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How did you come to write BY MY SIDE and why did you want to tell that particular story?
I read an article in a weekend magazine about these assistant dogs that help people with disability. There was a photograph of a beautiful golden Labrador helping a woman in a wheelchair take some sheets and pillowcases out of the washing machine. I thought I have to write about these dogs and the way they transform people’s lives. It’s been a really humbling book to write; I’ve been so moved by the bonds the dogs share with their partners.
Reading your novels, the main characters always feel very much like someone I know. How do you think you manage to create such believable female characters? Do you have an idea of what, for example, Cass, was like before you started writing?
In this novel Cass is inspired by a great friend of mine called Sarah, who is also in a wheelchair. Cass’s story is very different to Sarah’s; it’s the spirit I try to capture – Sarah’s courage, beauty, stubbornness and sense of humour. So yes, I do have a good idea of what my character will be like, but I get to know her even more as I write the book. With By My Side, I found myself saying, ‘No, Cass wouldn’t do or say that!’
Your books are about love, but also about pain and difficult times. Is this intentional, and what makes you want to write novels about these themes?
I love romance but I want to take the reader to a dark place too, where my heroes and heroines have to overcome adversity. This is partly based on my experiences with my own battles with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I am an optimistic person, but I have had to fight to get to where I am. Like many others, I have experienced loss, pain, fear, disability – and I want to get these themes into my writing because I think it gives my work heart and authenticity.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing your novel and how did you get over it?
The most difficult aspect was all the research! There was so much to do in this novel, since it’s a complex subject. I also struggled over one thing that I had to do with a character – I don’t want to spoil it by telling you what I did but it had to be done, and it broke my heart.
If you hadn’t become a writer, what do you think you’d be doing today?
I often ask myself that too! I think I might have been in PR or something to do with the media. Or I would have loved to train to become a counselor.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I take Darcy for long walks, I see friends, I love movies, playing cards, seeing my parents in Winchester – my father’s just turned 80. Nothing terribly exciting, just the normal stuff. I joined a choir this year too, which I love. I was musical as a child – I played the piano.
How do you write? Do you know exactly what’s going to happen before you start, or do you discover along the way?
I work on an idea, do lots of research speaking to as many people as I can, and then I get going. I hate the beginning phase. I much prefer writing when the first draft is out of the way.
Do you have an idea in your mind of an “ideal” reader? Do you write with a specific audience/reader in mind?
I love it when my readers are moved to tears by a storyline, or they get my sense of humour. I think my audience is largely women, but I always love it when a guy says or admits he enjoyed my book.
Who is your favourite writer? And who is your least favourite?
My favourite writer will always be Jane Austen. My least favourite is J K Rowling – I just didn’t get into the whole Harry Potter thing.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Do you have a favourite quote?
‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’ Winston Churchill.
What is/are your favourite book(s)? What is the last book you started but didn’t finish!?
I read anything, from romantic comedies to biographies. My writing is in the romantic comedy genre so writers I look up to are Helen Fielding and David Nicholls. I loved ‘One Day’ and I can’t wait to read the third Bridget Jones. I’m not a huge fan of crime, but perhaps I should start reading some more crime books as I seem to have made myself believe I don’t enjoy them. There aren’t many books I don’t finish but I did struggle with ‘A State of Wonder’ by Ann Patchett.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
To write from the heart and write what you observe – and never give up.
What do you think of eBooks, online writing, blogs, fan-fiction etc? Are you involved in any online writing yourself?
I love eBooks – it has meant thousands of people have had access to reading my novels, which can only be a good thing. It has opened up a new path for writers and self-published authors. It’s great not to have to rely solely on bookshops stocking your work. I don’t follow any blogs – and haven’t written my own. Perhaps it’ll be a new year’s resolution to get more into the online writing world.
Are you optimistic about the future of books and reading?
I think Kindles and eBook readers are making reading more attractive – it’s not such a nerdy thing to do! I was on the tube yesterday and virtually everyone was reading on their kindle or iPad. But I still think nothing beats a book, so I hope that independent bookshops and the book will always survive. I believe the book will never die, despite the growing eBook market.
Have you started planning your next book (a selfish one, here, because I want to know!)
Yes, started planning and I’m tackling another dark theme – but there will be plenty of love and romance too, don’t you worry!
Anything else you would like to say?
Thanks to Quercus, a great publisher. I am also very lucky to be doing something I truly love and never ever take it for granted.