Please can you tell us about your current project?
Highly Unsuitable Girl, published on 1st February 2012, is the story of the first 50 years of a woman’s life, spanning the second half of the 20th century. She is not all good and not all bad, nor are the people her life leads her to be among. Through her inability to read other people, and her self-obsession, she makes so many mistakes that hurt her as well as those around her. It takes many years of mistakes and of using other people to her own ends before she comes to some degree of self-awareness and can begin, if not to like herself, then to forgive herself.
In between my day job (my husband and I run a small business which is, at times, very time-consuming), the usual trials and tribulations of normal everyday living I have two writing projects on the go.
The first is a straightforward story of a man’s obsession with a woman and how that obsession ruins both their lives. I hope that this will be published in 2013. Provisional title is Silver Birch.
The second is a long term project which has to be published in 2015. It is a fantasy where I have taken figure from history and changed one, rather important, fact in his life. Two men know that what the world has been told is wrong, and why. It is an episodic story telling how the documents that detail the deception are dealt with by each subsequent generation of the family until the present day, when their discovery and publication would change the politics of Europe. It is a complex story requiring much historical colour and detail and I’m having great fun living the lives of people from the 1800s through to the present day. Provisional title is Unwonted Legacy.
I looked at the shelves of books left for guests’ consumption in the villa and didn’t like the look of any of them so I went back to the laptop, opened Word and started to type.
What do you love most about being a writer?
I love the process of the book developing at my fingertips: starting with a blank screen (no longer the proverbial ‘blank sheet of paper’, filling it with people’s lives. I love the learning that goes hand in hand with that. In my first three books, for example, I had to research the civil service in the early 20th century – now that might seem boring but it was fascinating I the context of the changing role of women. I tag certain real events, real places, real people, into the fictional lives to make my characters entirely plausible. Since those books are based in the lifetime of many of my readers they will recognise events and places and may therefore identify more with my characters. For those readers who are younger, then the history I talk about is correct and accurate.
I love the way my characters take on lives of their own. I will start them in a conversation thinking it will end up heading in a particular direction, but it seldom does, and some of the neatest twists in plot have occurred because someone said something in one of those conversations I hadn’t intended them to.
Recognition is always wonderful. It is very satisfying when I receive notes, emails or comments in the local pub, from people saying they love reading my books and when is the next one coming out! Also, winning a prize is very encouraging. My first book, The Last Dance, won The David St John Thomas award for self-published novels in 2006. Winning that prize meant recognition that my book was worthwhile (despite having been rejected by any number of agents and publishers), it meant that the formal mainstream publishing world doesn’t hold the monopoly in identifying books that people will enjoy reading.
What advice could you give to aspiring writers?
Write. Everyone who wants to write should, get it all down in a file somewhere (or on paper if you must!) even if you haven’t the time to deal with it now you will someday. Persevere with that writing, do it for its own sake because you enjoy it and because you believe anything you write is far, far better than so much rubbish you could be wasting your time reading. Don’t worry about not being published – there are ways and means of doing that, especially with e-books. Don’t worry if only a few people read your books. It’s always nice when people buy your books, and tell you they have enjoyed them, but it doesn’t really matter if they don’t because you’ve done it for yourself and because you enjoy it.
Read. Read to see how you want to write, and more importantly, how you don’t want to write. I believe all reading influences writing as it leads, in a very basic way, to an understanding of grammar, of spelling, of punctuation and of vocabulary (though these may not always be perfect!). Having access to a wide vocabulary and broad understanding of how sentences work are crucial building blocks for a writer, not only to make the words say what I want them to, but also to allow them flow in a readily readable manner. Read also to widen your experiences of life, one person cannot have been everywhere, seen everything and experienced all the feelings that can be read about.
What do you love to read?
I enjoy a wide variety of books and don’t really have a favourite author. I enjoy Amy Tan, Andrea Barrett, Amitav Ghosh, the early South American books of Louis de Bernières, some Kate Atkinson, some Philippa Gregory, Bernard Cornwell. It is not really a specific author who attracts me but subject matter. I always enjoy books by writers who assume a little intelligence in their readership.
I am reading historical fact at present, biographies and social histories, to help me with the ‘long term project’. In many ways I prefer fact to fiction.
What future projects do you have lined up?
After the two that I have currently hand-in-hand (see above), I have 5 further plots outlined. These are expansions of notes that I have recorded since the 1970s. In fact the printouts I have on file of documents I have produced over the years and not been able to transfer to ever-changing technology are a record in themselves of word-processors and computers over the past 40 years!