What is your most recent creative project?
I work to contracts from my two publishers: historical stories from Hodder & Stoughton UK (branch of Hachette) and modern or historical stories from Allison & Busby UK. These are usually for the next three books, and most often are for series that I suggest to my editors and we agree on or shape to suit their needs. My last ‘project’ was for four historical series of three books each set in an imaginary Lancashire valley in the inter-war period ie 1920s to 30s. I loved writing these.
What new projects are on your current horizon?
I’ve just finished the first of a new three-book series for A&B (Larch Tree Lane), modern stories set in an imaginary part of Wiltshire. I’m now writing the first of a new historical series set in 1894-5 in Lancashire for Hodder & Stoughton. This is a very complex task as about a dozen books will be based on what I create if I do it ‘right’! Book 1 of a series is harder than the ones that follow and necessitates a lot of writing and re-writing.
Why do you love what you do and what inspired you to begin?
I started telling stories aged two when I played with imaginary friends so realistic my family apparently used to stand and watch me in amazement. I have had ‘people’ walking around inside my head all my life since. In other words, I was born a storyteller. Story ideas well up inside my mind all the time, so I take notes on good ones for future use and joke that I will have to live to be 120 to get most of them done! It helps that readers love my books. I have the nicest readers on the planet.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given that you try to incorporate in your approach to work and creativity?
In talks with or by published novelists in my early writing days, I learned that we all work differently and what I needed was to find out how I work best. No-one else can tell you that about yourself. You have to try out different methods. And to say you ‘have to’ plan your story first is utterly ridiculous. There is no one single way to write. I’ve written over 100 novels, won or been shortlisted for awards and am the 5th most borrowed author of adult fiction in the UK, all without ever being able to plan in advance. So, new writers should find out how they create best and adapt their writing life to that. Also find out what sort of stories you like writing and what your readers want and write those. You have to create a ‘product’ or else you’re writing for yourself.
What are you reading at the moment? Would you recommend it and why?
I read two to three novels by other authors every week. I’m currently reading another people/relationships story by the wonderful Carolyn Brown. Then I’ll start a mystery tale by the incredibly skilful storyteller Joy Ellis. I like to vary the genres but nothing too gruesome or violent, and I need happy endings.
When you’re not working on projects, how do you relax?
I never write in the evenings and my main hobby is spending time with my husband of nearly 60 years, who is my best friend and also my business manager. We are so different – it’s fascinating just to chat to one another about life and the world. It’s also great to spend time with our daughter and grandson, and the few friends who are still on the right side of the grass.
I also exchange emails with a group of five very successful novelists in the USA and Canada. We’ve been ‘chatting’ just about daily since 1999.
At 81 I’m not full of physical energy, though I do use a treadmill a few times a week.
What’s your guilty pop-culture pleasure?
My husband is a brilliant musician so I’ve always had live music on tap. I don’t listen to music per se because there aren’t enough hours in the day. I hate to have it in the background. I do love Gilbert and Sullivan (especially ‘The Mikado’) and certain musical films like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I also enjoy Escape to the Country TV programmes and Salvage Hunters.
These are not ‘guilty’ pleasures. I’m old enough to know what I like and I work hard (8-10 hour writing days), so if I want to do something light and cheerful, I go for it.