I am not the kind of writer who flaunts it. I write under a pen-name so when I tell people my (real) name it doesn’t mean anything to them. I tend to talk vaguely of ‘my job’ and ‘working’ without being specific about it. And you’d be amazed how many people don’t ask, ‘So, what do you do?’
But, when they do find out I’m a writer there are a few questions which invariably get asked. I thought I’d share them (and my answers) with you today.
When and where do you prefer to write?
I treat my writing as a job and so try to be pretty disciplined about it. I attempt to be at my desk by 10.30am and to write until about 4.30pm. This is something I rarely achieve, however! There are constant interruptions, shopping to do, dogs to walk and grandchildren who need cuddles.
I am lucky to have a room in our house which is dedicated to my writing. My lovely husband Tim sent me away to stay with a friend a year or so ago so that he could decorate and furnish it for me. It is a real haven, with shelves full of books, a comfortable chair for reading and a desk which looks out over the garden.
Having said that I have written in coffee shops, on aeroplanes, in airports and in hotel rooms. As long as I have my laptop I can write pretty well anywhere. I do prefer quiet, though.
Do you have a certain ritual?
I begin each day’s writing by reading over, correcting and improving what I wrote the day before. That’s all.
Is there a drink or some food that keeps you company while you write?
Tea arrives from time to time, which is always welcome, but I rarely eat while I am writing; it is too distracting. If I am going to have a snack I prefer to have it away from the computer
What is your favourite book?
My favourite amongst the ones I have written? Hard to say – they are all my precious children. I think I am proudest of the Lost Boys Quartet, which is the most literary – and, incidentally, the least successful – of my books. I worked so hard on the prose, and getting the palimpsest (over-layering) of the four stories just right was technically very challenging. Tall Chimneys is my golden girl, easily the most popular book I have written. The Highbury Books have satisfied an urge I have had for many years; Jane Fairfax, the heroine of the sub-plot of Jane Austen’s Emma, has always intrigued me.
Do you always write in the same genre?
In fact my books already cover different genres. Tall Chimneys and the Highbury books are historical. The Hoarder’s Widow, Relative Strangers and Tiger in a Cage are contemporary fiction. Game Show is a hard-hitting psychological novel. Lost Boys is literary fiction. I write the stories that come to me – their genre is incidental. But, in point of fact, I am considering writing a ghost story in the future.
Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
Not on actual people, unless they are real or historical figures. But on personality traits, ticks and mannerisms that I observe among people I know, yes, and people’s situations are always intriguing. The Hoarder’s Widow was inspired by a lady who lived with a hoarder; she wasn’t a widow when I knew her but I wanted to imagine a different destiny for her. The Highbury books are based on characters I know well. I had to reproduce those as faithfully as I could, their appearance, modes of speech and personalities, but I couldn’t just clone them. I had to add something, illuminate something that Miss Austen had left veiled or unexplored.
Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
No, but I advise all young writers to do it, to encourage them to write from life as well as from their imaginations. My handwriting is so atrocious that I struggle to interpret my own shopping lists. Any notes I made whilst out and about would likely be illegible. But I do take inspiration from things I see and hear, especially in coffee shops, where, as you know, I shamelessly listen in on other people’s conversations!
Which genre do you not like at all?
I don’t think there is any genre I would not read. In reading and reviewing other writers’ books I have been introduced to books I would never have picked up on my own. Whether I have enjoyed them or not is another question. I would not voluntarily read horror books or erotica.
If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
Someone who let me have my own way on everything! I don’t think I’d be a good writing partner for anyone. In fact I don’t know how other writers manage to write co-operatively. Writing is such a personal, instinctive, almost spiritual process. You get lost in it. The stories come from somewhere so visceral that to have to stop and discuss every sentence with someone would be torture.
If you could travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
I’m tempted to name somewhere exotic – the Maldives, for example, just because it would be wonderful to spend time there. But to gather material for a book I’d have to stay somewhere closer to my own culture, definitely somewhere where there was no language barrier. Perhaps a small town in America or New Zealand, where I could stay for a year incognito, get to know the locals and write a story about them before disappearing without a trace.
To accompany this blog post I will be discounting digital versions of each of the books pictured above to 99c/p for this weekend only. Make sure to hop across to Amazon to get your copies and don’t forget that all-important review when you’re done.