FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING
When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I was about twelve years old. We were given a term long assignment to write whatever story we wanted about the second world war. I interviewed friends of my parents who had lived through the war, as well as my grandmother, and then I set about writing the story. I don’t remember anything about the story, except that my hero survived the war only to be killed by a bull as a he walked across a field! But I do remember how much I loved writing it. I didn’t actually try to write anything else until I left university, but I always knew that was what I wanted.
What’s a typical working day like for an author?
I am very disciplined about it. I aim to write a minimum of 500 words a day, which doesn’t sound very much but soon adds up. I write longhand in a large Moleskin notebook, and always first thing in the morning, once my daughters have left for school. Sometimes I go to the little office I share with a friend, sometimes I go to my local café and sometimes I write in the garden. Once I’ve written my 500 words, I go to work to do my day job. In the evenings, I type up what I wrote in the morning, so it’s fresh in my head the next day. Every so often I go and stay in a friend’s lovely house in the country and work fourteen hour days, stopping only to make tea and eat biscuits and sometimes go for walks. Those are my favourite times.
How do you generate ideas for your storylines?
You need to be very careful around writers, because almost anything you say might end up in a book… Every time someone tells me something unusual or funny or sad, a part of my brain starts trying to turn it into a story. At the moment I am writing a series set in West London, where I grew up and where I live, so literally everything I see is potential material. But once I start writing the ideas come on their own, and sometimes they are completely made up by some wonderful part of my subconscious, and sometimes they draw on real life things.
When you have finished writing a book, who is your first reader?
My agent, Catherine. Who I secretly refer to as Catherine the Great. Except now I’ve written it down, it’s not secret anymore!
Are you influenced by any other authors?
Of course! And so I should be. It’s by reading other writers that you learn how to write yourself. That said, it’s important to keep developing your own voice and style.
Which were your favourite books when you were a child?
All the Narnia books. All the Anne of Green Gables books. All of Enid Blyton’s Adventure series, the Famous Five, Mallory Towers. Tales of Greek mythology. Walter Farrell’s Black Stallion series. My Friend Flicka. Little House on the Prairie. Lots and lots of what used to be called penny Westerns. From this you can deduce that I loved horses, old America and adventure! There were fewer YA books around when I was growing up, so I moved straight from children’s books to a strange mix of classics, detective stories and romantic sagas.
What ingredients, in your opinion, does a good book need?
Characters you love and a cracking plot.
Do you have any tips for new writers?
Write a little bit every day and give yourself plenty of time to re-read and edit what you’ve written. Enjoy it. Don’t stop believing.
What do you like to do besides write?
Read. Bake. Ride horses. Look after my garden. Visit remote and beautiful places. Talk to my cat (rather too much). Spend time with my family and friends. Go to the cinema. Think about one day learning Italian.