First of all, how are you and how are you coping in lockdown?
I wouldn’t say that I love being in lockdown but I definitely feel more adjusted now than I did in those first few weeks! I miss seeing family and friends most of all but Zoom has been a lifesaver for keeping in contact. I’ve started to appreciate small things, like when the coffee shop near me opened up for take-away. I don’t even mind queuing for 15 minutes to get my cappuccino these days!
We’re super excited to be reading your novel This Lovely City for our May Book Club! Can you tell us more about the process of writing it?
I wrote This Lovely City while studying for an MA in Creative Writing a few years ago. It actually began as a short story! My classmates read it and wanted to know what happened next. At the time I was a bit disappointed because I really wanted to write a good short story, but now I’m really pleased I managed to work out what did happen next! It was a long process and several drafts before it became the published book. I began writing it in December 2016, got my publishing deal in September 2018 and it was published this March.
How long have you been writing for, is it always something you wanted to do?
I only started writing seriously about five years ago. I loved writing stories as a kid but I fell out of the habit. In some ways I’m glad I came back to writing later on. I definitely think that having lived a little first has made me a better writer than if I’d tried to write a novel in my early twenties. Loads of great writers do start young – Zadie Smith and Sally Rooney for example – but I wasn’t writing anything worth reading at that age!
What did you study at school to become an author?
I don’t think it matters what you study at school when it comes to writing. I know a lot of authors and we all come from different backgrounds having studied lots of different subjects and had varying careers. One constant is that we all read a lot. I don’t think you can learn how to write unless you read. Read anything, and not just Booker prize winners or the classics. Crime fiction is great for learning how to come up with a killer plot. Historical fiction is often full of interesting characters. If you want to become an author then treat reading as part of your apprenticeship.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
I love historical fiction and Sarah Waters is probably my favourite author in this genre. If you’ve not read her before, Fingersmith is one of my absolute favourite books – page-turning with a shocking twist that still makes me gasp even now I know it’s coming! James Baldwin is perfect for lockdown reading. I always want to spend time with his books. Another Country is great if you’re in the mood for 1960s New York, jazz, love and friendship.
What was the last book you read and how did you find it?
It doesn’t come out until the beginning of June but if you loved Crazy Rich Asians then look out for Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho. This really got me out of a reading slump. It’s about family and dating in Singapore and I thought it was hilarious.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Probably it was when I held my book for the first time. It still hardly feels real! I had nothing to do with the cover design but I love it so much – the team really did a perfect job. I just can’t wait for lockdown to end so that people can see it in bookshops!
What are you currently working on?
My next book is a murder mystery set in 1936 on the Queen Mary ocean liner travelling from Southampton to New York. My main character is a jazz singer who has been offered the role of a lifetime on Broadway. She thinks she’s on her way to a new life but then there’s a murder and it turns out that she has a motive… I’m just editing it at the moment so it should come out next summer.
What is your best tip to keep busy in lockdown?
I’d never heard of Zoom before lockdown but now it seems like I spend at least an hour a day on it, catching up with friends and family! I’ve been baking a lot. I recommend Nigella’s chocolate olive oil cake if you’re like me and can’t find flour anywhere (it uses ground almonds instead). And I’ve also been having a go at knitting. Stitch and Story do great kits that you can order online – you get the pattern, needles and wool in one package – and they have easy to follow videos on the website when you get stuck (I use them all the time!).
What do you always carry with you?
I hate to say it but I’d be lost without my phone. Whenever I’m out and about I love to listen to music and I’m always making notes whenever I have a thought. Writing isn’t always about being sat at a desk. Usually when I get stuck or have a problem going for a walk to clear my head does me the world of good. I also tend to have ‘brilliant’ ideas just when I’m about to fall asleep. My phone is full of notes that make no sense!
What does your perfect weekend look like?
In the old days, I’d go to the gym – my go-to class is Body Combat. Recently I’ve been trying to do an online class instead. Now that I work from home I don’t treat weekends as ‘days off’ unless I have plans so I try and write for a couple of hours. Instead of going out with friends for drinks or dinner on Saturday night I now have family quiz night. I meet up with my parents and my brother and his girlfriend on Zoom and we have a few drinks and battle it out for the title! Sunday evenings are always me-time. I usually watch a box set – I’m working my way through American Horror Story at the moment – and do a face mask, paint my nails, all those little beauty jobs that I forget to do during the week.
If you could only eat one meal again what would it be?
This is so hard! I think it would have to be something I could make myself so I’ll say lasagne. It was the first ‘proper’ meal I learned to make when I left home. I’ve perfected it over the years – more than one person has told me that my lasagne is better than their mum’s which I take as the highest compliment!
If you could give one positive message to our followers what would it be?
That age isn’t everything It’s never too late! I see a lot on social media about putting age limits on certain aspirations. If you haven’t done X by 30 or had X by 35. It’s really not the case. There is no barrier to creativity. To become an author you don’t need a particular qualification or be below a set age. You just need to write a good book.