What can you tell us about your new novel Women of a Dangerous Age?
I was approaching yet another birthday when I had that sinking feeling that you occasionally get when you look at your life and think, Is this it? Is it too late to change this or that? I decided I wanted to write about two women, Lou and Ali, who had reached that same point and decide to do something about it. Lou’s a wife and mother, who realises her husband doesn’t love her any more so decides to make a fresh start. Her children have left home and she has a long-held dream of setting up her own business. Ali, after an unforgotten first love affair, has become a serial mistress. When the novel opens, her latest lover’s suggestion that they move in together has made her realise that she at last wants permanent commitment in her life. The two women meet on holiday in India and become friends. However when they get back to India, ready to embark on their new lives, something happens that tests their new friendship – not in a good way.
Your book is a tale of friendship, how important is this to you?
Very. My own women friends are extremely important to me. We support each other, have a good laugh together, occasionally holiday together and trust each other. I can’t imagine life without them. Sometimes they can refresh the parts of life that one’s husband or partner can’t reach.
You have worked in journalism and publishing, how has this helped you to write your novels?
Both have contributed to my writing. I was an editor for many years, so reading and working on novels written by so many talented writers taught me a lot about how novels are structured and the pitfalls that lie in wait for the novelist. That’s not to say that I don’t still fall right into them, but at least I’m aware of them in principle! When I began as a journalist, I had written very little apart from jacket blurbs. Over time, I found writing became easier, and I was asked to write some TV tie-ins and ghost some memoirs. This gave me the confidence and some of the know-how to write what I’d always wanted to write – my first novel, What Women Want.
You have published non-fiction titles for the TV series A Place in the Sun, Location, Location, Location and Grand Designs, do you have a preference for this or fiction?
Although writing those books was fun and often educational, there’s nothing like writing a novel. Although progress can be slow and frustrating when the muse deserts you, it can also be extremely exhilarating. There’s nothing like getting caught up in the world and the characters you’ve created and using them to make whatever points you hope to get over to the reader.
How much research did you have to put into your setting of India for the novel?
I’d already done the research, if you can call it that, by going there before I even thought about writing the book. I was amused by the idea of starting a novel about women changing their lives at the now iconic spot where Princess Diana was photographed, just before her divorce was announced. Women of a Dangerous Age opens at the Taj Mahal, somewhere I visited a few years ago. So. I’ve experienced the shock of its beauty for myself, sat in the gardens there, watched the queue for Diana’s bench, put on the blue overshoes before entering the mausoleum and walked up the dusty road to the car park. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it with Lou and Ali. I did get my son to doublecheck everything when he went there last January – to be sure. The other places in India that are mentioned, although only in passing, are all places that I’ve visited.
You work as a Books Editor for Woman and Home magazine, how much does this keep you in touch with what women want to read?
I don’t know that it exactly keeps me in touch with what women want to read. I like to think that women have eclectic tastes and can enjoy anything from science fiction and crime to general literary and commercial fiction. I keep my eye on the bestseller lists and know who the regulars are on it and read as much new fiction as I can.
What advice can you give to someone wanting to embark upon writing women’s fiction?
I think the only advice I can give applies to anyone wanting to write anything. Before you begin, read as much as you can in the genre in which you want to write and beyond. Absorb how other novelists resolve plots, characters and problems. Learn from them. And my second tip is simply, do it! There’s nothing easier than thinking or talking about writing. But the only way to write a novel is to write it, and that means sitting down everyday and pushing it forwards, forbidding yourself from being disheartened. Once you’ve got something on paper, you can improve it to your heart’s content.
Who are your favourite reads?
There are so many, but at the moment I don’t think you can do much better than Anne Tyler, Anne Patchett and Alice Munro.
Who have been your main influences over the years in terms of your writing?
There are two people who have had the most influence over my writing. One is my agent, once a colleague and a still a friend, who is also a superb editor and not afraid to say it how it is. The second is a dear friend who doubles as a bestselling novelist in her own right. We speak almost every day, geeing each other along, offering advice and encouragement. Without the two of them, as they say …
Fanny Blake’s Women of a Dangerous Age (Blue Door) is out now
Female First Lucy Walton