When I Met You is about loss, love, family and kindness. In a way it’s a ‘stranger who comes to town’ story and is about one person transforming many lives in a short space of time. Like so many families the Baxter’s are a dysfunctional bunch and Marianne, the central character, despairs of her relatives (in particular her pushy, over the top mother and self-absorbed sister) on a regular basis. One night her long lost dad returns, bringing with him a secret. At this point her whole life implodes and the book is then about the next nine months or so and how one man can have such an enormous impact on everyone.
Please tell us about the character of Marianne Baker.
Marianne is not only a product of her upbringing but also of the times we live in. She’s in her 30’s but still living at home because it makes no financial sense to move out. She’s never really realised her potential. But then she’s never really had a totally encouraging or supportive influence in her life. She’s a talented violinist but earns a living hairdressing and spends the rest of the time travelling the world. She just needs someone to have a bit of belief in her really and I love how over the course of the book she slowly finds her feet and demonstrates so much kindness and understanding during what is a very stressful time. She’s not perfect though. And because no one is that is so terribly important.
Why did you grow up wanting to write for Cosmopolitan?
From a child’s perspective Cosmopolitan seemed to represent everything that was grown up, glamorous and exciting. In the 80’s the cover girls always had lustrous manes and wore bright red lipstick. I strongly suspected that if I went to work as a journalist there my life would be pretty fabulous. As a dumpy ten year old I imagined myself interviewing interesting people, writing sharp, punchy pieces on both weighty and light topics and how I would look the part by also having thick shiny hair and red lippy, having transformed from an eleven year old ugly ducking into a swan like Cosmo cover girl myself. In reality I don’t suit red lipstick at all. It makes me look like a prostitute but I’d still write for them any day of the week.
You are an ambassador for Molton Brown on QVC and a panellist on The Wright Stuff, so how do you juggle your writing life with your other commitments?
Hmm. I’m not going to lie. Like any working mum I have days where I feel rather ‘overwhelmed’ shall we say. It’s hard to prioritise writing when there’s no food in the fridge for the kid’s dinner, I’ve got to go to a casting, or work, and the ironing pile looks like the leaning tower of the Pisa. Still, I strongly believe in the power of a good list. Lists, occasional exercise and white wine are all my friends and see my through. That and my ability to ignore the ironing pile.
You have published three other novels so can you tell us a bit about these?
My first novel was called Me and Miss M and is about a girl who was PA to a nightmare actress. It was based on personal experience, but no, I can’t tell you who I worked for! My second book is From London with Love and is about a girl whose dad played the part of James Bond in the 80’s. It explores the advantages and negatives of having a famous parent. I’m very fond of this one. It’s quite funny. My third came out last year and is called If You’re Not the One. This one is a bit different. It’s about a woman called Jennifer, who is approaching forty and having a huge mid- life crisis. She has a terrible accident and whilst in a coma finds out what life would have been like if she’d stayed with three different men from her past. It’s about how the notion of ‘the one’ is improbable, how the person you choose to be with affects every area of your life to some degree and how our lives take a totally different path according to the decisions we make. This one has been optioned by Working Title Films and I’m very proud of it. I’m proud of all of them.
Why did you want Marianne’s passion to be in violin playing? Is something you can relate to?
I wanted her to be passionate about something which wasn’t main-stream. Her mum doesn’t like or have any appreciation for classical music and her peers don’t necessarily feel comfortable listening to it or know much about it. People ‘like’ Marianne who comes originally from a very working class background in Essex aren’t ordinarily into classical music which I think makes the story far more interesting in a ‘Billy Elliot’ kind of way. It also means that when she discovers that her dad loves it they instantly have something in common and a connection that she doesn’t have with any other member of her family.
Please tell us about your time as Disney Channel presenter.
I was a full time presenter at the Disney Channel for five years during my twenties. It was almost stupidly fun and was a very golden, happy period in my life. We were in the live studio every day and were allowed a fairly free rein which in turn meant we could be quite anarchic and silly in terms of our presenting style. There was no script and it was more ‘SMTV’ or ‘Tiswas’ than how you might imagine Disney to be. I was always being sent off on shoots, sometimes abroad and often to do things I would never otherwise get to do. I met and interviewed pretty much every pop star from the 90’s and got to host the Kids Awards at London Arena in front of 10,000 people. There are far worse jobs. I know because I’ve done many of them.
What is next for you?
I am currently working on a new book, doing various telly jobs and at some point will be tackling the ironing pile.