Fiona's new book is The Love Letter and it's out now.
Enjoy the interview (I did, I keep re-reading it!)...
1. Please describe a typical writing day (night!) in the weeks before a deadline
I’m usually working absolutely around the clock as deadline approaches; however long I think I’ve left myself to finish a manuscript, I will inevitably fill it (in fact I’m better not leaving myself too long because the books just get longer and longer...)
My poor long-suffering family are accustomed to me disappearing to the study at dawn like a mad inventor into a garden shed, only reappearing briefly to make coffee throughout the day and evening or sit down and eat in a catatonic daze before shooting back in to rejoin all my imaginary friends. It drives them mad, but it’s the only way I know how to do it and going to bed at 2 or 3 a.m. is the norm during these weeks. I do try to give myself the odd day off to remind them all that I’m human and love them to bits, but in truth I’m so wrapped up in the plot that I really just want to get on with it.
I’ve just delivered the first draft of a new book, the bulk of which took twelve weeks to write which seems like no time, but if you count in the fact that for most of that I worked seven days a week and from week four I was averaging ninety hours a week, it starts to become clear how all-consuming it is!
2. Your books are full of plot twists and turns and huge casts of characters – how do you keep it all together – are you a mega planner?
I always write a very detailed synopsis and cast list beforehand along with maps of locations, and I also make lots of notes as I go along which I refer to far too seldom because I blithely assume it’s all in my head. That was much easier to achieve twenty years ago, but now that I’m juggling a young family and my partner’s equestrian business as well, I forget all sorts of things and so force myself to look at the notes daily and try not to lose them; I’m one of those infuriating writers who jots ideas down everywhere, so no piece of paper can ever be thrown out and I’ve spent many an afternoon upside down in the recycling wheelie bin trying to find that brilliant idea which I wrote on the back of an envelope and which I’m now convinced will sort out the plot twists I’ve tied myself up in.
I have tried very hard to write simpler books to make my life easier; as my neglected loved ones point out, I don’t get paid by the plot twist or character, so why cram so much in and make so much work for myself? But I think I am destined to be a creator of huge romps however hard I try to make the work life balance less one sided. They’re the sort of stories I’m passionate about, and I’m always gratified that so many readers tell me they’ve reread my books so many times the copies have literally fallen apart.
3. You have written some of my favourite ever book characters (Juno, Felix and Phoebe – will they ever be back?) which of your characters is your absolute favourite?
I hate letting characters go and always harbour plans to bring them back. Those three have had occasional honourable mentions in other books but have yet to reappear as major characters. I really hope to do that one day, and I reread Kiss Chase with that intention not long ago, but I’d just finished writing the third book in which Tash French features, Kiss and Tell, and I’d found it quite challenging to put her through a hard time in order to get the plot rolling, so I decided to create an all-new cast of characters instead, which led to The Love Letter, and I think that book bursts with fun and energy as a result. Writing old characters is heaven because they are like old friends and you can have a great giggle, but as they have already found the end of one rainbow, it feels pretty mean to shake their lives up again. One also wants to do them justice and not let down readers who love their original stories. Somewhere, I have a detailed synopsis of a big reunion book featuring Juno and all her chums, so I may review it again soon – although it was all based around a fortieth birthday party and I now realise with alarm that they’d all be older than that! (And Juno has been my favourite heroine, by the way, probably because she’s the most flawed and most infuriating of the lot, but would be a fabulous friend).
(She's my favourite too! Kirsty)
4. Your first novel was published in 1995 – how has your writing life changed since then? How do you think publishing has changed since then?
When I wrote my first few books, I was in my early twenties, living in London, partying most nights and in constant search of big, life-changing love. I knew absolutely nothing about publishing; I just wrote the book I wanted to read, based around what I knew, and was astounded to find it earned me a living. Two decades later and I’m a very rural mother of two who works most nights, and life-changing love is a big part of what has led me here, along with a great many ups and downs and false starts, but I still write books in the same non-stop addictive way I always have, putting everything into them. Getting lost in a book, whether reading or writing, remains one of my greatest pleasures, although making a living from novels feels less secure these days.
There’s been a huge amount of press recently about the state of the publishing industry and there’s no doubt it’s changed enormously since I started out, and is currently going through a very difficult time as the typeset page becomes instantly transferrable data. My books take just as long to think up and write than they ever did, but these days when I finish a draft, my ritual is no longer the three hour print-out followed by a trip to the Post Office; I just press ‘attach’ and ‘send’. By the same token, a reader can acquire a book at the touch of a button, cutting out a great part of the print publishing process. It’s a major discussion point in this household as we face an uncertain future as a family, but I still whole-heartedly believe a ripping good yarn will always be told and shared whatever the medium, and it’s my job as an author to make the storytelling my priority.
5. What is the biggest myth about being a writer?
That it’s a part-time ‘hobby’ career and therefore ideal to fit around children, leisure time and a social life. I work longer hours than my sister who is a hospital doctor and rarely get a holiday, but I know it’s an amazing job to have and I count myself very lucky to have it.
6. Can you give us 3 book recommendations?
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons is a book I can always pick up to be wholly cheered by. Her characters are simply heaven and the humour just leaps off the page.
Similarly, I often re-read the Flambards trilogy by K M Peyton which is timeless, evocative and hopelessly romantic.
Finally, because I’m on a nostalgia kick, I would recommend one of the greatest ever bonk-busters, Lace by Shirley Conran, a rites of passage that should be revisited at least once in life as a reminder of no-holds-barred glitz and goldfish.
7. What are you working on at the moment?
My next book has no official title yet although I’ve nick-named it ‘Hot Air’ because it features hot air balloons on steamy summer days. It’s another big cast comedy, this time set between The Chilterns, LA, Andalucia and Kenya, focusing on a group of friends who studied drama together at university twenty years ago and share secrets that start to unravel when a daughter decides to get married. It’s full of fun and high jinx and the usual eccentric cast of characters, lots of horses and at least one gecko.
I’ll rework the current draft through the summer at the same time as I start to plot and research a new book; I’ve already written myself pages of review notes and have no doubt my editor will add more, and although I always dread the weeks of editing, I end up loving the process as the characters really start to jump off the page, and I find all sorts of jokes and little details to add to the overall story. I did promise myself that this one would be shorter, but as always it looks set to be a very big, racy read...
Thanks Fiona, what a pleasure to have you on our site!