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Making Space: interview with author Penny Batchelor

Penny Batchelor writes domestic noir thrillers with secrets, lies and lots of twists! She is an alumna of the Faber Academy online ‘Writing a Novel’ course. She is a freelance journalist, a former BBC content producer and website editor for various educational institutions, and lives in Warwickshire with her husband. Penny is passionate about positive disability representation in fiction. One fifth of the UK population is disabled, so why don’t we see that reflected in novels?

Her debut My Perfect Sister was longlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize 2020 and her second, Her New Best Friend, will be published on 5th August 2021 by RedDoor Press.

Can you tell me briefly what your book is about, and provide a short extract?

My Perfect Sister is a domestic noir thriller set in Yorkshire. ​

A missing sister.

A bedroom kept as a shrine.

A dark family secret.

When Annie returns to care for her mother, she’s faced with the ghosts from her past.

Long-held secrets surrounding her sister Gemma’s disappearance in 1989 remain buried in her childhood house. Does a faded photograph in her sister’s old room hold the key to the past? 

Desperate for clues, she delves deeper in search of the truth. But is it safer to be kept in the dark? Annie is about to find out …

Extract

This is not my room anymore; it’s the spare bedroom. In fact, it’s as if I never was here, as if I didn’t exist.

On the contrary, it is Gemma who probably doesn’t exist, but you wouldn’t know it by looking in ‘her’ room. I shut the spare room door behind me and push open the brown door with a pottery multi-coloured ‘Gemma’ sign still stuck on it. Behind that door is a lost world, a museum piece from a distant decade that should be covered Miss Havisham-style in dust and cobwebs but is as spick and span as if it were cleaned yesterday.

No doubt it was.

Presents lie on the floor next to the bed where her shoe collection used to be – one for each birthday and Christmas she has been gone. For goodness’ sake. Does Mother think Gemma is going to come back from the dead and open them?

Her pop posters still line the walls, her lipsticks, mascara and eyeliner neatly sit on the dressing table below its mirror (I hate to think of the bacteria on them), and from the back of her dressing table chair hangs her mini-rucksack, the black one she took out with her when meeting her friends. Scruffy, the mangy fluffy dog Mother said Gemma was given as a baby, guards her pillow. It’s the same bed linen, purple with white swirls that she once slept in, but freshly washed and ironed. This is a sanitised teenage girl’s bedroom, without the smell of perfume, freshly-washed hair, sweaty cast-off clothes or a cup of once warm coffee. Without breath. Without life.

What was the hardest thing about the process of writing this book?

As it was my first novel I had no benchmark to compare it with. I started writing My Perfect Sister whilst taking Faber Academy’s Writing A Novel – The First Six Months course. The course was hugely helpful, as was the structure of writing a certain number of words each week. What I found most hard was keeping the momentum going once the course had finished. It took another few years before I had a draft I was happy with and I was ready to submit. All very nerve wracking!

Did writing it change you?

I was very pleased to achieve my goal of actually finishing a novel. Writing My Perfect Sister certainly taught me patience and perseverance. It probably added a few worry and laughter lines to my face as well!

Tell me about your writing space. How long have you been writing here? Was it specially designed or just a corner of the house. Does it work for you?

I tend to write on my laptop in my bedroom propped up with cushions on my bed. I have chronic pain and fatigue and find this is the most comfortable place and way to write. On my bedside table I have a water bottle and usually there’s some chocolate there as well to keep me going.

When do you tend to write – morning, afternoon? And when do you feel most creative?

I’m actually at my most creative in the evening and have been known to write way into the night when I’m struck with inspiration. Evening is a quieter time when there are few distractions and, as I’m a night owl, I feel most awake then.

What do you write with – computer, notebook?

I have a MacBook Air and write on a word document. My mum strong-armed me into doing a typing course in the summer after my A levels and I’m glad she did because I’m now super-speedy at typing my ideas up – much quicker than I would be writing longhand in a notebook and at least on a computer I can read my own writing!

What do you drink while writing? Tea, coffee, wine?! Any writing snacks?

Water. I’m super careful though around my laptop because I accidentally spilt water over my previous one and ruined it. As for snacks, it’s Cadbury’s milk chocolate all the way … my excuse is that it’s brain food.

What do you listen to while you write?

Nothing. I need peace and quiet to be alone with my thoughts. Having the radio on or working in a place such as a café with background noise would distract me.

Are there any objects in your writing space that are particularly significant for you? Can you tell me about one?

I have a particular ball point pen that I use for book signings and for signing book plates to send to bookshops. It’s from a bookshop and they kindly sent me two more when I lost it. It feels like my lucky author pen.

Are there any books in your space that mean a lot to you, or have influenced your latest book?

When I’m writing I try not to read other books in my genre because I don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s style. There are so many books I’ve read that I’ve loved and they probably have all sunk into my subconsciousness somewhere and influence my writing.

Can you pass on one writing tip?

Keep going!  Perseverance is key.

My Perfect Sister is available from all good bookshops and is also published in ebook format.

Penny Batchelor’s second novel will be published in Summer 2021 by RedDoor Press.

Keep in touch with Penny:

Web: www.pennybatchelor.co.uk – sign up her to receive her author newsletter

Twitter: @penny_author

Facebook: @pennyauthor

Instagram: @pennybatchelorauthor

Making Space: interview with author Zoe Somerville

Portraiture Portrait in Bath photographed by Beata Cosgrove

Zoe Somerville is originally from Norfolk, but has settled with her husband and children in the West Country. She works as an English teacher and also tutors privately. Zoe began her novel THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD (Head of Zeus, 2020) on the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA in 2016. It is her first novel, and she is currently planning her second – a ghost story about madness, inheritance and mothers and daughters, set at a house on the Norfolk marshes during the epic winter of 1962, and also told through letters from the 1930s. THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD came out in paperback on May 13th 2021.

Click here to buy THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD

Can you tell me briefly what your book is about, and provide a short extract?

The Night of the Flood is about a real life flood in 1953. It’s a literary thriller set during in which a love triangle turns murderous. Here’s an extract from the flood itself:


Arthur groped with the oars, blind in the blackness, pulling, heavy and slow in the little boat through the floodwater. A deep ache jarred across his shoulder blades each time he pulled the oar back, as though he couldn’t do it again. Yet he did, over and over. He was a body, that was all. The hatred he felt for Jack burned inside him like a fireball of pain. It hurt, and burned slowly, as if it could not be quenched. He saw Jack’s red head in the autumn field interchanging with the barrel of his rifle, the explosion in his ears, the reverberation in his shoulder. Jack gone. He knew he was grinding his teeth and gripping the oars but he’d set himself on a path that he couldn’t now get off. The original plan to row to the farm seemed like a parallel world of ideas and reasoning. All that was left now was this place of darkness. A darkness that seemed to come from within him.

Jack’s torch had died. Arthur’s eyes had adjusted to the night and he could make out the deeper black of vegetation and the lighter grey sheen of the water. They relied on the intermittent moonlight, breaking through cloud cover, to cast a silver glow on the flooded fields they were crossing. Even with the moon, it was hard to tell which was the earth, and which the sky, it was all a smudgy shimmer of black, silver and grey. The flooded fields reflecting the sky and back again.

Neither of them spoke.
Out of the emptiness, Arthur heard a high, human voice — ‘Peter!’
‘Verity,’ he said, in wonder, and then, ‘Oh God.’
‘Verity?’ said Jack. ‘You sure it’s her?’

What was the hardest thing about the process of writing this book?

I’ve written a whole article about this! This is my debut novel and it took me a long time to write. I started it on the MA at Bath Spa in 2015 and the hardest thing was keeping going after rejections. I had to really rethink the structure and rewrite it before I got my agent at the beginning of 2019. That was the key turning point. After that I felt that I had support in making the novel work and everything sped up.

Did writing it change you?

Yes, I think writing any book does. It made me think much more deeply about the lives of people from that time, especially how different it was for women in the early 50s and about class and other barriers that were far more rigid then.

Tell me about your writing space. How long have you been writing here? Was it specially designed or just a corner of the house. Does it work for you?

It’s just a corner of our kitchen/diner. We designed a desk to go at the end of our kitchen but it’s very messy so I mostly write on our breakfast bar. During lockdown when the kids have been homeschooling, I’ve sometimes gone into the living room but there’s no desk in there so it didn’t really work. I’ve been writing here since 2013 when we moved in. We have plans to turn another corner of the house into an office for me but as my husband works from and is on calls all the time, he’s nabbed the spare room as an office!

When do you tend to write — morning, afternoon? And when do you feel most creative?

Both, I’m neither an early riser nor a night owl. I think snatches of very focused time work for me. I can’t write for very long, I get restless and need to get up and do other things, but then I think this is partly because I’ve always written around the kids.

What do you write with — computer, notebook?

Both! I have a MacBook Air and use Pages to write but I also have to have a notebook at all times. I make lots of research, character and plot notes which I then have to sift through to find what I need when I’m writing. When I’m editing, I’ll often read back through old notebooks to see if they spark new thoughts.

What do you drink while writing? Tea, coffee, wine?! Any writing snacks?

Mostly coffee. I came to associate coffee with writing from when I used to go to cafés to write!

What do you listen to while you write?

Nothing at all. I can’t really concentrate if there is any music. However, like a lot of people, I find I can write with the ambient background of a café – as long as no one’s having a particularly interesting or loud conversation nearby!

Are there any objects in your writing space that are particularly significant for you? Can you tell me about one?

My desk is a mess so I rarely sit at it, but I have a glass wipe board and have pictures around it – they’re mostly of childhood places in Cornwall which is very special to me. I also have lots of little things that my daughter has made, and drawings by her. There is also a photograph of me writing in Cornwall as a child.

Are there any books in your space that mean a lot to you, or have influenced your latest book?

Yes, it’s a book from my childhood, When Marnie was There by Joan G. Robinson, which inspired my second novel, The Marsh House. It’s set on the Norfolk coastline again and is the story of a haunting.

Can you pass on one writing tip?
Read widely, not just in the genre you write but a wide variety. I read a lot of books set at the time my books are set but also non-fiction books about the period, and also non-fiction books about the places I write about as I think setting is so crucial to atmosphere. I’m an English teacher by trade though, so I would say that!

Website: https://zoesomerville.com/

Twitter: @zessomerville

Instagram: @zoesomervillewrites

Making Space: interview with author Caroline England

Born in Sheffield, Caroline studied Law at the University of Manchester and stayed over the border. Caroline was a divorce and professional indemnity lawyer. She turned to writing when she deserted the law to bring up her three lovely daughters.

Caroline writes domestic psychological thrillers, the latest of which, TRUTH GAMES, was published in ebook in November 2020. The paperback will be published on 10th June 2021 and is available for pre-order. Caroline also has two pen names. As Caro Land she has written a legal suspense series, CONVICTIONS, published by Bloodhound Books in January 2020. The follow up, CONFESSIONS, published in June 2020.

As CE Rose she has written a gothic-tinged psychological thriller THE HOUSE OF HIDDEN SECRETS. It was published by Hera Books on April 14th 2021 and is available in both ebook and audiobook:

Ebook: https://amzn.to/3dfh7L2
Audiobook: https://apple.co/3mIS2vg
Website: http://carolineenglandauthor.co.uk/

Can you tell me briefly what your book is about, and provide a short extract?

You might not be surprised to discover that my first CE Rose gothic-tinged psychological thriller, The House of Hidden Secrets, revolves around – well, a house. Fictional Ramsay Hall is a Grade II-listed farmhouse in Cheshire set in acres of lush land with a long, winding driveway, outhouses, a gatekeeper’s cottage, a maze and a dilapidated barn. And of course it is bulging with dusty drapes, panelled rooms, antiques and old paintings. But most of all with dark secrets which are lurking in the shadows…

The master of the house, Hayden Ramsay, appears friendly beneath his imposing frame, but what’s going on behind his watchful eyes? His barrister son, Jack, has done something dreadful and it haunts him day and night. His other son, Hugh, has been banned from the house and he’s living in a shabby caravan at a farm up the road. Why did Hayden throw him out?

When calm and efficient Serena starts as their housekeeper, she shakes up their lives and unearths dark, buried secrets. But what is she hiding from? Has she got some of her own?

Here’s the prologue:

The minutes have felt like hours, but the time is finally here. I’m coming for you.
I hold my breath and creep into the gloom. I haven’t slept. How could I when I’ve been swamped with thoughts of you? Not just thinking but obsessing, my mind delirious with anticipation. I’m going to do something very bad and I don’t care. The need, the compulsion is driving me, consuming my body, my whole aching being.
Hearing your footfall, I hide in the shadows. Though my fingers twitch to reach out, I clench my fists. I have to be careful, soundless, stealthy. I must bide my time and wait for the moment, the perfect instant to catch you.
Oblivious, you pass me by, so I follow. Have you any idea of what you’re making me do? Can you hear my thrashing heart as I inch in the darkness towards you?
Now so close I can smell you. Can I do it? Is the impulse still in me? I call your name. When you turn, a surge of adrenaline engulfs me and I reach out my arms. Then you’re falling backwards, your shriek piercing the still night as you clatter to the ground.
The silence overwhelming, I close my eyes and suck in gasps of fetid air. When I open them again, you’re still there but you’re broken. And so much blood surrounds your head. Pooling and glinting and glowing through the dusk like a halo. Then there’s your gaze. Staring, accusing.
But undoubtedly dead.

What was the hardest thing about the process of writing this book?

All my ‘suspense’ novels – my CE Rose, my Caroline England and my Caro Land books – are inundated with mystery, secrets, lies, twists, turns and reveals, so the hardest part is spinning all the plates and ensuring they all pile up neatly by the end! I’m not a plotter, so I’m mostly gyrating them in my head and I have to be completely focused. Naturally the family, food, cleaning the house, ironing etc go for a Burton!

Did writing it change you?

Similar to most authors, I live with my characters when I’m immersed in writing or editing a novel. I think about them when I fall asleep and immediately when I wake! So I pretty much lived with Hayden, Jack, Hugh and Serena at Ramsay Hall for a fair few months. I particularly enjoyed exploring the tight bond between the brothers.

Tell me about your writing space. How long have you been writing here? Was it specially designed or just a corner of the house. Does it work for you?

I always write in my study and have done so since I traded my job as a lawyer to become a full time mum. If it’s sunny I venture outside with my laptop, but sadly sunshine and writing don’t work together too well!

When do you tend to write — morning, afternoon? And when do you feel most creative?

If I’m ‘on one’ I write all day, taking a break for lunch, making dinner for the family (if they’re lucky!) and then doing an hour or so in the evening.

What do you write with — computer, notebook?

Straight onto a computer and scrawling notes from time to time.

What do you drink while writing? Tea, coffee, wine?! Any writing snacks?

Yorkshire tea every time! The trouble with snacks is you get a bitty or even sticky keyboard.

What do you listen to while you write?

It used to be silence, but in Coronavirus times, it’s the drone of my husband working from home in the room opposite.

Are there any objects in your writing space that are particularly significant for you? Can you tell me about one?

My fab friend Liz bought me a magnet saying ‘Nothing can come of Nothing’. We studied King Lear at school, so it’s nostalgic, but it’s also a reminder that the words are very true.

Are there any books in your space that mean a lot to you, or have influenced your latest book?

Hung on the wall behind me is a huge frame with all my book covers beautifully displayed in it. My husband is particularly proud of it because he thought of and sourced it all by himself last Christmas, instead of relying on one of our three daughters to suggest something!

Can you pass on one writing tip?

Just do it! I know a lot of authors say this but it’s so true. Just start writing something, anything. The more you oil the wheels, the more the ideas and words will flow.

Twitter: @CazEngland

Instagram: @cazengland1

Making Space – interview with author Jo Jakeman.

Jo was the winner of the prestigious Friday Night Live competition at York Festival of Writing. Her debut psychological thriller was published in the UK as Sticks and Stones by Harvill Secker (Penguin Random House) and as The Exes’ Revenge in the USA and Canada.

Sticks and Stones was shortlisted for the Best Revenge Thriller at the Dead Good Reader Awards 2019. Her second thriller SAFE HOUSE is out in hardback now with paperback coming in January 2021. Jo has had her books translated into several languages and loves to hear from readers from across the globe. She lives in Cornwall with her family and is an avid wild swimmer, making the most of her home county. SAFE HOUSE is 99p on Kindle until March 31st – click here to purchase: https://amzn.to/39lABLz

Can you tell me briefly what your latest book is about, and provide a short extract?

Safe House is about a woman called Charlie who has just been released from prison where she served a sentence for providing a false alibi for the man she loved. Moving to a remote Cornish village with a new identity she wants to move on and start afresh. But someone knows that she lied to protect a killer. And they don’t believe in second chances.

The following extract is from the prologue-

‘Go on then,’ says DC Naz Apkarian.  ‘I’m all ears. Why don’t you tell us where we went wrong?’

Conor glares at her. His cold blue eyes are too close together. On instinct Naz dislikes him. She doesn’t appreciate being shouted at – especially before she’s had the first caffeine hit of the day. He’s not really angry, he’s defensive. In this job it’s important to recognise the difference.

‘You know,’ Conor says.

‘I’m not sure I do.’ Naz turns to her colleague and asks, ‘What about you, Harper? Any idea what he’s talking about?’

Without taking his eyes of Conor, Harper shakes his head. ‘Not me.’

‘Nope. See?’ Naz says. ‘We’re clueless, Mr Fletcher. You’d be doing us a favour if you’d care to share your thoughts with us. We’re just trying to understand what happened and it seems you have all the answers.’

She waits.

Naz knows Conor Fletcher has plenty to say. She can see it in the twitch of his cheek and the set of his jaw. The words on the tip of his tongue are desperate to get out.

 ‘She tried to warn you,’ he says at last. ‘You should’ve known someone would come looking for her. She told you she wasn’t safe, but you wouldn’t listen, would you? You should have done more to help.’

‘If you knew that she was in danger, Mr Fletcher, it begs the question, why you didn’t do something to help her yourself?’

‘Don’t try and shift the blame on to me. I did everything I could. Can you put your hand on your heart and say the same? She knew she wasn’t safe.’

‘You’re saying this was inevitable?’ Naz asks.

Conor folds his arms and laughs, though there’s no humour in his voice. ‘It was only ever a question of who was going to get to her first.’

What was the hardest thing about the process of writing this book?

Safe House is my second book. When I wrote my first one, I didn’t have a deadline, never mind an agent or a book deal. This was the first time I’d written knowing that someone other than my husband would definitely read it and I froze! Since then, I’ve written another book (Who Killed Oscar Lomas? – due out next year) and the first draft of a fourth novel, and both of them were so much easier than writing this one. I think it was the self-doubt that tripped me up.

Did writing it change you?

That’s an interesting question. I think writing, in general, changes me as I always write about issues that I feel passionate about. With this one I explored themes of forgiveness and revenge. It always helps to channel my angst – and it’s cheaper than therapy! It made me think about how we view people who’ve been in prison. They’ve served their time but are they really allowed to move on with their lives without that stigma hanging over them?

Tell me about your writing space. How long have you been writing here? Was it specially designed or just a corner of the house. Does it work for you?

I love my study so much. We moved to a new house nine months ago and I finally have my own room to write in (instead of writing with my laptop on my knee in bed) Above the desk is a notice board where I pin ideas and pictures. Down one long white wall I have post-it notes showing scenes for book 3 and how they fit into each act. It’s by far my favourite room in the house.

When do you tend to write – morning, afternoon? And when do you feel most creative?

I write every day but tend to get most done in the afternoon. Mornings are for planning and research, afternoons are for writing.

What do you write with – computer, notebook?

Desktop computer with a large screen so I can have a couple of different documents open at the same time. I envy these writers who can write in cafés and on trains but I am not one of them.

What do you drink while writing? Tea, coffee, wine?! Any writing snacks?

At this precise moment I have a glass of wine, but it is 7pm! I mostly drink tea but, when I’m absorbed in the writing, I can forget to take breaks so I’m reliant on my husband bringing me drinks and snacks throughout the day. And I get through a LOT of dark chocolate when editing.

What do you listen to while you write?

I use an app called Freedom. It blocks all websites and emails from popping up. On their website you can chose background noise – from a café in New York to nondescript background music. I listen to a track called Mariposa (on repeat). But I’m not really listening, it just occupies that part of my mind that would wander if I let it. This is only something I’ve done since the kids have been home in lockdown when I was finding it difficult to concentrate but it really improves my productivity.

Are there any objects in your writing space that are particularly significant for you? Can you tell me about one?

Mostly my desk is a random collection of things from a giraffe plant pot to a Taylor Swift face mask, with many pretty notebooks in between. BUT I also have a broken arrow above my desk. I have the most amazing mentor who has helped me with my confidence. Last year we were able to get together and break arrows on our throats. Yes, throats!! I wrote my self-limiting beliefs on it, put the metal tip against my throat and walked towards my mentor, breaking the arrow in half. Trust me, this is not the kind of thing I would normally do, in fact I stood on the beach, where we were doing this in the rain, thinking ‘what on earth have I got myself into’. But it was indescribably moving and I felt so calm afterwards. It’s there as a powerful reminder than I can put my mind to anything.

Are there any books in your space that mean a lot to you, or have influenced your latest book?

Can you keep a secret? In my study I keep all the foreign editions of my book. I don’t want to have them on display where anyone else can see them, as it feels like I am showing off, but I love to look at them. It makes me feel so proud. When I have days when I feel like I’m the world’s worst writer and really should give up, I look at those and realise how much I’ve achieved, and it spurs me on.

Can you pass on one writing tip?

Write about something you are passionate about. Not only will your enthusiasm for your book shine through, but it will get you past those days when you wonder whether you should jack it all in and take up melon farming.

Click here to order Safe House

Website: http://www.jojakeman.com

Twitter: @JoJakemanWrites

Instagram: @JoJakemanWrites

Making Space: interview with author Philippa East

Philippa East grew up in Scotland and originally studied Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Oxford. After graduating, she moved to London to train as a Clinical Psychologist and worked in NHS mental health services for over ten years. Philippa now lives in the Lincolnshire countryside with her husband and cat. Her first novel Little White Lies was published in 2020 and was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Safe and Sound is her second novel.

Can you tell me briefly what your book is about and provide a short extract?

“Safe and Sound” is my second novel, and like my debut (“Little White Lies”) it’s a domestic suspense book that draws a lot on my background as a psychologist. Here is the blurb:

In a small London bedsit, a radio is playing. A small dining table is set for three, and curled up on the sofa is a body…

Jenn is the one who discovers the woman, along with the bailiffs. All indications suggest that the tenant – Sarah Jones – was pretty, charismatic and full of life.

So how is it possible that her death has gone unnoticed for ten whole months?

Safe and Sound was inspired by the true-life case of Joyce Vincent, a woman in her thirties who died at home in North London in late 2003, and whose body was only discovered in 2006. Around 2013, I saw the docu-drama that filmmaker Carol Morley made about Joyce’s life and death, and that was the ultimate inspiration to write my own (fictionalised) version of events. Here is a short extract from Chapter 1:

Last night, I began to worry about Charlie again. An appointment letter arrived yesterday, blue and white logo at the top. Maybe it was because of that letter that I lay in bed, unable to sleep, staring at the ceiling, thinking about him. Replaying every one of his actions and movements from the week, checking them in the slow motion of my mind. Did his speech ever slur, did his thinking seem confused or slow, did his emotions wander out of control? I went over it again and again, trying to assess him, and myself, feeling the tightness take hold of my ribs.

This morning, though, in the bright light of day, Charlie seemed absolutely fine. His chatter over breakfast was so clear and clever, and when I got him to reel off everything I’d packed into his schoolbag — my own tiny, reassuring test — he didn’t miss a single thing. I kissed him well done, feeling ridiculous for worrying.

But even now, as I hurry down the hill from his primary school, I can’t quite seem to make the thoughts go away.

What was the hardest thing about the process of writing this book?

Probably the fact that it took me so long to answer my own question! What did happened to Sarah Jones? The book was originally contracted by HQ/HarperCollins on the basis of a one-paragraph pitch, but really I had no idea what the actual story was. I wrote three completely different outlines for the book (and I mean, completely different), and it took me months and months to even vaguely work out my storylines. Even then, after I wrote my first draft and sent it to my agent, we both agreed that it would need to be almost totally re-written. Massive re-writes are turning out to be par for the course for me, but “Safe and Sound” has been the hardest to pin down so far.

Did writing it change you?

I think every book I write changes me in some way, though I wouldn’t necessarily know exactly how! In fact, maybe it would sort of break the spell to delve too deeply into that? The way I feel is that writing a book is getting something out of my system – some kind of question or discomfort that I’m internally grappling with that I need to resolve on the page, through my story and the characters’ journeys. When a book is “birthed”, maybe I feel I can let go of something? And then I’m ready for the next book, and to repeat the whole process over again.

Tell me about your writing space [image in gallery]. How long have you been writing here? Was it specially designed or just a corner of the house. Does it work for you?

My husband and I moved home in August 2019, and a big selling point of our new house was that it has a little office tucked away from the rest of the rooms, up its own little flight of stairs. It is the perfect space for me to write in – personal and private (Virginia Woolfe would approve!). It can get a bit chilly in winter, so I often take a hot water bottle in with me, but it really is a special place. Only my cat Mimi ever really goes in there, other than me.

When do you tend to write – morning, afternoon? And when do you feel most creative?

I generally write (or start writing) in the mornings. When I was working full time, I used to get up and start by about 8.30am, finish by noon. These days – for some reason – I start and finish a bit later. Maybe start at 11.00am, and finish around 3.00pm. Especially when I am writing (drafting), I cannot work for long periods. I try to write 2,000 words a day, and I can manage that within about two hours. After that, I’m wiped! In terms of when I feel most creative, I’m not sure – it can vary. Sometimes the ideas and words flow, and sometimes they just don’t. To be honest, I try to just sit down and put in the grunt work regardless of how inspired I feel.

Do you use a computer to write, or pen and paper?

I do most of my planning and brainstorming with pencil or pen (coloured pens!) and paper. That way, it’s so free-flowing, and doesn’t need organisation or structure. Sometimes I’ll get a huge sheet of paper and just “mind map” all over it. I find unexpected connections and nuggets emerge that way. I usually then then force myself to type up an outline: this pushes me to ensure I have a proper beginning, middle and end. The writing of the manuscript itself I always do on the computer – Scrivener with a first draft (because it’s so easy to move scenes around), and then Word after that.

What do you drink while writing? Tea, coffee, wine?! Any writing snacks?

Mostly tea! Generally ‘builders’ tea, and then I switch to Redbush in the afternoons, as I get a bit jittery with too much caffeine. I usually have fruit for breakfast on my writing days (so I don’t feel too sluggish), but then I usually have a bowl of crisps or peanuts for lunch as I write! So it all nicely balances out.

Do you have a writing soundtrack, or do you prefer silence?

I have a rather naff classical compilation CD that I listen to on repeat: the same album, round and round. It locks me in to the writing zone, without distracting me with variation. I couldn’t listen to music with lyrics, I don’t think.

Are there any objects in your writing space that are particularly significant for you?

One of the nice things about having my own room is that I can fill it with whatever I like! I suppose two things that are special are, firstly, the certificate of my CWA shortlisting for ‘Little White Lies’,[image in gallery] and, secondly, what I call my ‘writing trousers’ (although they don’t ‘live’ in the writing room!). These are a pair of loose, soft trousers that I wear on my writing days and which again help me feel in the writing ‘zone’.

Are there any books in your space that mean a lot to you, or have influenced your latest book?

I have a number of journals where I’ve had short stories published, and also books on the writing ‘craft’. My favourite one of these is probably ‘The Story Grid’ by Shawn Coyne [image in gallery], which I came across via the podcast series that he does with Tim Grahl (‘The Story Grid Podcast’). The Story Grid methodology completely revolutionised the way I understand story structure, from the scene level to the story arc, and it influences everything I write now. It’s probably something to come to once you’ve got the basics firmly under your belt (show and tell, point of view, etc.), but if you’re interested, I’d definitely recommend the podcast series, starting with the episode ‘Shawn Rips Tim’s Scene Apart’ (!).

Can you pass on one writing tip?

I will keep this one short and sweet: read.

https://www.waterstones.com/book/safe-and-sound/philippa-east/9780008344047

twitter.com/@phillipa_east

Making Space: interview with author Zoe Wheddon

Zoe Wheddon’s book Jane Austen’s Best Friend: the Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd offers a unique insight into Jane’s private inner circle. The two met when Jane was thirteen and Martha 23, beginning a lifelong friendship. Martha even lived with Jane and her sister Cassandra for a period of time and the two shared many interests from walking to fashion. Zoe’s book offers a behind the scenes tour of the shared lives of a fascinating pair and the chance to deepen our own bonds in ‘love and friendship’ with them both.

I loved hearing about Zoe’s research and how she arranged her writing space for inspiration and to invite the spirit of Jane Austen into the room. Full marks for donning a bonnet in commitment to the cause! www.zoewheddon.co.uk

Making Space: interview with author Frances Quinn

I interviewed author Frances Quinn about her writing space, her process and her historical novel The Smallest Man. Set during the English Civil War and inspired by a true story, it tells the story of Nat Davy. In 1625, Nat is 10 years old, still as small as his baby sister and beginning to realise that he will never grow any bigger. Narrowly escaping life in a freak show, he is plucked from his family and presented as a gift to the new young queen of England. Spanning two decades that changed England for ever, The Smallest Man is a heartwarming tale about being different, but not letting it hold you back.

Frances spoke to me about the challenges of writing historical fiction spanning the complex decades of the Civil War, the benefits of keeping a treadmill in your study, and writing tips borrowed from Abba.

Making Space: an interview with author Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith

I interviewed author and activist Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith about the space where she writes, her writing process and her Mixed Race memoir The Space Between Black and White. Esuantsiwa’s memoir is published by Jacaranda Books as part of #Twentyin2020, their initiative to publish twenty Black British authors in 2020.

I first met Esuantsiwa several years ago, when we were both at the start of our writing journeys. I heard her speak on Radio 4 about what it was like growing up Mixed Race in white, working-class neighbourhoods and reconnecting with her Ghanaian heritage later in life.

I contacted her to ask if she would be happy to speak to me about her life. I was working on the first proper draft of A Book of Secrets and was very keen not to get it wrong, as a white author writing a Black protagonist. Esua’s childhood experience of growing up an ‘only one’ in white neighbourhoods closely matched Susan Charlewood’s, and the emotional effect of this must be similar despite the 400-year difference.

Esua was beginning to gather material for her memoir and reflect on her past, and she was generous enough to share her experiences with me. I can honestly say I could not have written A Book of Secrets without this generosity. Now, I am proud that our two books stand next to each other on my bookshelves!

A BOOK OF SECRETS NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE

A Book of Secrets can now be purchased on Kindle – click here for the link!

A BOOK OF SECRETS LONGLISTED FOR TWO AWARDSAUGUST 2020

This month A Book of Secrets has found itself on the longlists for two fantastic awards – the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown Award & the Diverse Book Awards (adult category). The lists for both awards are very strong and it is brilliant to see my novel alongside books that I have read and loved.

HEARTH FESTIVAL – FEBRUARY 1st 2020

I’ll be appearing at Gladstone Library’s Hearth festival in February, taking part in a discussion about Black Tudors. I’ll be talking with Miranda Kaufmann, author of ‘Black Tudors: the Untold Story‘ (which informed much of my research) and the amazing author Patrice Lawrence whose children’s book ‘The Diver’s Daughter‘ is inspired by one of the Black Tudors in Miranda’s book.

The event takes place at 2pm on February 1st and tickets cost £15 (or £65 for the whole day of the festival plus meals). Click here for more details and to book.