Behind the Scenes with Katherine Grainger

Shining a spotlight on the books written by women. The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction interviewed a host of successful women, including Katherine Grainger, about a book, written by a woman, that has had an impact on them.


  • Photograph by Alice Hawkins.
  • Articles written from interviews by Sophie Robinson, edited by Natalie Smith.

We are filming on the grass on a sunny morning on the banks of the Thames near the National Sports Centre where Grainger trains. It’s picturesque, the peace only broken by the swish of an occasional passing rower, and a wayward duck.

“I get lost in Kate Atkinson’s books,” says the Olympic medalist rower.

“The week of the London Olympics, which was a very stressful, very pressured time, you kind of want to switch away from all that manic outside stress. I kept her latest novel that I hadn’t read, and that I didn’t read all year for that week in August in the build up to our Olympic final. I knew it was a book I would be able to disappear into –I knew I would be able to go into it and I would love it, and it would take me to a world where I would be happy and relaxed and have a great time in amongst this cauldron of stress. So for me, she’s a go-to author.”

Today, we’re discussing Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum.

“I read it when I was at university, in Edinburgh and loved it straight away. It was different from anything I’d ever read before. She weaves characters and situations and time together in a very unpretentious, very readable, very approachable manner, and it just hooked me right from the beginning.”

“It’s not the simplest book to describe in an instant. It’s all told from the point of view of a girl called Ruby, and it even begins before she’s been conceived, but she narrates the whole story. There are amazing characters in her family, it involves bigger world events, but it’s all told from a very normal family situation. These incredible characters – incredible women – in her family, come in and out.”

“Not everyone’s likeable; it’s full of these incredible, flawed, realistic characters.”


“The lovely thing about Ruby, who tells the story in this book as the narrator, is her amazing attitude to life right from the beginning. She’s got incredible wit to her. She’s someone that you’d just like to spend time with, who’s very entertaining, sees things as they are, says things as they are, and has an incredible take on life.”

“This book is a reminder of the incredible use the English language can be put to and how you can bring things to life. Even the most mundane things can be written about. You come into this fresh new way of seeing it and reading it and imagining it. I think is just reminds you how creative writing and reading can be.”

“I would genuinely – and genuinely have done – pass this book to anyone and everyone. I’ve recommended it to friends and family, all people of different ages I think. There’s so much in it that everyone will take something slightly different from it, and whether you just want a really accessible, really easy, really entertaining read, or something more thought-provoking, more complex, more creative, I think whatever you want from it, it’s there for the taking.”

Katherine Grainger CBE is a British rower and a 2012 Olympic gold medalist. Grainger is also a three-time Olympic silver medalist and six-time World Champion.

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