I thought I’d add mine. I found it really hard to narrow my choice down to only three, so there’s a bit of cheating going on …
What book would I like to have written?
I’m tempted to say Pride and Prejudice but, in my own (extremely humble) way, I feel I’m writing a version of that every time I begin a romance novel.
I like to write books which transport the reader out of the world they’re in and into a fictional one. That’s what reading does for me – I like to get lost. I’ve lots of books that I go back to and reread, Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine being one of them. It was the first time-slip I’d read. I love the hypnosis mechanism of how Jo accesses the past and I’ve got a glancing interest in past life regression.The middle ages are so far removed from us in the 21st century as to make it almost impossible to imagine. Barbara Erskine lets us smell the herbs in the rushes on the floor, we can feel the slippery furs against our naked bodies as we settle down to sleep and she forces us to witness the awful cruelties of life in the thirteenth century.
I read the book in the 1980s and loved it instantly. I reread it often and the passing of thirty years has given the book an enjoyably nostalgic element. Jo uses a typewriter, there are no mobile phones, she eats a pasty and drinks a can of lager in Hay town square. Now she’d sip a latte and nibble on a wrap while looking up things on Safari!
What book inspires me?
I’ve thought a lot about this. It’s between Atonement and The Magus. I think I must enjoy unreliable narrators. Sometimes I relish being made to work hard, to be stretched, and teased. I’ve only ever read The Magus once and that was a long time ago but it’s stayed with me. It’s a towering work of quite incredible intellectual power. I know my limits and I know I couldn’t possibly write anything like that!
Atonement is simply a gripping read. I remember being glued to it during a long flight and tuned out everything around me. I couldn’t believe the ending. I remember being physically shocked. The other book which had the same effect was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I read it on holiday and, suffering a plane delay on the way home, got to the bit where the Italian soldiers are double-crossed. I sat on the marble floor of the Greek airport and cried in public. I love books which make me believe in them so much, they have a visceral effect.
My latest book?
The newest book is the second in the Millie Vanilla set of novellas: Summer Loves. I loved writing these as I really enjoyed creating the town of Berecombe and its inhabitants.
It’s completely fictional but is loosely based on Lyme Regis – except it’s in Devon. It has a sea front, a steep main street lined with shops, a harbour at one end and a theatre at the other. If you know Lyme, you’ll recognise the bits I’ve stolen. The main advantage of it being fictional is I can add things if needs be. The main problem is making up a name which sounds realistic. Fictional place names can sometimes sound very false. As far as I know, there is no Berecombe even though it sounds so authentic. I’m trying to think up another seaside place name and it’s really not easy.
I love writing about small communities and adore writing larger than life, eccentric characters. Biddy Treeby being one. I became very fond of Biddy and her deaf assistance poodle, Elvis. He’s based on a real assistance dog I used to know but Biddy is completely made up. I’ve got a horrible feeling I’ll channel her when older. The other character I loved writing is Millie’s friend Dora. She’s so spiky but is a mess of insecurity on the inside – and I love how she and Mike spark each off. You just know they love each other like crazy but neither wants to admit it.
I’ve just finished writing Millie Vanilla: Christmas Weddings and was quite tearful when it came to an end. I’d really like to revisit them all again at some point in the future.
Have you got books which inspire you or you wish you’d written? Let me know!