After a few books in or perhaps when someone else mentions what they have noticed, you think, oh yes, I see that …
The book delicately reveals the dedication of partners and the kindness of strangers’
Life is tough. Sometimes it can seem outside our understanding and beyond our capabilities; at times we can’t help feeling we should be getting more out of life when making it through each day is achievement enough. We want love, but it goes sour. We want to do the best for our families but external pressures drain us. Our children are stressed, our elderly are isolated, divorce rate is high. Statistics from RELATE and MIND say that 18% of people in the UK feel lonely often or all of the time, and that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem each year.
Our challenges may seem trivial compared to other terrible experiences of people in countries at war, of refugees, of those who suffer starvation and torture but they are real, they still matter – these are our lives, our journeys after all.
Exploring these human experiences and emotional complexities is what makes me want to write and so I put my characters through the tough stuff – breakups, breakdowns, betrayal, judgement, abandonment, loneliness, death of a loved one, depression, loss and divorce. Our common experiences lived now, very personally.
What inspires me is that time and again when we set our faces to life’s challenges we find resilience and strength and we achieve amazing things. Despite everything, we have the optimism to find life enriching, exciting, rewarding.
And what continues to give me hope is how willing we are as individuals and as a community to reach out to others. We find it in ourselves to offer a moment of kindness, a hand of friendship, a gesture of compassion.
It is moments like these which can change a life – not always in a big way but sometimes, yes.
Over a cuppa
I honestly don’t know how to write without including a cup of tea or coffee every few pages – and having a constant supply wherever I am writing!
Characters sit alone in a café or meet up with friends; they gather round a kitchen table, curl up on the sofa or ease themselves into armchairs. They carry rattling cups on trays into the living room or wander with a mug out into the garden. It is an order shouted above the buzz of conversation, a ceremony of tea leaves and teapots or a kettle poured over a couple of spoonfuls of instant.
A cuppa is yearned for, huddled over or left to go cold. Some are spilled, pushed away or forgotten; lips are burned, glasses steam up, hands feel warmed.
Characters find a private moment to wonder about life or lean forward, eager to know what the other is thinking. They share secrets and thoughts or cover up the silences. They say sorry. They cry. They laugh or are comforted.
My cuppas of choice are green tea (frequently), freshly brewed espresso (double please), fennel or peppermint teas for more relaxing moments. Mugs and cups are some of my favourite possessions and part of life’s small ceremonies.
Image is precious encouragement from author, Marianne Wiggins, when I was unsure of where my first novel was going.
We meet Cecillie in Laughing as they Chased us as she sits on her balcony looking out on the French city she is getting to know. In The Other Lover, Laura describes the scene outside the window to her dying friend Rose who spends much of her time in her room at the top of the house in Brighton. Reclusive Abbie watches her new neighbour’s comings and goings from the safety of her spyglass in the door in Never Stop Looking; while in Summer Circles, Hannah enjoys looking down on the familiar, well-loved morning routine of her mother and their family dog in the garden.
If I can I will always write looking out of a window. Away from home, a café is always good. It isn’t all about observing while not being seen, it is also about feeling part of the world while going about the solitary business of writing.
When people ask where I come from I tell them I don’t have a home town. I grew up in an Armed Forces family and after I was born in Berlin we moved eight times while I was at school. It hasn’t stopped there – a rough count for moving home now stands at over twenty-five times.
The idea of home awakens conflicting emotions – I can adapt quickly but I want to settle; I find ways of connecting to a place through gardening and walking but I’m not sure I really feel I belong; I am drawn to people who have strong attachments to a place while enjoying the freedom of not having those ties.
In to begin …, I talk about how my first novel, Laughing as they Chased us started with an interest in exploring the different ways people connect to a place and how that forms their character and informs their actions.
In my other novels, home is bound closely with the spirit of the characters. In The Other Lover, Laura is deeply connected to her home town but perhaps part of her attraction to the older couple she becomes involved with is the life they lived abroad before she met them. In Never Stop Looking, home for Abbie has become a physical sanctuary but an emotional cage. In Summer Circles, the secluded family house is a source of strength for Hannah and her mother but it may also be holding them too tightly.