When did you first start writing? Did a specific event encourage you to start?
There has never been a time when I didn’t write. As a child, my idea of a perfect game was to tell a story to my teddies, then write it down. It was never a conscious decision, it was part of me then and it still is now.
How much research do you do?
It entirely depends on the story. For a while I wrote film scripts, mostly comedies, and they didn’t need any research. Likewise my first few attempts at novels (still languishing unpublished!). One story, The Music Makers took all its chapter heading from the wheel of the Major Arcana cards in the Tarot pack. Although I was a fairly proficient Tarot reader back then, I did research other, wider meanings, for the cards to add extra depth to the main character’s adventures.
The Marquess House Trilogy, which has a split timeline comprising of a present day strand and a historical section has taken years of research. Book one: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy was actually not my intended starting place. The big reveal that appears in book two: The Two Elizabeths was the kernel of the idea for this story and, over the years, I have written many different versions of it trying to make it work. However, none of them were quite right and after several years of juggling work, life and researching Elizabethan England I realised the only way I’d be able to capture this monster of a story on paper was to split it into three separate tales, rather than trying to cram it into one book. Three books, one for each piece of jewellery: two ruby rings and a silver locket.
It was actually devastating because it meant starting again from the beginning. In true frustrated writer style, rather than face this unhappy truth, I wrote a comedy instead, entitled The Patron Saint of Married Women, which was set in the present day and needed very little research. In. Your. Face. History.
In the end, I caved in and began researching Henry VIII’s fourth and fifth brides. I also made the alarming decision to dump my two main characters: Isabella and Oliver. I never liked them much anyway. The name Perdita had been running around my head for a while. From reading Dodie Smith’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians when I was younger, I knew it meant Little Lost One and somehow this seemed appropriate for my main character. Then one morning, I woke up with the question: “Who is Piper?” running around my head. Immediately, I knew she was Perdita’s twin sister and something clicked into place.
The very very first version of this story featured Isabella (now gone) mourning her twin sister who had died under mysterious circumstances on an archaeological dig after she had unearthed a silver locket. The idea was that she had been murdered by MI One Elite. Strangely, the nasty old Watchers were there from the beginning, as was Mary Fitzroy, James Rivers and Alistair Mackensie. Jerusalem was always around too, although it took me a while to settle on its true nature. Warren Dexter was another one who survived the character cull. However, it wasn’t until Perdita and Piper popped up that the story suddenly opened up before me. Then, Kit arrived. He had been through a number of names and he finally found an identity because I quite fancied Kit Harington who plays Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. Yes, it’s an embarrassing admission but he was the inspiration for Kit and once he had his name, the last piece of the puzzle was in place and the story flooded out.
I’ve long since moved past my toe-curling crush, though. Ahem.
Anyway, in answer to your question, at present, several months of research and writing of detailed timelines. By gathering all the information into one huge chart, it’s easier to write fluently and present a more rounded and believable version of my historical periods.
Tell us about where you write / your writing habits.
I have a purpose built writing hut in the garden with insulation and a heater. I write every day and, at the moment, am lucky enough to be able to treat it like my day-job.
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? Starting, knowing when you’ve done enough research, the ending?
It varies. I love the lure of the blank page. Every piece of paper is an adventure waiting to unfold. Knowing when you’ve done enough research is a tricky one but there comes a point where you have to plunge in and see what happens. I don’t like writing endings, not because I don’t like them but because it means you’re saying goodbye to your characters.
How real do your characters become and do they ever seem to control their own storyline?
Very real. They all seem to end up taking over their own storylines. Sometimes, I even argue with them. Although perhaps I shouldn’t have admitted that…
Do you ever feel guilty about killing off characters or do you relish it?
Never! I worry about killing them off for different reasons. What about if I suddenly realise I need them again but they died in Chapter Four?!! EEEKKK!
Do you find it hard to know when to end a story?
Usually I know the end before I begin. The Marquess House trilogy has proved more troublesome though because in my head, it’s one long story, so realising I had to make three endings, instead of just the one at the very very end of book three, has taken a while to adjust to.
What are you working on?
Part three of The Marquess House trilogy. It’s working title was always Prince Oliver but I don’t think this works any more. The title will arrive when its ready.
What are you reading right now?
The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley. It’s part five of her Seven Sisters series. I only recently discovered these books but I’m really enjoying them.
What is your favourite book? Who is your favourite character?
This is a tough one. How do you choose between so many friends? And also, do I go for something literary and make it look as though I’m very high brow or do I tell the truth?!
For a long time now, my favourite book has been Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I was going through quite a tough time when I began reading these books and, not only was Hogwarts a wonderful place to hide, I was awed by J K Rowling’s brilliance. Goblet of Fire had just been released, the films had been cast and the storm of Harry Potter was building. I never like making judgements on phenomena unless I’ve read/seen/visited them, so I bought the books. Philosopher’s Stone hooked me from page one. Chamber of Secrets worried me – who was Dobby? Was he good or bad? – but when I read the third book with its fabulous twist with Scabbers and the appearance of Sirius Black who had first been mentioned in chapter one of book one, I realised this was more than a series of children’s books. This was truly magical. I’ve asked for help at Hogwarts many times and it’s always been given.
My favourite character is Hermione Granger. Although Harry is pretty amazing too.
I also love Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild and Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe.
What book do you wish you had written?
Apart for the Harry Potter series? The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy or The Passion by Jeanette Winterson.
Do you love any genres/books that are very different from what you write?
I try to read a broad cross-section of genres. If a story is well-written, it’ll grip you no matter what the genre. I try never to suffer from literary snobbery. Every book is worth trying, you may not make friends there but you don’t need to be rude!
Tell us something surprising about you!
I play musicals in the background while I write.