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.
I don’t honestly think so. I was always spellbound by story itself, by narrative, and I didn’t really mind if I was being told stories or telling them myself. I think that realising that story is how we all live our lives – public as well as private – is probably what got me into writing.
No and no. The situations will arise as long as there are men and women living and breathing, and behaving…… Although writing itself gets no easier as time goes on ( which I actually think is just as it should be, so that one is always striving to be better), it is so woven into the way I think and live now, that I can’t imagine life without it…
Not in the personal sense of meeting a real person and trying to capture them subsequently on paper. None of my characters are anybody I actually know or have known. They are a medley of observation, a kind of patchwork of real human characteristics and behaviour patterns and traits etc that I have encountered in real life, but then assembled into fictional characters for my novels. 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.
My own starting point is a theme – such as women as the family breadwinners, the inner workings of a modern military family, or, say, inheritance. Then I work out the main characters (the minor ones seem to arise of their own accord as the book progresses), their relationship to one another, and where, and how they live. Then I plot the first few chapters, quite minutely, and then I plot the end, so that I know where I’m going but I don’t know precisely how I’m going to get there, which gives the novel, and the relationships in it, the organic development that you see in real life.
Like so many people who grew up before the age of television and the ubiquitous screen, I can’t really remember NOT reading… And being a newly reading child immediately post war, there weren’t a huge number of children’s books around, as books in general had been sent for salvage as part of the war effort. So, I ended up reading the books my mother and grandmother had grown up on, and I do remember being extremely struck by Frances Hodgeson Burnett’s A Little Princess, partly because the idea of having a respectful Indian servant seemed more fantastical than anything that happened in the story… In fact, over six decades on, I still think that!
I think books and literature are more important than ever. A screen – which renders the viewer essentially passive – doesn’t feed the imagination or expand the mind in the way that something on a page (paper or electronic) does, because with the latter, one is required to visualise people and places, and thus engage and participate. Technology will, I’m sure, calm down in a few years’ time to take its proper place as both a fantastic tool, and just another way of reading or acquiring knowledge – but it is essentially limited, and therefore not as enriching to the heart and mind as works which demand more participation and engagement from the reader in the first place.
Comparisons with Jane Austen make me twitch. She is a Great : I am a Good – on a good day….I see myself as writing accessible and I hope, thoughtful, contemporary fiction for all genders, about the very dilemmas and situations that they might encounter in daily, and relationship,life.
I think what aspiring novelists have to do is train their powers of human observation, because often the smallest details are the most telling in indicating thought or motive or character. So I always suggest carrying a notebook with you, in which to scribble down ideas, or snatches of conversation you might overhear, or descriptions of things you see, in order to make you acutely aware of what people give away by what they say, or wear, or do – or even by what they appear to be trying to hide! You have to become a sort of benevolent human sleuth – but never forget that you are on the side of humanity. You have to understand, even if you condemn some actions, that novelists are always at their most convincing when they make the reader see WHY someone behaves are they do, even if the behaviour is reprehensible. That way, the reality – and therefore believability – of fiction lies.
Always. I love meeting people. I hope they will be entertained, stimulated and encouraged to read and discuss and argue and generally be reminded that books are where all the great ideas are.