Why do you write?
Like most writers I write because it’s the best way I know of making sense of the world. Writing has always been my first response to any situation that is in any way emotional or challenging. I’ve written my way out of the worst of times, and written my way back into the best so I get to enjoy it all over again.
Is writing your first love or do you have another passion?
Reading is my first love, though writing comes a close second. If I had to choose between being a reader and a writer, I would choose reading. Though the choice would break my heart!
What was the first book that made you cry?
I think there were probably ones that came earlier, but the first I remember is Little Women. I couldn’t actually believe it when Beth died. It was the first time I really understood what death was and it seemed so final and tragic.
Up until that point my sister and I were fighting over who got to be Jo, but for a while we switched allegiances to saintly Beth, though I don’t suppose either of us were terribly convincing.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
The self-doubt. Someone very astute once said that writing a book is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent holding one’s nerve, and I think that’s absolutely true. Writing a 90,000-word book is a marathon.
You have to show up at your desk day after day, and somehow battle all the voices in your head that are telling you you’re wasting your time, your book is terrible, it will never work and who said you could write anyway? And after you’re published those voices are also joined by every negative review you’ve ever had. It’s a wonder any of us ever get anything written at all!
Name a fictional character you consider a friend.
As a child it was always Anne of Green Gables, who was so passionate and feisty and did the kind of things I wouldn’t dare to do but never out of malice, only ever adventure. Adult me has had so many fictional friends from Yossarian from Catch 22 to Rachel Walsh from Marian Keyes’ Rachel’s Holiday.
Recently I’ve read all the Patrick Melrose novels and after spending so long immersed in his head, would have to consider him a friend, though I imagine he’d be quite a challenging friend in real life!
Did getting published change your perception of writing?
Yes of course. Writing for pure pleasure is a very different thing to writing to deadline a book you’ve been contracted to write. Suddenly you’re trying to second guess how other people will respond to what you’re writing, and that’s made worse once the first book is out and reviews come in.
It’s easy to lose sight of the voice which got you published in the first place but, ultimately, we can only ever write for ourselves.
Who inspires you and why?
I’m most inspired by the writers who carry on taking risks and don’t just stick a successful formula. Writers like Kate Atkinson and Hilary Mantel who are playful and bold and endlessly inventive.
Which book deserves more readers?
Any one of mine!
Do you have any friends that are writers? If so, do you show each other early drafts?
I have many, many writer friends. In fact, that would be my number one piece of advice for any new writer, to seek out the company of other writers who will understand the ups and downs of this quite bonkers career and provide support, advice and gin.
I never used to show anyone my work in progress as I was convinced criticism would stop me in my tracks but now I’ve joined a writing group which has some astonishingly good writers in it. It took me a year to work up the courage to show them the book I’m currently writing, and yes, the criticism was hard to hear, but all of it was justified and I think (hope) will ultimately make this a far better book.
Who or what are you most excited to see at Newark Book Festival in July?
I’m really hoping to get to see Mark Billingham on Saturday night as he’s always so entertaining, and I’d love to gate-crash the cream tea with Jo Baker. I’ve just had the privilege of reading an advance copy of her new thriller The Body Lies and it’s wonderful – gripping, brave, challenging and beautifully written. Everything I love in a book.