Why did you start to write? Tell us about moving from your previous career as a journalist to book author?
I had always wanted to write a book but, working full time as a magazine editor, thought I didn’t have the time. I kept telling myself some day I’d do it but some day never came. Then I had one of those seize-the-day moments. I was at work and received an email that said a woman I knew quite well had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and didn’t have long to live. That woke me up. I realised none of us know what’s round the corner and some day might never come so if you really want to do something you have to get on with it now. I went home that night and began writing my first novel Delicious.
How did you get published?
I was very lucky. Lots of authors have a collection of rejected manuscripts. My first novel was picked up by an agent who got me a book deal with my present publishers Orion. There was a lot of rewriting before my work was fit for publication though.
So what comes next? Back to the writing desk?
I’ve just got back from Venice where I’ve been researching my next book. It’s going to be about happiness.
Are there themes or ideas that you particularly want to explore in your writing?
I’m interested in the way we connect with other people, the nature of happiness and how we end up in the lives we have. The Food Of Love Cookery School is very much about limits – how we limit ourselves and how the world limits us. Oh and food too obviously!
Do you plan and plot or do you let it unfold as you write?
I sort of know where I’m going but I’m never quite sure how I’m going to get there. I write the way I live my life – organised chaos. But I think if I knew exactly how a book was going to pan out it would be boring to write it. This way I get as caught up in the story as hopefully the reader will.
Who do you like to read? Any favourites?
Loads. This year I’ve loved Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour. I enjoy anything by Rose Tremain and I’m wildly excited that Diane Setterfield has a new novel out this year as The Thirteenth Tale is one of my favourites. My most-loved book though would have to be To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Can you tell us about your average writing day – where do you write and how do you write?
I have a studio in my garden that is full of books, a sofa for the dogs to lie on and a desk for me. Ideally I’d be sitting at it early in the morning and write until about 3pm which is when my energy levels dip and I start feeling sleepy. At that point I need to get up and move. Often I’ll go and ride my horses. This provides valuable thinking time and is often when I’ll solve issues I’m having with characters and the story. With The Food Of Love Cookery School my characters got stuck in a café having coffee at one point. I couldn’t seem to move them on. Horse-riding helped!
What advice would you give other aspiring writers?
Just do it. The publishing landscape has changed so much since I began but the one thing that has stayed the same is the necessity of sitting and thinking and writing for long, long, long hours before you can get anywhere. The most difficult thing of all is making yourself do that.
Where does your inspiration come from – the ideas?
Things just pop into my head often as a result of something I’ve said, heard or done. That’s why, as well as the long hours spent writing, it’s useful to be out in the world doing things and meeting people.
How much research do you do?
It varies depending on the book. For When In Rome there was a lot of research needed as I fictionalised the life of a real person – the singer Mario Lanza. For The Food Of Love Cooking School I didn’t need to do as much. For the next book I’m just starting and I can see that the research will be fascinating and so there is the potential to go completely overboard.
Do you get to choose your book covers?
Not exactly but if I totally hated a design I don’t think they’d go with it. Fortunately I love the new ones for When In Rome, Delicious and The Food Of Love Cookery School.
What does the future hold? Do you want to keep writing?
I never think very far ahead. At the moment I’m focused on writing the next book, getting my new horse Uno going well enough to enter some competitions, sorting out my vege garden and working on some really interesting journalism.
What three qualities fascinate you most in people and inform your characters?
I am nosey so I don’t think I could narrow it down to three characteristics. I’m fascinated with other people, how they live their lives, why they make their choices and most especially by their flaws – I think they are what make us most interesting.