If you have a particular question for me, please do contact me by email. In the meantime, here are some questions that I'm often asked by my readers.
1. What inspired you to write about military families? Did your own experiences in the Foreign Office shape your approach to this subject in any way?
No – my time in the Foreign Office was so long ago, and concerned Chinese relations with the Third World, mainly Africa, so it wouldn’t have been at all relevant to this novel. But I wanted to re-visit an emotional area that I had tackled twenty years ago in “The Rector’s Wife”, namely the difficulty of being married to someone else’s committed calling. I didn’t want to go back to the Church, and the modern Army seemed to me to be the perfect example of a profession about which the public feel very strongly, protectively and sentimentally, without quite understanding how exceptionally difficult their chosen path is for their families to live with and try to accommodate to.
2. You’ve previously said that you love to write about female strength and the female capacity for endless self-reinvention in your novels. How did you address these themes in The Solder’s Wife?
By showing how agonizing it is for someone like Alexa to be completely thwarted in her ambitions by Dan’s chosen way of life – the army simply cannot and does not admit of compromise.
3. The Soldier’s Wife focuses on the inner workings of a marriage. What do you think readers can learn from Dan and Alexa’s struggles?
I suppose that loving someone truly and deeply will mean, to some degree and at some stage, acknowledging that you can’t have it all personally, or your own way all the time. They decided that they wanted to stay together, but that meant facing a future with long separations and isolations, because there were some things neither could sacrifice.
4. Like Alexa, you’ve also worked as a teacher. Can you tell us more about this experience? What did you teach? Do you think this previous profession affected your writing in any way?
I imagine that every single thing that I have done and been through has affected my writing – I would hope so, anyway! And teaching – actual teaching –can be so rewarding and exciting since you are, quite literally, engaging with the future. I taught all kinds of things at various stages, from English literature to adults, English to foreigners, Literature and language to children between 10 and 14, and Advance Level English to those in the final years of high school .I loved the children and the subject, but was never very good at the rest of institutional school life, I’m afraid…
5. How do you familiarise yourself with the characters in your novels?
The essence - for me anyway - of creating character is observation. I don't actually think it's possible for a novelist to look too hard at other people, noticing how they express, explain, and sometimes even betray themselves with dress and attitude and speech and gesture. In the early days, I kept detailed writing scrapbooks, into which I put both observations and reflections about people I'd met, and people I might just have seen on the bus or in the supermarket queue. I also collected scraps of overheard dialogue, to train my ear to different rhythms of speech, and the way that fashions in speaking subtly change all the time. Speech is very important in characterisation because it reveals so much about the speaker and thus the kind of person they are.
6. When did you first become interested in writing?
I think it started by being fascinated by story - a result of learning to read early as most of us did, pre-television! And I came to see, quite early, that story was the conduit to learning more about life and humanity because it's through story that we build relationships - even business ones. Think of the shared history that is the basis of all good relationships - mostly story! So being fascinated by being told stories, I progressed to wanting to tell them, and to explore human relationships through this medium.
7. What are you working on now?
I’m chairing the Orange prize for literature, and re-working Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility as a contemporary novel – a fascinating exercise as so much of it is so modern, with Marianne’s sense of emotional entitlement and Elinor’s perpetual concern for practicality and restraint.
8. When do you write best, morning or night?omparisons with
Either or both. Usually I write best in the daytime, and then suddenly there's a really good creative evening which I can't account for...
9.If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?
Oh Shakespeare! And I'd want to know how he knew just so much about so many wildly different kinds of people, when he wasn't very old, or very travelled, or widely experienced except in the theatre?
10.What is it the best part of writing a story?
The most exciting part is the penultimate chapter – the end is in sight, but the activity of the race isn’t yet over...
I have also set about answering questions from my readers about my novel The Other Family here.