Can you give us a taster of your new novel The Long Weekend?
It follows the lives of the staff and guests at The Townhouse by the Sea, a Cornish boutique hotel. Between them they have secrets, dreams and dilemmas which come to a head over one hot sunny long weekend in summer. From Angelica, the feisty chambermaid who has a crush on the wild and wayward chef Luca, to Colin, who is determined to confront his biggest mistake once and for all, to Laura, who wants to uncover her real identity ... there are tears, laughter and a certain amount of scandal - as well as fish and chips and cream teas!
Why did you decide to set the novel in Cornwall?
I wanted a holiday destination that was perfect for a long weekend, and I didn't have to look much further than Fowey, the inspiration for Pennfleet: a busy Cornish harbour town, bustling with boats and filled with sunshine. It's the sort of place that everyone enjoys going to, no matter what their age or background, which is perfect for my novels. I like to have a variety of characters and generations in my books, so there is someone for everyone to relate to. From twelve year old Chelsey up to Tony, who is heading for retirement, they all feel comfortable in the setting.
A hotel can be the birthpalace of lots of stories, did your inspiration come from staying in one yourself?
Yes! My husband and I sneaked away for a long weekend ourselves, to the Old Quay House in Fowey, which was the inspiration for The Townhouse by the Sea. We sat on the terrace overlooking the mouth of the river with a glass of wine, and I looked at all the other guests and wondered what their stories were, why there were there, and what they were going to get up to during their stay. Between the stunning view and the Pinot Grigio, my imagination soon started running riot.
You worked as a scriptwriter on The Archers, Holby City and Heartbeat, so when did writing become your bigger focus?
About ten years ago, when I sent the first half of a novel I had written to an agent, who then got me a book deal. I have written a book a year since. I don't have a lot of time now for scriptwriting, but I would love to sit down and write a screenplay if I ever get any spare time! I've got lots of ideas floating around in my head: I just need to get some discipline.
Who do you most like to read when you are staying away form home?
I've got a huge pile of books to read over the summer - I'm quite into psychological thrillers at the moment, plus I want to go back and read some classics: Anna Karenina, for a start, which should keep me quiet for at least a week. The writer I admire most at the moment is Douglas Kennedy. He always comes up with something new and inspiring, and he gets inside the head of women so well. His plotting and characterisation is exemplary - you just have to keep turning the page. I recently finished The Moment, set in Berlin before the wall came down, and it took my breath away.
Where did the inspiration come form for your main protagonist Claire?
I'm very interested in the good girl/bad boy dynamic - and I wanted to explore what it is like to be in a relationship with someone who basically pleases themselves all the time, as Claire's boyfriend Luca does. Of course he has other qualities that offset his selfishness, but does there come a point when the novelty of the bad boy wears off? I also wanted to explore what happens when The One That Got Away walks back into your life when you least expect it: is the passion still there, and what happens when it is re-ignited? I wanted to really test Claire, who prides herself on doing the right thing and being in control. Does she go with her heart or her head?
When did you first know you could write?
I remember writing a story when I was about six, about a hamster who escaped and got into the family rubbish bin. I opened it with the line "It was the day the dustbin men came.' Talk about cutting to the chase! I can't remember what happened, but I can remember loving the feeling of evoking a sense of expectation in the reader.
What advice can you give to aspiring writers?
It's not supposed to be easy! Forget any images you have of Barbara Cartland lying on a chaise longue dictating as she sips on a glass of champagne. It takes courage and perseverance and stamina to write a novel. When it goes well it is exhilarating, but most writers have dark moments, when they imagine they will never be able to reach the elusive words "The End'. Despair is all part of the creative process, so don't let it defeat you: live to write another day.
This is your tenth novel, so what comes next?
I'm really excited about the next book, which is called A Night on the Orient Express. It's about all the passengers in one carriage as they set off on the journey of a lifetime. Again, they all have their own secrets and desires, and everything comes to a head once they reach Venice. It's glamorous, romantic, nostalgic, escapist - the perfect holiday read. I was lucky enough to be made writer-in-residence for the Orient Express and the Hotel Cipriani while I was doing the research, and my notebook and camera never left my side.
How does scriptwriting differ from novel writing?
Scriptwriting is very collaborative - you are part of a huge team. With novel writing, you are pretty much on your own. Each one has their advantages, but I enjoy both of the disciplines. Scriptwriting is much more structured, as you have time and budget constraints, and working in television definitely helped me with plotting and juggling story-lines and generating material.
Female First Lucy Walton