1. How do you get your inspiration?
I get it from anywhere and everywhere. It helps that I have a good memory so quite often two ideas will combine over time. With By Bread Alone, for instance, I heard a very sad story that I thought I would write about one day, later discovered how to make French sour dough bread, then later still stayed in a nutty house in Suffolk, England. These all came together to make the book.
2. What is your writing routine?
I write two weekly columns and a monthly one as well as my novels so “routine” is a bit of a stretch. Also, I resist routine. It’s what makes being a writer more fun that being, say, a magazine editor. Also, I’m driven by deadlines. Towards the end of a book I might spend 12 hours a day on it – especially if I have to read it in one sitting which I really like to do. Otherwise I generally approach it in two-hour stints. Any less and it’s hard to get the concentrated head space, any more and I get a sore bum!
3. Are there places or people you draw inspiration from? Who? What?
I’ve touched on this in the first question but I draw inspiration from EVERYTHING. With my last book Dolci di Love, the location actually came first. I visited the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany, which is a medieval hilltop town with two steep streets, amazing views, and turreted towers. I knew that would be a setting for a book. And when I remembered the story about a friend of mine who found out she was someone’s secret family, I thought I could work out a way to set her story in a place just like Montepulciano because the setting provided a magical element that the facts, for want of a better word, did not.
4. Are there topics you particularly like to write about?
Not topics, as such, but themes. Most my books have an element of an older, wiser person helping a younger, confused one. I don’t know why because I’m not a great helper and have not been greatly helped but neither have I had the need. Hope would be the basic underlying current. I want my readers to finish my books feeling that there is hope, that there is someone for everyone, no matter how unlikely that feels.
5. Why did you choose the genre you have as your specialist area?
Hah! I didn’t even know there was such a thing as genre. I just wrote my first book and took it from there. Not the best move, probably, but it certainly came from the heart.
6. Do you ever suffer from writers block?
I have exercise block and I have low-calorie diet block but I have never had writers block.
8. Your advice: Techniques for writing well
This advice goes for Number 9 and 10 as well: writers write. We like talking and thinking as much as the next person, but until you write you are not a writer. The job requires countless hours spent sitting at a computer. Countless. You often do not feel like doing it but you do anyway. It’s hard. Making things up is fun but turning your characters and stories into a novel has nothing to do with making things up. You need to take all that fiction and present it in a way that real live people will follow and believe. This involves deleting most of what you started out with and replacing it with something similar but in a different order. It’s often painstaking. You have to read everything you’ve written 100 times and still see it with fresh eyes the way an ordinary reader would. Someone told me very early on that it is very easy to write HALF a book. But no-one wants to publish half a book so the real skill is in finishing the job. The other thing I always tell new writers is that it’s very important, I think, to know why you want to write. If you are happy with a manuscript that will spend its life in a shoe box under your bed then you can write whatever you like and good luck to you. But if you want your book to be published, you need to talk to a publisher first. I’m always astonished when unpublished writers complain to me that their book has been rejected when there’s nothing wrong with it. But if a publisher doesn’t want it, then there is something wrong with it! The trick is to find out what and correct it, keep working on it, never give up on it.
11. What are you working on now?
I have just finished my eighth novel, The Wedding Bees, which comes out in Australia and New Zealand next March and in the US in 2014. It has taken me two years and seven drafts to get right, despite the fact that I do actually know what I am doing. As I say, it’s hard work!