1. Can you tell us a little about your average writing day
I start writing when I’ve returned from the school run around nine and finish at about six. Hah. What usually happens is I start writing around 11am, once I’ve browsed all the newspapers, Twitter, various Internet sales shops go out for lunch at 1 (important for writers to have a social life, I’ve decided) and resume about 3pm after buying a little pick-me-up on a Cocosa, which I’ll immediately feel remorseful about and will later return.
Then the kids come home and I manage the odd sentence between tearing them apart and turning off the Wii. But tomorrow, I shall cut up my credit card, end my Internet connection and find a boarding school that takes five-year-olds and this will all change.
2. When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I’ve interviewed quite a few celebrities, so yes, they do make appearances – most notably in Amy’s Honeymoon and The Model Wife. And my friends (and enemies) pop up everywhere, especially in my earlier novels. Luckily, no one recognises themselves in print – I’ve had friends whose foibles have appeared in graphic detail on my pages tell me they thought that character was “horrendous.” Equally, friends have claimed I’ve based a character on them when it’s someone else entirely. Now I’ve realised no one recognises themselves, all caution has been thrown to the wind.
3. What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
The Group by Mary McCarthy is phenomenal. It was first published in the 1930s and tells the story in the different voices of each member of a group of women who are friends at college and the different paths their lives take after graduation. Such a corny formula but McCarthy’s wit is so sharp and the tales are so poignant. Anyone daft enough to say “I’m not a feminist” should read it to understand how far women’s lives have come since then. I also adore Lovers and Gamblers by Jackie Collins.
4. What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
With every novel, I proclaim: I will plan this. However, the original blueprint bears about as much resemblance to the finished product as I do to Cindy Crawford in a bikini. I do a lot of drafts, six is probabaly average and the book changes drastically with each one. I’m not saying this is the best path – just mine.
5. What was your journey to being a published author?
I’d been a journalist at The Times for a few years, so an agent who liked my work approached me. I wrote one book of non-fiction, Travels without my Aunt, following in the footsteps of the author Graham Greene but then went completely off track with my second book, which was a romantic comedy The Love Trainer.
My agent was astonished when I pitched it to her. It was inspired by a good friend whose love life was a shambles,and I kept threatening to come round to her house and confiscate all her phones so she could stop pestering guys she liked and terrifying them with her neediness. Instead of a personal trainer, she needed a love trainer.
Penguin liked the idea, gave me an advance, the book did well and five novels on I’m still here. That makes it sound easy, and I was lucky in that I had a public platform for my writing already but it’s been an awful lot of slog – and meant I could take only two months off when my children were born, there’s no cosy maternity leave for self-employed writers. Bear that in mind if you’re planning to quit your day job.
6. What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That it’s in any way an enjoyable way to make a living. I find the process torturous and so do all my writer friends. In the middle of each novel, there’ll be a point when I’m shopping in Tesco and I’ll be glaring enviously at the staff, wishing I could trade places with them – anything for a job with set hours, where you have contact with real breathing people and not online avatars and you don’t wake up in the middle of the night panicking about a thorny plot twist.
7. What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
The best advice ever comes from the astonishingly prolific Nora Roberts, who writes an average of five books a year and earns about $18 million annually. “Ass in the chair.”
8. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m close to finishing a novel called, for now, You’re My Best Friend. It’s about best friends – how most women have a different one at different stages of their lives, but how those friendships tend to end. We romanticise friendship and think it’ll last forever but in fact most friends are for a season – and that’s fine. However, my heroine has a hard time coming to terms with this.