What Not To Wear's Susannah Constantine has written her first novel- After The Snow- so we caught up with her to find out why this is the perfect Chrsitmas gift for 2018.
What can readers expect from your new book After the Snow?
Readers will get a first-hand insight into the dysfunction of an aristocratic family in 1969. Despite their wealth and privilege, or maybe because of it they are not immune to sadness, cruelty and illicit love. It is the dirty side of Downton all seen through and cleansed by the eyes of an 11 year old girl, Esme. She and her best friend Lexi have a joyous friendship that provides relief from their badly-behaved parents.
Is writing a novel something you’ve always wanted to do?
Ever since I can remember I have wanted to write. As a girl, my friends wanted to be show jumpers, ballerinas and the like. I wanted to be a writer. I have read every night since I learned to read.
How much did writing your previous prepare you for this type of publishing?
Trinny and I wrote 9 books in total. She produced them and I wrote the words. It was very much a collaboration between the two of us and we would bounce ideas, constantly. Writing fiction is a solitary process. I missed the reassurance and encouragement from Trinny but as I became more confident I relished the escape After the Snow provided. It was extremely cathartic to go back and remember both the good and bad times of my childhood upon which, I drew inspiration. Writing fiction is a far more emotional process.
Please tell us a little more about your inspiration for the story.
My inspiration came from one small 10 second moment when I was a child. My mother was severely manic depressive. I was never sure how she would be from one day to the next. I remember seeing her face through a wine glass she was drinking from. It was demonic, like her illness was revealing itself to me. This made me realise there was a story in mental illness seen through the eyes of a child. I love the way children paint a positive world for themselves whatever heartbreak they might be witness to.
The book is said to be ideal for fans of Downton Abbey and The Crown- are you a fan of these shows?
I particularly love The Crown. Peter Morgan has done a wonderful job at stretching the truth in an authentic way. It has been a fascinating watch, especially as Princess Margaret was a part of my life for 6 years. She appears in my novel.
How does it feel to have your book compared to them?
I am of course honoured!
What are your ideal writing conditions?
I like to write with headphones, listening to music at full volume. Music inspires and distracts me from all but the task at hand. Although I work on a laptop, I sharpen a set of pencils before I sit down to write. Mad I know! If I’m not too tired and the coffee has done its job, I like to write at night after supper with my family and when the house is quiet. The darkness keeps me focused. Our two dogs sleep next to me. I love solitude so will usually take off to Cornwall for a couple of weeks to edit. My in-laws have a lovely house on the Helford Passage. It’s isolated but I never feel scared. I’ll run in the morning. Write. Eat. Write. Nap. Cup of tea. Write. If I have had a good day I will treat myself with a few episodes of a box set.
Who are your reading right now and what/who do you enjoy reading in your spare time?
I tend not to read authors in sequence. There is nothing like a good thriller and I adore all those by Jo Nesbo. He is my guilty pleasure. My last book was A Little Life by Hanya Yanaghara. I was humbled by the beauty of her writing. It is a harrowing tale, sometimes almost too painful to read. To be honest I avoided literary fiction whilst writing my own novel as it made me feel so inadequate! But if After the Snow provides a nostalgic reprieve from today’s high-speed living for one person, I’ll be happy!
As you have a passion for clothes was it interesting to learn and write about sixties fashion?
I inherited my mother’s wardrobe. She was beautifully dressed, so all I had to do was delve into the wardrobe to be reminded of what she wore during the sixties. Many of the designers from those days are no longer working or have long passed. Things were so exquisitely made back then. The attention to detail from handstitched button holes to one off prints is something I yearn for but can only, today be found in couture.
What is next for you? Another book?
Yes another book! The sequel to After the Snow. Esme will be in her 20’s, living in 1980’s London and apprenticing as a picture restorer. I’m itching to start and will be spending many hours with a restorer, learning his craft in minute detail. Esme’s life will revolve around one particular Old Master painting by an Italian artist.