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Author interviews

Interview: Laurie Graham

July 13, 2011

Laurie Graham is a former Daily Telegraph columnist and contributing editor of She magazine.

She is the author of several acclaimed novels, the most recent were Gone with the Windsors, The Importance of Being Kennedy and Life According to Lubka.

Her latest novel, At Sea, tells the story of Lady Enid and her husband Bernard Finch.

Handsome and clever, the doyen of culture vultures and a celebrated lecturer on Aegean cruises, Bernard has come a long way from his small-town American roots or so he thinks.

When his old college chum, Frankie Gleeson, hops aboard you just know things are never going to be the same again.

Nicci Praca: Your incredibly sweet, somewhat put-upon heroine, Enid, seems rather a shrinking violet when we first meet her. Yet the reader quickly takes her side. She is married to a man whom she seems to adore, but who is really a bully. Did you find it hard to get into Enid’s skin?

Laurie Graham: Not at all. I’ve witnessed plenty of those kinds of marriages. Haven’t we all?

Nicci Praca: Did you ever lose patience with her or did you always know that one day Bernard would go too far?

Laurie Graham: If I lose patience with my characters the remedy is right under my fingertips, i.e. the delete key. Obviously I had a plan for Bernard from Page 1 and I hope my readers agree that I allowed him just the right amount of rope.

Nicci Praca: Where did you get your inspiration for Enid’s handsome, charismatic, slightly dubious husband Bernard Finch?

Laurie Graham: He’s a composite of men I’ve known. I’ve collected monsters all my life. And the wonderful thing about men like Bernard is that they’re so full of themselves they’re oblivious to an anonymous, eavesdropping writer who’s quietly taking notes.

Nicci Praca: We’re intrigued by your cruise-ship gigolo – it may be rude to ask but we’re dying to know just how much research you had to do in order to get his ‘character’ (and indeed some of the other ‘fellow’ travellers) right?

Laurie Graham: I hope I’m not blowing the gaff for other authors of social comedy when I say the need for ‘research’ is vastly overstated. A long nose, sharp eyes and big, flapping ears are far more important. Also, I’m in my mid-60s so inevitably I have done quite a lot of living. But yes, I have been on a cruise. And no, I didn’t bunk up with a gigolo.

Nicci Praca: You write very convincingly about American ‘characters’. Who do you inherit your dry sense of humour from and what is your affinity with Americans?

Laurie Graham: A sense of humour is a difficult thing to account for. My father was a very funny man, but his humour was cruel. I think a miserable childhood can be very formative and I was a fat, asthmatic, only child, forced to dress like a freak show. Nuff said? Re Americans: I’m married to one and therefore speak fluent American.

Nicci Praca: What was the most difficult aspect of writing At Sea?

Laurie Graham: Not being too sneery about the Americans. Some of my best friends etc, etc.

Nicci Praca: You were a Daily Telegraph columnist and contributing editor of She magazine, how does that training affect your novel writing?

Laurie Graham: Training!!! There’s a hilarious concept. I’ve conducted all my various writing careers on a wing and a prayer. I suppose if journalism taught me anything it was to write to order, to deliver clean copy and to honour deadlines.

Nicci Praca: What do you think of blogging and twitter “news”?

Laurie Graham: I love blogging. I’m a very opinionated person and as I no longer get calls from magazine editors my blog is the perfect outlet. Actually, it’s bliss because it never gets spiked. I’m not exactly sure what Twitter is. I’ve heard of it but I don’t do it.

Nicci Praca: Do you think newspapers are dead / dying?

Laurie Graham: Yes. And deservedly so. They’re full of froth and stupidity.

Nicci Praca: What are you currently reading? Roger Knight’s biography of Horatio Nelson, with whom I’m in love. Nelson, I mean, not Roger Knight.

Nicci Praca: What is your favourite book/quote?

Laurie Graham: Philippians 4:8

Nicci Praca: Are you optimistic about the future of books and reading?

Laurie Graham: Reading, yes. Books, I’m less sure. It’s the spectre of the Walmart dump bin.

Nicci Praca: What do you do when you’re not writing?

Laurie Graham: Play my piano. Watch dumb things on Youtube. Work on my panto costume.

Nicci Praca: How did you first manage to get published?

Laurie Graham: By knocking on many, many doors until one creaked open.

Nicci Praca: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer?

Laurie Graham: Turn up at your desk every day. But I suspect real writers don’t need telling that.

Read more: At Sea

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