Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Discipline is vital to be a writer because you are at home all day with access to the kettle, the coffee and the biscuit tin. Also, emails come in telling you that you MUST look at this new fabulous line of things from Boden or somewhere else, so you have to control yourself…… Working from home is a huge privilege but you have to keep your bum on the seat and keep writing, so I now have two desks: one downstairs for email and one upstairs purely for writing. During the school term, I take my twin sons, Murray and Dylan, who are just nine, to school, then come home and have breakfast and do exciting things like fill up the washing machine. If it’s a nice day, I like to walk round the garden with my darling three little Jack Russell sisters, unless it’s raining, when we look at the garden. They are very anti-rain. Then, I grab a coffee (am trying to cut down!), head to my study and work on my current novel.
I read whatever I’ve written the day before, spend ages editing that, and then move onto writing new scenes. The Australian writer, Bryce Courtenay, says that writers need bum glue and he’s right. I hop up and down all the time, make tea or coffee and try to avoid the biscuits. At 3.30, I go to collect my sons from school and from there on, I generally only do a bit of admin email stuff as I’m helping the boys with their homework and hearing all about their days. If I am writing, the boys come in to talk to me and I love that. I never want them to think they come second to work – which is the huge privilege of working from home. Then it’s dinner cooking time – or high-speed defrosting time, sometimes. When I’m near the end of a book, I will work in the evening but am easily distracted!
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I NEVER base my characters on real people and am astonished that anyone does. I’ve been told I’m an empathic person, I certainly feel for people and that certainly translates into my characterisations. If I used a real person, say Meryl Streep, then the person in the book would somehow morph into Meryl from films and I could not make her fit into my book at all. It’s the same with non-famous people. You can’t boss around real people in books, but then, when the book is going well, you can’t really boss the characters around either, as they take over.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time, and why?
Eeeek! This is an impossible question and I have given up trying to answer it with one book because there honestly is no one book. I have been reading voraciously since I was a child and my favourite book changes every month, every year. When I was nine, I adored The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. I wanted to be Scarlett when I read Gone With The Wind at fifteen (I wept buckets with rage at the end because how could she not sort it out with Rhett there and then?) and since then….. I love Maeve Binchy, Marian Keyes and MJ Farrell (Molly Keane) to name but a few. All write with wit, clarity and wisdom. I enjoy most genres from women’s fiction/relationship fiction, to crime, to biographies, to children’s book. I adore crime and find myself reading mainly crime at the moment, to be honest. I have the new Lee Child by the bed… And biographies and other non-fiction. Real lives can be so fascinating.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I come up with the characters first and then weave the story around them. I try to have an outline but find that a) the characters take over and the outline becomes obsolete and b) half way through the book, I end up with an entirely different idea for it anyway. I never used to write in draft form but would write the first half of the book and edit it manically, then send that off to the publishers and start on the second half. For the book I am currently finishing, out next year, I tried to write a first draft and was only semi-successful in that I had to keep going back endlessly over the whole thing, rather than writing freely. So I am clearly a two-draft person.
What was your journey to being a published author?
As a child, I loved storytelling but genuinely never thought I could be a writer, even though I wrote stories and poems in notebooks. The notion that I could actually be a writer was a huge leap of faith. I went to journalism college and ended up working on a newspaper as a news reporter, which I was far too soft for. Eventually, I wriggled my way sideways into features and being the film critic, and then, took the plunge and wrote my first book. It was published in Ireland at first, was very successful, and suddenly – and shockingly, to me – I was a writer. Since then, I’ve written more or less a book a year and I do love it but like any job, it has its bad days. Sometimes I like what I’ve written that day and other times, I think I’m an idiot and decide that nobody would ever want to read this…. For would-be writers, if you can silence your inner critic, that would be a good start!
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
The biggest myth is that you spend two weeks writing the book and on week three, it arrives in the shops. I swear, people think this and are astonished that it takes quite a while to get it all turned into a book. People get very cross with me when I say I’ve just finished a book in October and they want to buy it for someone for Christmas and I have to tell them they can’t.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Find your own voice. Do not try to copy anyone because then, what you write comes from an inauthentic place and readers and editors notice. Be yourself. Write about what interests you. and enjoy it. Read a lot. Reading it like honing your skill and if you don’t read much and want to write, start reading a lot now. It’s so vital. It’s not about copying but about understanding the skill of using words. It does help if you love books! We will have to move soon as my own house is turning into a library with no room for people!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m on the final stages of my fourteenth novel, The Honey Queen. As I’m quite hopeless at summing up books, I’ll just say that it’s about a wonderfully wise fifteen-year-old girl who lives with her aunt and uncle, a long-lost sister come back to meet her family for the first time, a surprise pregnancy, and a woman facing the middle years of her life with the feeling that her marriage is falling apart. There is also a bearded dragon lizard called Steve but I have given away far too much already….