. She is desperate to fly, whatever the cost.
As Grace’s dreams begin to take wing, can Laura be the one to keep her grounded? Or will both girls risk it all for one dazzling moment of flight?