What can you tell us about your new novel The First Time I Saw Your Face?
It’s about Mack, who is an ex tabloid journalist who has tried to leave his muck-raking past behind him and Jennifer Roseby who has returned home to Northumberland after an accident. Their two paths would probably never have crossed if Jennifer did not have a famous cousin, Cressida, who is on the verge of making it big in Hollywood and Mack did not have a mother with an explosive secret past. To protect that past, Mack is blackmailed into travelling north and posing as a harmless travel writer in order to win Jennifer’s confidence so that he’ll get all the dirt on her cousin’s love life.
It’s a horrible job and when Mack arrives he discovers something about Jennifer which makes what he has to do even more difficult.
The story has my trademark humour in it – a lot of the action involves an amateur dramatics group trying to put on a production of ‘Twelfth Night’ – but those who like their romances with a fair bit of angst won’t be disappointed either.
The book is set in Northumberland, where you live with your family, why did you decide to set it in your hometown?
Northumberland is a huge, stunningly beautiful county and the people who live here have a very distinct humour, yet often when I say where I live people ask me to repeat the name or they just ask me where it is in Scotland!!
I suppose I’m trying to put Northumberland on the map a bit and have some fun at the same time. Mack is a southerner (as I am by birth) and he has very negative, dated opinions about ‘the north’, so plonking him down here and also giving him a wild night out in Newcastle produced some good ‘fish out of water’ moments. In the end though, I’ve tried to tell two love stories – the main one between Mack and Jennifer and another one between Mack and Northumberland.
Where did the inspiration come from for the novel?
I think the seeds of it were sown a few years ago when I read about a tabloid journalist who’d managed to talk his way on to the staff at Buckingham Palace. I can’t remember how long he was there before he was discovered, but it started me thinking how far someone would go to get a scoop. And the effect it would have on the people he was snooping on.
Of course, the book seems very topical now with all the stuff coming out about phone hacking.
Mack has a secret that he will do anything not to be made known, do you think this is true of everyone?
I suspect everyone has a secret that makes them go hot and cold when they think of it seeing the light of day. It might not be anything huge - just a side of themselves they haven’t revealed to many others, a hidden bit of the past that’s regretted, a bad habit...that kind of thing. Whether most of us would do ‘anything’ to hide it I don’t know, but I think we might lie or be evasive.
Even seemingly perfect partners have their drawbacks, like Mack; how do you gradually let the reader know that there is something not so perfect about this character?
Well, I let the reader inside Mack’s head right from the start, so they know he’s not who he’s pretending to be – they are in a more privileged position than Jennifer. I think that makes you feel more sympathy with Jennifer who is taking him at face value… hopefully it also helps you see the terrible dilemma he’s up against too.
This is your second novel, what plans have you in place for another?
It’s already written! My third book is called ‘Grace Under Pressure’. This one is set back in London in the world of art tours in galleries and it’s about what happens to Grace, a very organised and controlled girl when an energetic, rebellious young American guy explodes into her life.
You were shortlisted for the Romantic Novelist Association's Romantic Comedy Award for Who's Afraid of Mr Wolfe?, how did this make you feel as a writer given that it was for your first novel?
Being a writer is strange. On the one hand you have the self belief that you can write a story people want to read… if you didn’t you’d leave it in a box under the bed and not approach an agent or publisher. Yet on the other hand, there’s always a voice in your head whispering that maybe, maybe, you’re not that good after all. I think, particularly writing humour, you worry that things might be falling flat.
Getting shortlisted was lovely because it was an objective verdict and it’s certainly given me more confidence.
How did you get into writing for advertising?
I had a bit of a false start with my career after university. I was always interested in words and how they worked and wanted to go into advertising, but I lacked confidence in my writing and went into a management role in the civil service instead. As the years ticked along I felt increasingly that I was in the wrong place doing the wrong job. One day I plucked up courage and wrote to some ad agencies in Newcastle and got a couple of interviews and one agency took me on. It felt like finally I was in the right place. There’s a lesson there about going with what your heart is trying to tell you…
How did you go from writing ads to writing a novel?
Richard Armitage, the actor!! I saw him on the TV, googled him (as you do) and ended up on a fantastic website where I not only discovered discussions about him but also about books, plays, films, in fact, all kinds of things. More importantly there was a forum for people to write stories based on the characters he has played. I had a go at writing one of these fan fictions, then another and I was hooked. About six women who started out writing these stories on this site have now gone on to be published authors and one of them suggested I try my hand at a contemporary romance. ‘Who’s Afraid of Mr Wolfe?’ was the result and there’s a lot of Mr Armitage in Jack Wolfe.
What are the differences and similarities between advertising and novel writing?
The main difference is that you’re not writing with the aim of selling a product when you write a novel. Even if you have a burning message to impart to the world, you have to do it via a believable set of characters in a world that makes sense within the book. In advertising you decide what the main selling point is, focus on that and make it appeal to the market you’re talking to.
Similarities? Well the best advertising is highly imaginative - in some cases you’re creating a need in the consumer they didn’t know they had. And when you’re writing a novel, you still have to be aware of your market - particularly in a genre like romance… the reader doesn’t want to be whisked into a gore fest when they were expecting a kiss!! One other similarity – in both disciplines you have to grab the reader’s attention right from the start.
Female First Lucy Walton
Tagged in quercus