What can you tell us about your new book The Last Time I Saw You?
The Last Time I Saw You is a novel about the intensity of female friendship, and how toxic it can be when it goes disastrously wrong. It's also a 'Rebecca story', as Livvy, my heroine, fights her feelings for Sally's widower. The last thing she wants is to walk in her best friend's shoes, eternally haunted by Sally's memory.
The story is about a friendship so how important is this to you?
Friendship is very important to me. I'm an only child, and I've always had a best friend, a fierce friendship (with different girls at different times in my life) that has perhaps compensated for never having had a sister.
How difficult is it to write about grief effectively?
I've known a couple of people who have died tragically young, including one dear friend from university, and those experiences definitely infuse the book. I think when a contemporary dies it bursts our bubble: we all want to believe we're immortal, until we're forced to confront the fact that we're not.
One review said that losing a friend can be worse than losing a lover to what extent do you believe this to be true?
When a love affair ends, we all know what the rules are. Our friends divide into camps, we cut contact with our ex, and gradually the scars heal and we move on. When a friendship dies, there's no code of honour. I fell out with a university friend after we graduated, and found myself suddenly a black sheep amongst a big group of friends I'd never imagined would take sides. There's a whole piece of my old life that I only see via grainy snaps on Facebook.
Olivia and Sally become separated, do you think that a friendship can survive a separation or do you think that it is something that requires regular contact?
I think close friendship is like any relationship: it takes effort and commitment. It means putting yourself out and not taking the other person for granted.
This is your fourth novel, so tell us about the other three for fans of this book.
My first novel, Stick or Twist, came about when I was in my early thirties and in a dilemma about whether to marry my live in boyfriend. I wanted to take the step, but I knew in my heart it was wrong. I didn't tell our story, but I began novelising the dilemma, and I was lucky enough to get multiple offers to publish it. My second novel, Mr Almost Right, is set on a TV shoot, and is about an affair between my heroine, Lulu, and a married actor. It was great to be able to use all the juicy detail from my years in television and turn it into a story! Breakfast In Bed is set in a kitchen, and is basically a 100,000 word indulgence of my embarrassing crush on Gordon Ramsay. Amber, the young female chef at the centre of it, finds herself going through a traumatic divorce as all her friends are getting married. I found in my mid-thirties (having not got married myself) that a number of my closest girlfriends were suddenly getting divorced, and I wanted to write about how it might feel to be out of step with the life stage you're meant to be at.
Breakfast is currently being developed for television, so how did this make you feel when you found out?
I in fact wrote a script for it myself, which was an amazing experience. Having helped a lot of writers write scripts in the past, I felt a huge amount of respect for how hard it is! You have to underwrite far more than you do in novels, where you have to pour in detail to set the scene.
You are also a television drama executive, so what does that entail?
I executive produced a whole range of shows at the BBC, including New Tricks and Being Human. I would feedback on scripts, casting and work on editing the shows. I would also come up with ideas for new projects - the Emmy award winning Enid Blyton film, starring Helena Bonham Carter, came out of my love of her as a child (I exec-ed a range of biopics there, including a Barbara Cartland film and a Shirley Bassey film). I now run a drama department for Twenty Twenty, the producers behind Gareth Malone vehicle The Choir. I work with writers to come up with ideas for new shows, and pitch them to broadcasters. We've got some exciting things in the pipeline! Doing two jobs is a juggle, but I love both.
You had a childhood obsession with Enid Blyton, but who else do you like to read?
I read a lot of American literature (I spend quite a bit of time in LA). I loved Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad and last year's Where'd You Go, Bernadette. I also adore Melissa Bank's two novels, starting with The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing. John Green's The Fault in Our Stars - a surprisingly funny and warm novel about two teenagers who meet in a cancer support group - was an amazing achievement. I also love cosy English novels that you can curl up with. Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. I always look forward to a new Maggie O’Farrell; After You'd Gone is one of my favourite love stories.
What is your favourite novel?
I can't pick! Rebecca was formative for me, and an influence on this book.
If you could cast any actresses to play Olivia and Sally, who would they be?
I would love Emily Blunt to play Livvy, and Anna Friel to play Sally.
What is next for you?
The lovely team at Quercus have signed me for another 2 books, so I'm just getting started on Book 5.
Female First Lucy Walton