Author Q&A - General questions
How long does it take you to write a complete book?
My first two novels took about 9 months each, my recent three (One Moment, One Morning, The Two Week Wait and Another Night, Another Day) over a year. And that’s just for the first draft – there’s then editing and proofing and publicizing, which makes the whole process more like 18 months.
How much time do you dedicate to writing per day?
Sometimes 12 hours, sometimes one. That’s because sometimes I might be researching a book rather than writing it, or focusing on publicity.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
All sorts of places, so let me give you an example in terms of One Moment. A few years ago, I was sitting on the Brighton to London train one morning, when a passenger was taken ill on board and an ambulance called. We all had to get out at a stop en route, and I ended up sharing a taxi with a group of women I’d not met before to a stop further up the line. A few weeks later, I lay awake unable to sleep, and remembered this event, and thought it would be a great premise for a novel. I started writing the very next day, but rather than simply tell the tale of strangers in a taxi, I twisted events to my own ends. The result was the plot of my novel - the story of how one incident on the train impacts on the lives of three different passengers. If you click here, it tells you the story behind The Two Week Wait.
Are any of your characters based on real life people?
Whilst I’d freely admit I draw on my own experiences, nevertheless I am clear my books are inspired by my life; they are novels, not memoirs. Simply regurgitating events that have happened to me would be dull, and however narcissistic we authors are prone to be, a character is rarely a mirror image of the writer. Equally, reproducing my friends and family on the page might cause considerable upset, and chances are an exact replica wouldn’t suit my storyline.
Instead I see writing a novel more like mixing paints on a palette; I might choose a little bit of yellow, a whole lot of crimson, then add a touch of cobalt and a smidgeon of black, blending them together to create a narrative. Some of it’s deliberate, some unconscious – only now do I realize Karen’s curtain of chestnut hair came from Crystal Tips and Alistair, a children’s TV show from the 1970s that I didn’t even like as a child.
What I do like, however, is the notion that as someone reads my new novel, Another Night, Another Day, in which I revisit Karen’s life again along with some new characters, they might see themselves reflected in some of what she goes through. At the start of the novel Karen’s elderly father is seriously ill, an emotional experience that is bound to resonate with many people. Even if the reader has not been through anything similar, it’s a situation that’s I hope is easy to understand, and, more importantly, empathize with. From here – if you’ll forgive my adding an audio to my painterly metaphor – I turn the volume up and brighten the colours; so what happens to Karen as the novel progresses might be brighter, deeper, faster, louder – indeed, better and worse – than experiences most of us might have had. But hopefully, because she started somewhere not too far removed from where we are able to picture ourselves, we can learn from her experiences as she does, and grow a little, with her.
Is it difficult to keep coming up with new ideas and not use things from other books that you have read or written?
New ideas are tricky yes, and I think it’s very important to feel passionately about the subject you’re writing about, and that you’ve something fresh to say. So I don’t feel inclined to repeat things from other books – including my own. I am undoubtedly influenced by other writers’ stylistically, however, so I tend not to read fiction when I’m in the middle of writing a novel.
What is the most rewarding thing about being an author?
This is an easy one: hearing from readers. It’s funny, but no one ever writes or emails to say they haven’t enjoyed a novel – then I tend to find they write a snotty review online (perhaps because they can be pretty anonymous, and it doesn’t risk a response). So whenever I get correspondence from a reader I love it. Sometimes being an author can be a lonely business and it's rewarding to have direct contact.
Have you any plans to write another book with Anna as the main character?
You’re not the first to ask me this question! I’d love to write one with her as the main character, but I need to come up with a good storyline for her, and at the moment in terms of The Two Week Wait and Another Night, Another Day, she’s happy in her relationship, home and job. Leave it with me…
Can you remember what the first book you ever read was?
The very first book I remembering reading was because I fell in love with it: it was Mrs Tiggywinkle by Beatrix Potter. My mother still has the copy – I went through it inserting the word ‘dear’ (spelt ‘daer’) every time I came across her name. I still have a fantasy about living in a hole in a hillside secretly doing my neighbour’s washing! Later, I fell for all the Anne books by LM Montgomery, and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. With hindsight, I see how all three authors have something in common: creating feisty, ‘outsider’ female protagonists who struggle to make their way in a hostile world. Anne and Laura are very bright. These books are about the connections of family and friendships as much as anything, subjects that still resonate with me.
Do you ever discuss your plot lines with your family and friends or do you make them wait until the book has been published?
I used to discuss my novels a lot more as I wrote than I do now. Maybe it’s because I’m more confident and experienced, but I’m happier to make my own way. The only person who saw Another Night, Another Day as I was writing was my husband, Tom, though I did show it to a handful of trusted readers before I submitted it to my publisher.
Do you have a favourite character from your books?
Lou, probably. She’s based, to some extent, on a very dear friend of mine (I made no secret of this – she knows) and so I’m especially fond of her. Though I also love Michael from Another Night, Another Day. Michael was the first time I’d put a man centre stage, so to speak (along with Karen and Abby) and so I had to get deep into his psyche. Oh, and Chloe from The Other Half. Because I wrote the novel many years ago and she reminds me of my younger, more naïve, self.