Hello Linda. Firstly, thank you so much for finding time for this interview with Ink Pantry. It’s always a joy for us to learn from established authors. I’d like to start by taking you back in time. What were your first literary inspirations/heroes? How active were you as a writer at school and during your adolescent years?
I was pony-mad at primary school so my favourite books were Jill’s Gymkhana and Black Beauty but I do remember reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and being utterly engrossed by Narnia and the world C.S. Lewis had created. I wrote my first novella aged 9 but I think I was a bit ahead of my time with a pony-based time-travel thriller! I had some wonderful teachers who encouraged my writing. When I left primary school, one of them wrote that she looked forward to reading my first published book and she wrote to congratulate me twenty five years later when it happened!
Recently, I was honoured to read your excellent novel, The Last Thing She Told Me. Can you share some insights into the initial inspiration for this book and some of the research that you undertook to give you further insights into the characters?
The idea actually came from something my 92-year-old grandmother said just before she died. She told us to look somewhere after her death, and when we did so, we found something which suggested she had suffered a secret loss and had tried to mark it. We will never know what her secret was, but it got me thinking about women of her generation and the secrets many of them took to their grave because of the shame they had been made to feel. When I researched the subject, I came across many heartbreaking cases of secrets and losses which had come to light only after elderly female relatives had died. I knew I wanted to write about several generations of women in the same family and I also realised that women of different generations had also been shamed, though often for different things. All of this came together in the plot of The Last Thing She Told Me.
Many of our readers are aspiring writers, poets and novelists. What advice would you give to anyone who seeks a similar career path in writing, or indeed to anyone who simply aims to write because they enjoy the process?
The key thing is to learn your craft and continue to hone it. I’ve just finished my tenth novel and I like to think I’m a much better writer now than I was when I started, and I like to think I’ll be a better writer still after my 20th novel! There’s lots of advice on the writing process and how to get a novel published on my website under the ‘about getting published’ tab. Improving your writing needn’t be expensive, there are lots of good books on how to write available from the library. If you want to get a book deal, be prepared for rejection and persevere – I had 102 rejections from agents before I was taken on. And if being published isn’t important to you, then please just enjoy your writing!
Linda, in terms of your organisation, are there set aspects for your literary work? Do you always write in the same location? Do you use music as a background tool, or silence? When you are developing a new book, do the characters tend to come first, or the general plot line to the story?
Ideas for my stories often come from real life events and issues I feel passionate about. It’s about finding a premise that keeps me awake at night and will hopefully keep readers awake too! I’m very much a plotter and a planner, so do lengthy characterisations and write chapter plans and do all my research before I’m ready to start writing. When I do so, I mainly write at home (in a spare back bedroom which is now my writing room) and generally in silence. But I also write in libraries, cafes and on trains, anywhere where I can find the time.
Whilst on the topic of inspiration, has this always been a strong aspect of your writing, since childhood? I’m sure many people will be interested in how much you perhaps found ways to ‘push’ yourself – to have ultimate faith/confidence in what you were writing and to believe wholeheartedly in your literary journey. How difficult was it for you to maintain this journey, despite possible rejection(s) from publishing companies?
I’ve always had a very active imagination and used to write lengthy and rather crazy stories as a child. I’d wanted to be an author since I was nine, but had a ten year career in regional newspaper journalism before I went freelance to try to write my own novel. It took seven years and 102 rejections before I finally got a book deal. It was hugely difficult to keep going at times but I did so because I wasn’t prepared to give up on my lifetime’s ambition and I did believe I had the ability to achieve it. But you must always be looking to improve your writing too, which can be a difficult balancing act!
In terms of contemporary writers, who are you drawn to and why? Do you tend to stick to strict reading genres, or are you more interested in the writing style of the author?
I read quite widely and in different genres, as long as a book has heart and soul, and well-written characters, I’m there. Margaret Atwood is my favourite author and I loved The Testaments. I’m also a big fan of Rachel Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) and am looking forward to her new novel. I’ve also enjoyed Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession and Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls recently. They all write stories where the characters are intensely real and their novels are so well-written.
Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights with our readers, Linda. Finally, what does the future hold in terms of new works? Will you stick with novels, or are there perhaps new creative ‘doors’ that you wish to explore?
I love writing novels and would also like to write a children’s novel at some point soon. And I’d love to write a play, so they are both on my to-do list for the future!