HOW DO YOU WRITE?
I write directly on to a laptop but I have an A4 notebook which sits alongside it on my desk. The notebook is where I hold a dialogue with myself about my characters – their motivations and background; it’s where I explore scenes and settings and figure out my timelines and plots. It can reflect my mood – perhaps frustration if it’s a slow day of writing! Sometimes I reflect on a significant event or exterior thoughts appear – the weather frequently puts in an appearance! But it isn’t a diary, it isn’t a record of my life, it is the writing process and the evolution of the book.
WHERE DO YOU WRITE?
My study. Even though it’s supposed to double up as a guestroom, I don’t really like anyone else going in it! It’s where I am most comfortable writing although I can and have written anywhere: in people’s spare rooms, on trains and buses, in cafes.
The study looks onto the backs of the terrace houses on the next street. I can see a slice of my own garden which draws my eye at times but doesn’t distract me (too much). At certain stages when I’m writing a novel, I like to move to the bedroom with the printed ms and my notebook where I set up camp on the bed to think, doze, write notes and somehow this moves the book on.
WHAT DO YOU WRITE?
I write contemporary fiction. I find the age we live in endlessly fascinating. I am interested in our relationships between others, ourselves and how we see our place in society. As my work reflects present-day life, social issues and concerns provide context.
As I like to explore the darker side of emotions, my writing might have a mysterious, sinister or unsettling edge and, although I explore social issues, I aim to make my writing accessible, with a strong narrative drive. It’s great to hear from readers that they’ve not been able to put my book down.
There are two themes that seem to recur in my work. A sense of place – I am intrigued by both the physical and spiritual notion of ‘home’ and the influence it has on our lives: what holds people to one place, what makes others yearn to escape?
And judgement. In its many guises, judgement is an insidious player in our society. We all walk a fine line between being the judge and the judged.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST DECIDE YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?
I was studying French and German at Sheffield University when one day I came across Margaret Drabble’s ‘A Summer Birdcage’. Although I had a big pile of course literature to get through, I spent the rest of the day holed up in my room, devouring it. Not only did it feel wonderfully illicit but it reminded me how much I’d missed reading for pleasure and how amazing my own language was. I remember thinking – I’d like to write something like this.
WHERE DO YOUR IDEAS COME FROM?
I think like most writers I have a limitless interest in other people and their lives, world events, common experiences, every-day dramas. I am addicted to the news, I watch TV, listen to the radio, read books, articles, magazines, eaves-drop.
You never know when something will strike home. Sometimes a note in a song resonates with an emotion that I want to capture into words, sometimes an article sparks a curiosity. I have a current preoccupation with how statistics reflect our lives – how they can challenge our individualism while sustaining our beliefs in human nature.
ARE YOUR CHARACTERS BASED ON REAL PEOPLE?
It would be a process other than fiction if I were to explore the emotions and motivations of someone I actually knew. For me, the whole pleasure of writing fiction is bringing characters to life, accompanying them on their journey and discovering all I can about them. It is a highly absorbing kind of play.
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE SETTINGS FOR YOUR NOVELS?
It really depends on the novel but for me, the setting always plays an important role; it informs character, influences events, provides motivation. It is connective tissue in the book.
Although I often name the place where my novel is set, it’s not a road map to the place. I find replication too limiting, it’s the atmosphere I’m after. I am liable to shift buildings around, take impossible turnings, make up street names and write about things that don’t exist. In The Other Lover I created the Monkey Park in Brighton. It was the best thing to have a reader say that they loved the park and wished it was real!
WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE TO AN ASPIRING WRITER?
First. Read. A lot. Everything. I know a lot of writers say this but why would you want to be a writer if you not interested in reading what, and how, others write?
Second. Cultivate equally both sides of your writing self – the uninhibited, instinctive part and the objective, measured one. Write. Then, edit.
Third. Challenge yourself but don’t try to be clever. Be honest with yourself about what you are doing, what you are striving to convey.
DO YOU HAVE ANY WRITING SUPERSTITIONS?
I work on the same battered old wooden trestle table that I have since my first novel was published. I can’t imagine ever replacing it.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NEXT?
My next novel is about the reality and humanity of living in today’s Britain. Told from James’, the father’s, perspective, it is about a family in crisis whose eldest daughter is struggling with anorexia nervosa. James is haunted by death both real and imagined. As he searches for answers, he is drawn towards past memories but finds comfort in new friendships and unexpected tender moments.