– What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was very small I wanted to be an archaeologist. I buried treasure in my sandpit and then dug it up again with an old spoon. Later I wanted to be a lawyer like Atticus Finch and change the world – but I ended up teaching law to other people so they could go and change the world. Writing fiction crept up on me from nowhere in my early forties: I suspect it was my left brain fighting back after all those years of analytical right-brain activity as an academic.Funnily enough, archaeology has risen to the surface again recently. One of the stories in Sandlands is about an archaeologist, digging up the past when the past doesn’t want to be dug up.
-What is your favorite genre and what drew you to it?
I’m not sure I have one really. I have written across a range of genres, including romantic comedy, through mainstream women’s fiction to a campus satire and now, with my latest book, a collection of linked short stories. I’d get bored if I always wrote the same sort of book. But I suppose there are themes I’m always drawn to: families, mothers and daughters, love and loss.
– When did you start writing in a professional way?
Writing has always been part of my day job as a university law lecturer – articles and case-notes in academic journals, and the occasional book. Fiction came much later, in my forties, as I’ve said. It means I have one of the strangest backlists of any author I know, ranging from titles like More Than Love Letters and The Tapestry of Love to the slightly less sexy Property Disrepair and Dilapidations: A Guide to the Law!
– Do you have a specific writing method or ritual? How many hours do you devote to writing every day?
Because my fiction has always been something I’ve had to squeeze in around a busy full-time job, when I’m writing a novel it tends to happen in the early mornings. Short stories are easier: they don’t demand the same regular daily continuity to keep them on the boil. You can have an idea and dash off a first draft in a weekend. But I’ve never really had a routine, as such – I’ve always written in snatched moments whenever and wherever I can. I’ve jotted down snatches of dialogue on the back of a shopping list at red traffic lights, climbed dripping from the bath to look for a pen, and rushed in from walking my spaniels to commit to paper, before I forget them, the ideas that came to me while I was out.
-What part of writing do you enjoy most?
Goodness, that’s a difficult one. All of it! Though I suppose for me the greatest pleasure is when I know where a scene is going – maybe dialogue, the interaction of two characters – and I’m in the flow, totally immersed. It can take you completely out of yourself, away from the irksome worries and irritations of your own life, and into (if you’ll excuse the cliché) another world. It’s the most amazing, absorbing hobby ever. Writing’s the best!
-How do you develop your characters?
I know some writers go in for elaborate character charts and pro formas before they even start to write, mapping out every aspect of their protagonist’s back story: early toilet training, childhood ailments, first pet… For me, it’s more like getting to know someone in real life. At the beginning, my impression of my character is quite loose.
-Which of the characters in any of your books mean the most to you and why?
I’ll always have a soft spot for the heroine of my first novel, More Than Love Letters. Her name was Margaret Hayton and she was closely modeled on Margaret Hale from Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic novel, North and South. I began writing fiction following a mild obsession with Sandy Welsh’s BBC television adaptation of the book, which got me into North and South fan fiction, and thence into trying my hand at a novel of my own. But, lacking belief in my ability to create characters of my own, I ‘borrowed’ Mrs Gaskell’s Margaret. My Margaret was basically a Victorian heroine in 21st century disguise – complete with alabaster skin, long raven hair and crusading moral zeal.
-What are your aspirations as a writer and where do you see yourself in five years time?
I’m not a great one for ambition. I will just be very happy if, in five years time, I am still able to write and to reach people who enjoy what I’ve written.
-Which author has influenced your writing most?
I think, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above about how I got started with writing fiction, I would have to say Elizabeth Gaskell.
-Hero or villain? Which character type do you find more interesting?
That’s a tricky one, because I’m not sure I’ve ever written a proper villain. I don’t think things for me are ever quite that black and white. Most of my characters, however vain or selfish, silly or flawed, are actually stumbling around trying to do the right thing and messing up in the way we all mess up, and I find I can never judge them too harshly. The nearest thing I have come to a ‘baddy’ was the antagonist, Dr Ros Clarke, in my campus satire, Hearts and Minds, which concerned the internal political maneuverings of a Cambridge college. But I ended up liking her just as much as my two protagonists, and many readers have said the same.
-What would you like to say to your readers?
Simply ‘thank you’ – for taking the time to be interested in my characters, in their troubles and hopes, their joys and sorrows.
And to you, Patricia, a big thank you, too, for inviting me on to your blog today.
A colour- How about that colour, half way between pale grey and pale gold, when the sun is just breaking through on a misty morning?
A day of the year- Definitely 21st June. I love the still early mornings and long, lingering dusks of midsummer.
A favourite recipe- Not even a recipe – just the first new asparagus of the season, with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a sprinkle of coarse-grained salt
A movie- Anything with a young Cary Grant in it. But I think my number one would probably be Bringing Up Baby.
A song- I’m a sucker for old blues numbers – the sadder they are, the happier they make me. k.d. lang singing ‘I’m Down to My Last Cigarette’ does it for me every time.
A quote- Veteran broadcaster, the late Ned Sherrin used to say that in moments when confidence was failing him he would mentally draw himself up to full height and say to himself, “I am Mrs de Winter now!” Works every time.
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Thank you Rosy for sharing your world with us.