Lost in space: author Katie Khan on her intergalactic love story Hold Back The Stars

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A gripping romance melding a classic boy-meets-girl story with a thrilling, space-set survival saga, Hold Back The Stars is about to race to the top of your must-read list. The tale of Max and Carys, a pair of astronauts adrift in space and the relationship that led them there, you’ll struggle to stop yourself racing through it in a single sitting. Imagine a cross between One Day and Gravity, and you’re halfway there.

To celebrate the book’s paperback release on 30 November, we sat down with author Katie Khan to discuss everything from first love to science fiction, via Tinder and Trump…

How did you come up with the idea for the novel?

I’ve always been obsessed with space. I love watching the International Space Station passing overhead [you can find out how to do this with Nasa’s handy Spot The Station site]. My parents live on a hill, so you get a perfect view of it moving across London. Back in 2012, I came up with the idea of writing about a couple falling through space. I knew I had something with the basic idea, but it didn’t feel like enough at that stage for a whole novel. Then the 2012 Olympics happened, and the city just came alive with the most amazing atmosphere. Everyone was cheering on all the athletes and staying out in the summer evenings, and I thought it would be really fun to write about a version of the world that felt like that all the time. I’d read so many dystopian novels, and I thought it would be interesting to write a utopia for a change. A version of a perfect world. I suddenly realised I had these two story ideas, and that they could both work together. So the novel is split between Carys and Max falling through space, and Carys and Max meeting in this seemingly perfect world.

So you say you love space and read dystopian fiction – are you a big sci-fi fan?

I love stories or films that are set in worlds that are just like ours but with a twist. Because of the love story and the focus on the human relationship between Carys and Max, I wouldn’t say this is a science fiction book, but there are science fiction-inspired elements to it. Sci-fi world-building is something I really love; those futuristic landscapes of Philip K Dick, films like Minority Report. The Hunger Games has some extraordinary world-building, and it’s all established in the first three pages of the novel. That near-future science fiction is something I find really exciting and it was such a joy to write some myself. 

Your vision of the future features a European utopia and a US that’s been ravaged by nuclear war. Does it feel worryingly prophetic?

I think the best novels tell us something about our own world. I was writing this up until the summer of 2015, so Trump and Brexit, all of that’s happened since. The book features the mutual destruction of the United States and the Middle East, and a multicultural European utopia, which in reality we’re now trying to leave. The best novels I’ve ever read have something to say. I just never ever expected mine to be quite so on the nose. 

Carys and Max meet through “the MindShare”, which is a kind of futuristic version of Twitter. How do you think developing tech has affected the relationships that people have?

Twitter has been a bit of a life-changer for me. I met my boyfriend and my best friend on Twitter. With Twitter, you’re connecting through a shared interest. You either have a shared sense of humour, or you find the same things interesting. I feel like in that way, technology can actually help forge deeper relationships than just having been to the same school or uni as someone. In the last five or six years, I’ve probably met some of my closest friends, and those people came to me through the internet. I loved showing how Carys and Max could have a long-distance relationship and still feel as close and have those genuine experiences, and that’s down to evolved technology.

You mention “generation hook-up” in the book, which seems to be a reference to dating app culture. Do you think that Tinder has made it harder to find the kind of connection that Carys and Max have?

Probably, yeah. I feel quite grateful that I got into a relationship before Tinder exploded. I think you can make a snap judgment that someone isn’t your type, yet people can grow to be your type. I don’t believe in love at first sight. I think that that can absolutely grow, but dating apps are potentially stopping that from happening.

Max and Carys are each other’s first loves. How do you think first love shapes future relationships?

I think first love definitely shapes you. It can be really obsessive and then when you lose it, that grief can be really haunting. I wanted to write a novel that explored that kind of heartbreak whatever age it happens at. I think if you’ve been particularly hurt, then you can become incredibly cautious next time. You can close down and put walls up for sure. But I also think it helps you figure out who you are and what makes you happy. That can be incredibly informative. You can come out of a relationship and think it’s the end of the world and then as you recover, you think, “Well actually I never really liked that part of our relationship and I don’t want that again in future.”

Would you describe yourself as a romantic?

Yes, I think so. If you’d asked me years ago whether I like love stories, I’d have said no. And if you’d asked me whether I’d have ever imagined writing something like this, I’d have said absolutely not. But in the process of writing it and thinking about the stories I love, whether it’s something set during the war or set in a futuristic world, you really need those characters with strong feelings that you can root for. And the more I looked at my favourite books, they all contain a love story. So I think I’ve discovered I’m a romantic, which I absolutely would never have thought.

And it’s becoming a film?

Yes. A producer over in LA got in touch with me about developing the novel. He was the producer on Arrival and Stranger Things, both of which I love. I met him and the director when I was out in LA, and we sat and talked about “my project”. I work in marketing for a film studio, so historically I’ve sat and talked about other people’s projects and creative visions. Talking about my own was strange but exciting. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do with it.

How hard will it be to let it go and have somebody else run with it?

I’m intrigued to see what they’ll change. I don’t think you can be too precious. I wrote a novel that works on the page, but if they have to make changes for it to work on the screen, that will be really interesting to see. It’s such a compliment to have someone see something in your work. I think you have to give them absolute free rein. I’m pretty relaxed about it. Whatever works for the medium.

Get the first chapter of Hold Back The Stars here

Win a hush necklace and a copy of Hold Back The Stars

Celebrate the paperback release of Katie Khan’s debut novel with our exclusive competition

To celebrate the paperback release of Katie Khan’s space-set romance Hold Back The Stars on 30 November, we’re giving you the chance to win a copy of the book, along with a delicate necklace from hush. To be in with a chance of winning, just answer the following simple question:

For details on how to enter online and the competition question, please see below. The competition closes at 11:55pm on 01/01/18. The winner will be selected from all entries received before the closing date. Standard T&Cs here.

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