1.What character most surprised you in your work and why?
Which character? That’s a nice easy one to start :) When I wrote my first novel, Never Too Late, I created Hilda to be someone I could hate. She wouldn’t accept that, though, and as I got to know her she became more and more interesting. She’s now my favourite character from the Changes trilogy and is the MC in the 3rd part, Past and Present, which I’m writing now.
2. Was there anything else in your work that flowed from the tips of your fingers without your having been aware that it was coming? How did you react? Did it change the story you thought you were going to tell?
I think there will be quite a few of us who will know ‘that look’ from our partners. It’s the look I get when Chris walks through the door after a day at work, a day I have spent writing, and it’s not, “Hello, darling, have you had a good day?” he hears, but, “You’ll never guess what I’ve just found out about Chloe!”
My first novel presented me with huge difficulties. I had the plot and the characters all sorted out in my mind but it was so stilted in the execution I despaired of ever having something worth publishing – or even worth finishing. After it had hidden on my hard drive for a few years I went back to it and let the characters speak and act more in accordance with their natures. That’s when the plot developed naturally in an entirely different way to the one I’d first conceived. It was such fun to write, as I, too, couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. At times I really resented having to go to the day job. That said, there’s a great deal that gets resolved in my subconscious so perhaps I needed to be slowed down.
3. What "other world" (which could be a time, place, or fantasy place) created in any book you've written or read is the world you would most like to visit and why?
I must admit the idea of that shower with Alesso (New Beginnings) is rather tempting… Can I opt for all the trappings but a different partner?
4. What work created by someone else do you most wish you had written yourself and why?
Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach. Why? What better way could there be to live, than to be like Jonathan, constantly striving for perfection, to get past limitations others try and impose on us, and those we impose on ourselves? This work has lived with me for many years. If I get downhearted I just pick up this little book and Jonathan gives me back the determination to continue. It would be incredible to feel I’d had that kind of positive influence on someone’s life.
5. What would you consider the five best works you have ever read and why do you rank them among the best?
After Jonathan there are so many candidates, and my choice next week will probably not be the choice I make now, but here goes.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: my first introduction as a child to top class literature. I think the first will always hold a special place in anyone’s imagination. And Ratty’s comment, "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats," didn’t persuade me onto the water, but persuaded me to spend my life taking time to enjoy the small moments and simple pleasures that are ultimately far more important than all the things so many people get stressed out over.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: I was 9 or 10 years old when I first met Jane. I was visiting family in Frome with my grandmother and elder sister and the weather was poor ie perfect ‘lose myself in a book’ weather. I discovered a blue cloth-bound, ancient volume and was intrigued by the title. Who was Jane? From the first page I was transported to another world and my education about good writing had begun in earnest.
Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge: I was slightly more mature, more critical of what I was reading by the time I found Green Dolphin Country. It didn’t disappoint. On the contrary, I was held captive by the characters and the scenes she painted so vividly for us. All human emotion was there as regards family interactions, the things we do and say, the things we don’t do and say, for love of family. There are compromises, there are fulfilments postponed, just like real life. As an author you have to know your characters intimately, and really care for them and care about what happens in their lives, to write as well as this.
Robot and Foundation series by Isaac Asimov: yes, I know I’m cheating here, but I think at one time I was ever so slightly in love with R Daneel Olivaw. Is that very weird, falling in love with a robot? OK, I admit it, I am weird: my family have always known that about me lol! It's just that Daneel is such a perfect mix of the best aspects of computers, humans and a well-behaved dog he's hard to resist.
I’ve always had a keen interest in science and Asimov described a future that includes humanoid robots. He persuaded me this was world was not only possible but was imminent. Remember, I read these stories in pre-mobile phone and ‘everyone has a laptop’ days. This writing was way ahead of the time it was written in. He made me think about the implications of such a possible future life, how important it is to be flexible, adaptable, and the importance of standing up against prejudice. He made me think about how science and everyday life interact. He taught me to think carefully about what it means to be human, and the consequences of being human.
Tara Road by Maeve Binchy: the incredibly talented Maeve, one of my idols. I’ll miss her but know she will not soon be forgotten, having touched so many people’s lives. She taught me how to write about and for contemporaries. Tara Road is my favourite, but I have devoured all of her work. My ultimate ambition is to write something that comes close to her easy (seems easy therefore it must be, yes?) storytelling, that flows and embraces you.
6. What do you do when you pick up a work that does not entertain you? Do you read to the bitter end? Or do you bow out early?
If I’ve made a promise to review a work I’ll read it to the bitter end. I don’t believe in writing a review without knowing for sure it doesn’t improve. It also means there is more opportunity of finding a redeeming feature to soften the blow of a low rating. I won’t pull my punches when reviewing, though, as anything other than honesty is unfair to both the author and potential readers.
If I’ve made a poor selection for my own entertainment I’ll ditch it fairly quickly as the most precious thing in my life (beyond family, of course!) is time. When I was young I’d read adverts, anything, just to be reading. In those days I’d read a book that didn’t really enthral me. Now I’m getting older, or as my husband would say, “Getting? You ARE old!”, that childhood belief that time is infinite has most definitely been ripped to shreds.
7. Who is your favorite heroic character and in what way are you like him or her?
Is there a single woman on this planet who has read Pride and Prejudice and not fallen in love with Mr Darcy? He is not only rich and handsome: more importantly he is intelligent, kind and honourable. We are alike in our reluctance to put our emotions on public display.
8. Who is your favorite villain--and in what way are you like him or her?
Shylock: what he did is wrong but Shakespeare allows us to see him as a man driven to an extreme of passion by years of persecution from people who cannot, or maybe just will not, see beyond the solitary fact that he is a Jew. They will use him but hardly acknowledge he is human. Who among us would not lash out eventually?
9. What one question have you always wished an interviewer would ask you that you have not been asked and what is your answer to that question--and what one question do you most dread an interviewer asking you and what is your answer to that question.
I’ve never even imagined being interviewed so there is no answer to either part of this question, and even if there was I would decline answering the second part!
10. What one lesson, theme, or principle did you most want others to take from your work?
If I can do it, anyone can. I spent many years procrastinating, but once I buckled down to the task of finishing the first novel it all came together quite quickly. You just need to be determined, be prepared to work hard and lose out on sleep, somehow keep a balance between your commitments to family, work and writing, keep learning, practicing and improving, grow a thick skin so you can take criticism in the spirit it is intended (and use it!), read widely, learn a whole bunch of new skills, be prepared to read your own writing so many times you’ll be dreaming the words and the characters will become more real to you than your own family, and then be prepared to start the really hard work once you’ve published your novel. You see – simples! – as Aleksandr would say…
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