1. So what is your new book The Real Katie Lavender about?
Essentially the book is about identity, about knowing who you really are. In the opening chapter Katie Lavender learns that her father was not her biological father and so everything she thought she knew about herself suddenly seems completely untrue, as though she’s been living a lie. She then sets out to find her biological father to discover who she really is. Of course, that’s just the start of the novel, because once Katie locates her biological father and his family, the story unfolds in ways she couldn’t have foreseen.
2. What made you want to begin the novel with a recent death?
In the opening chapter we learn that Katie’s mother died a year ago and this was important to the plot in that it’s then that Katie is asked to come to a solicitor’s office to read a letter her mother wrote with the explicit instructions it was only to be read a year after her death, the hope being that with the passing of those twelve difficult months Katie would be strong enough to read its contents.
3. What was it about this idea that made you want to tell it so much?
As with all my novels, I go with my gut instinct, when both my heart and head tell me there’s a story to be told. This usually happens when I can ‘hear’ the central characters talking to each other in my head. Which sounds a bit mad, I know, but that’s how it’s always been.
One of the reasons I felt the urge to write specifically about identity was that at the time everywhere I looked people were exploring the past and in particular their family trees. Who Do You Think You Are? was on the television and was hugely popular. But, and I freely admit that I’m in the minority here, the programme held no fascination for me - I seem to be missing the gene that makes a person want to know about their great, great uncle Fred and who or what he might have got up to. I’m much more concerned with today and tomorrow rather than the past. But, and with my writer’s hat firmly in place, I began to think about a character who might suddenly be very much concerned with the past, and from that thought came the character of Katie Lavender.
4. The book is centred around family, is this something that is important to you?
I don’t come from a close family, but my own immediate family is incredibly important to me. My two sons are all grown up now – twenty-eight and twenty-six – and live in London and Tokyo, but despite the geographical distance we couldn’t be closer.
5. Why did you decide to set the book in Henley on Thames?
I had been to Henley on Thames several times and had been struck how beautiful the areas was and knew that it was only a matter of time before I would set a novel there. I also used Brighton within the storyline (where Katie lives) and this was because my youngest son and his girlfriend were living there at the time.
6. You have sold over a million copies of your books and have previously written fifteen novels, so where did it all begin?
The Real Katie Lavender is my sixteenth novel and I’ve recently finished my latest, making that a total of seventeen, which makes me feel incredibly old! It still feels like yesterday when I started writing my very novel, A Breath of Fresh Air.
In a very simplistic nutshell, I started writing because I loved reading and wondered whether I’d get as much enjoyment out of creating my own story as I did from reading one. With hindsight this thought coincided with a need to escape, to put myself in a happier place. It’s very telling that A Breath of Fresh Air is my lightest and perhaps most comic novel and was written at a time when I was the unhappiest I’d ever been in my life.
7. Who do you most take inspiration from when you write?
I always remind myself of Anne Tyler’s writing style – less is most definitely more!
8. You divide your time between Cheshire and Lake Como in Italy, so tell us about why this is such an important place for you?
I first went to Lake Como when I was researching Gardens of Delight, having decided to set part of the novel in the area. Not surprisingly I fell in love with the place and kept returning until I eventually bought an apartment there. It really has become a second home for me and I find I’m often more productive at the lake than at home in Cheshire – it must be all that sun and Prosecco!
9. You won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award for Gardens of Delight, so how did this make you feel as a writer?
I was tickled pink to win the award! Having been shortlisted five times over the years, I was delighted finally to win it. Mind you, I’m convinced they only gave me the prize to get rid of me!
10. What is next in store for your eager fans?
The Hidden Cottage will be published by Orion in hardback next February. Again it’s a book about a family, a very dysfunctional family, after all, who wants to read about a perfect family?!
Female First Lucy Walton