© Woman & Home/Liz McAulay
I am really glad you’ve accepted my interview. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.
No problem, Jessica. I’m delighted to be asked.
Can you tell us a bit more about how you became a writer?
I don’t think you become a writer, it’s something you are or you’re not and you usually know it from early on. From childhood writing has been my way of making sense of the world. I used to keep a diary, write dreadful poems and then short stories. Then I became a journalist, writing features for magazines and newspapers before moving on to full-length non-fiction. So I always, always wrote. But what I really wanted to write was fiction. I started many novels, only to abandon them when I ran out of steam and ideas. Now that I’m on my eleventh novel, I realise running out of steam is part of the process and you just have to push on through. Someone much wiser than me said writing a novel is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent holding one’s nerve. I wish I’d known that twenty years ago!
Was it difficult for the first book to find a publisher?
Once I’d finally finished writing my first novel, the journey to publication was like a fairy story. So it’s probably just as well I was already 46 by this point as if it had happened early in my career I’d have been unbearable! I got an agent straight away and before she’d even had a chance to send the book out she had a pre-emptive offer for a two-book deal from a big publisher who’d heard about the book from a literary scout and read the manuscript in less than 24 hours.
Could you describe literature in three words?
It contains multitudes
Is there a book you would never read? Why?
I tend not to read books that contain graphic descriptions of violence, particularly sexual violence, unless there’s a very good reason for those descriptions to be there, for example to illustrate the brutality of war. I think graphic violence in a book where the sole purpose is to entertain is edging into morally dubious territory, for reader and writer alike.
What’s your favourite book?
I have a brain like a goldfish and tend to forget books the instant I finish them. Even books I’ve loved. But it’s been a year since I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and I’m still thinking about it, so I’ll pick that one.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” by Henry David Thoreau. This is generally viewed as quite a depressing observation but I find it on the contrary quite reassuring. Most of us spend a large part of our lives feeling pretty gloomy, and that can feel quite a lonely thing, so to find out it’s actually part of the shared human condition is rather a comfort!
EBooks or paper print?
Nothing will ever beat a physical book with a beautiful shiny cover and pages you can fold over and a spine you can crack. But now I’m older and my eyesight is going, I have to say I’m coming around to ebooks, purely because you can magnify the text.
What inspires you?
The legions of ordinary people who staff food banks and open their homes to refugees and buy food for the homeless without fanfare or expectation of recognition, just because they’re decent human beings and it’s the right thing to do.
Imagine you were given the opportunity to meet a book character in real life. Who would that be? Please explain.
I would like to go back in time and meet Jo March from Little Women and beg her to marry Laurie instead of Professor whatshisname. She and Laurie were made for each other and as a reader I’ll never get over feeling cheated that they didn’t get it together.
What’s your worst nightmare?
Doing something bad that I can never, ever put right, like running someone over in my car. Sometimes I’ll wake from a nightmare where I’ve accidentally killed someone with my heart still pounding from that awful realisation I’ve done something irreversible and the guilt will never go away.
The best decision of your life was?
To sit down at my computer and type ‘The Mistress’s Revenge’ a novel by Tammy Cohen’
That was the first book I ever finished, and writing the title page like that was like a challenge to myself to see it through.
I can’t wait to read your next book. Are you currently working on a project? Is there any release date to reveal?
In addition to my contemporary psychological thrillers, I’ve started writing historical fiction under the pseudonym Rachel Rhys. The first book was called Dangerous Crossing and was about dark events that unfold on a sea crossing from London to Sydney in 1939. I’ve just finished my second Rachel Rhys book. This one is called Fatal Inheritance and is set on the French Riviera in 1948 and is about a woman who escapes her loveless marriage in austere post war England when she inherits a villa in the South of France. But she finds the glittering surface of Riviera life hides a dark, ugly underbelly. It’s due to be published here in the UK in July 2018.