Writing non-fiction and ghosting gave me the confidence to write a novel. When I worked as a publisher, I thought that was what other people did and I edited. It’s odd to find myself on the other side of the fence now. In fact ghosting helped me because it taught me so much about adopting someone else’s voice, and about structure and pace. Of course, in those ghost-written memoirs, most of the material was already there, so the novelist’s skill that I’m still learning is how to invent characters and situations and make them credible.
A bit of both. When I sit down every morning I go back over what I wrote the day before and work on it until I don’t feel too despairing. And then I start writing again. But I find it hard going forward unless I’m reasonably happy with what I’ve already done. That’s not to say that it doesn’t need revising when I’ve finished the final draft. It does! I’d love to be a more spontaneous novelist who could just let it all come out in a rush, but that’s not how I work. But I’m sure one of the keys to writing is ‘Know thyself’ and another is, just get on with it.
In the novels I’ve written so far, panic has always struck at about the 40,000-word mark, when all the balls are just about in the air and I’m convinced that a) they’re all about to come crashing down in the wrong places and that b) a monkey could write the novel better anyway. That’s the moment I’m tempted to delete the whole lot and start again. So far, I’ve always managed to stop myself doing that.
My first way of coping is chocolate or biscuits or preferably both, then I phone a friend, who conveniently doubles as a bestselling novelist. She understands exactly what I’m going through, having experienced the same thing regularly herself. She calms me down and orders me to keep going, reminding me that once I’ve got something on the page I can always change it. Of course, she’s right.
You’ve enjoyed a long and successful career, and are still very involved in other writing related tasks, not least as books editor of Woman & Home magazine.
I often only get things done by the seat of my pants.
I’m always at my desk by about 9am and stay there for a full working day. My working method’s rather haphazard, which I means I do things as they come up. Someone once told me you should only touch each piece of paper once, the same applies to emails. Once opened, it’s got to be dealt with, filed or deleted. Most of my job for Woman & Home involves reading, so I tend to do that in the evenings, on buses if I’m going out, or on weekends then put aside a couple of days or so a month to write the reviews. Otherwise, I put in a normal working day, stopping for a quick lunch of soup or baked beans. I know, not inspiring – but filling.
I try to write a 1,000 words of my novel a day although that varies depending whether I’m doing research which holds me up, stuck, or whether I’m on a roll. Answering queries, writing features and anything else just gets fitted in somewhere. And of course, I spend ages displacing on the Internet!
I don’t think I learned to write the way I do, it just happened. I find myself putting my poor characters into situations that make me laugh. So a suitcase might fly open at an airport, wine get spilled over someone at an important dinner, people see things they shouldn’t, or end up with unsuitable partners and row over ridiculous things. You only have to look around you to see there’s usually a funny side to almost everything. But I hope I’m making one or two serious points about women of a certain age and the lives we lead as well.
Tell us about your latest book and how you came by the idea for it.
WOMEN OF A DANGEROUS AGE came to me when I was having one of those moments when you look at your life and ask yourself: Is this it? That prompted me to write about two women who had reached the same point in their own lives: one a wife and mother; the other a serial mistress. The first of them came to me just when I should have been concentrating on my pelvic floor in a pilates class! Lou is a woman who wants to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going to be a victim anymore.’ She and Ali decide that it’s not too late for another throw of the dice. They start down a path to reinvent themselves despite a couple of startling discoveries that almost put paid to their resolutions.
Do you manage to off-load the housework when you’re writing?
One of my greatest talents is being able to ignore housework, so we live in an embarrassingly messy house.
I try to go for a brisk walk every day (and often don’t) as well as doing three hours of pilates a week (and do) which seems to keep most problems at bay.
If I had, I wouldn’t tell you!
Apart from my family, I’m most proud of paragliding in the Alps given I practically get vertigo standing on a deep-pile carpet.
Nowhere. I’m very happy writing in my room just off the kitchen, even if it is too close to the biscuit tin for me ever to have a waistline again.