Why do you write?
I’ve always loved history and as soon as I started writing historical fiction I realised that it is the next best thing to time travel! I actually enjoy every part of the novel writing process, from researching the past, to imagining characters and plots, to crafting satisfying sentences. Each stage has its own challenges and rewards.
Is writing your first love or do you have another passion?
I started writing novels in my forties and I’m glad I didn’t catch the ‘writing bug’ any sooner. I would have found it very hard to find the headspace for fiction whilst building a career and raising a young family. Life experiences are also the bedrock of a writer’s imagination.
What was the first book that made you cry?
The Discontented Pony, a Ladybird book that I still have and it still makes the chin wobble! Anyone interested in the art of storytelling could do worse than look at simple childhood classics like this – all of the key components of a narrative arc are there.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
Not getting published. If you are serious about writing, the path to publication can be difficult. But it is important to view this time as a training period in which to improve your writing and find great stories.
I am glad now that I had time as an unpublished writer to work in my own way on two very different novels. My second novel, a thriller and love story set during the second world war, will be published next year.
Name a fictional character you consider a friend.
I’m not sure that I’d think of any fictional (or historical) character in quite that way. I have though, been moved by a number of readers’ reactions to Cook, a minor character in my novel The Conviction of Cora Burns.
She is sketched in very few words but her story, which is hinted at more than told, really seems to have struck an emotional chord. It is amazing how words can so easily conjure apparently real people and evoke strong feelings for them amongst readers.
Did getting published change your perception of writing?
Once I signed a book deal, writing turned, almost overnight from a solitary, private pursuit to one requiring a very public skillset. Nowadays, an author who is serious about gaining readers must learn PR skills and use social media as well as take part in events like Newark Book Festival! This year, I have done lots of public speaking through author talks, panels and interviews.
I even have a regular slot as a contributor on BBC Radio Berks’ book club. I have to say that although it can be a bit nerve-wracking, I am really loving this part of the experience, especially when it gives me a chance to interact with readers.
Who inspires you and why?
Book bloggers are a group of people I knew nothing about before being published but their dedication to books and reading has blown me away. It is amazing how many avid bloggers are out there spending massive amounts of time in reading and reviewing new novels.
This activity is entirely unpaid but the bloggers’ efforts are hugely beneficial to authors and to the publishing industry. I’m full of gratitude and respect for what they do.
Which book deserves more readers?
Mr Godley’s Phantom by Mal Peet. Mal, who sadly died in 2015, was a very well-respected YA author, but this, his last novel, is definitely for adults. It is a story that defies easy categorisation except to say that it is a heart-stopping masterpiece.
Do you have any friends that are writers? If so, do you show each other early drafts?
One of the most unexpected delights of writing is the way that it can introduce you to a wide circle of new friends who are also writers, both published and unpublished. It is a great privilege to get views on new work from some of them.
But it is not just other writers who have valuable advice to contribute; friends and family can also be extremely helpful. I always try to take on board the views of anyone who reads my unpublished drafts, whether professional editor or mother-in-law!
Who or what are you most excited to see at Newark Book Festival in July?
To be honest, Newark itself. I used to be a local in the area when I lived near Southwell during the 1990s. I actually worked for a while in Newark but haven’t been back for more than a decade. It is one of England’s loveliest market towns and I can’t wait to visit again!