On Friday, I posted my glowing review of Rosy Thornton‘s latest book, The Tapestry of Love. A novel about an older woman’s journey to France from England after her divorce to start her own needlework business, and she eventually falls in love with not only the countryside she remembers from her youth, but the community she finds there.
Rosy kindly agreed to an interview, and without further ado, let’s see what she had to say about writing and getting published.
1. When you began your career as a writer and teacher, what time management skills did you have to learn and use to balance the two?
It was actually three things I was trying to balance, rather than just two, because I’m also a mum. My daughters were aged eight and five when I began to write novels. The only way I could fit everything in was to write in the very early mornings – typically from 5.30 to 7 am – before I got the girls up and dressed and breakfasted. It sounds as if that would take a lot of self-discipline, but in fact it never felt that way. For me, writing fiction is pure escape, pure pleasure – it’s my ‘me time’.
2. You say on your Website that you didn’t write your first novel until you were near 40 years of age. What inspired you to finally write a novel and how would you describe your experience writing, revising, and publishing it?
It was honestly not a thing I’d ever thought of doing. I am a lawyer, and lawyers (as we all know) are famed for their narrow, convergent thinking and complete lack of creative imagination! Then six years ago I watched a BBC television adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’. I loved it, went online to discuss it with other devotees, and discovered ‘fan fiction’ – a phenomenon I had never known existed. I thought I’d try my hand at writing some myself – and three months later found I had completed a full-length pastiche sequel to Gaskell’s novel.
Of course it was utter tripe. But by the time my fanfic was finished I had caught the writing bug. I carried straight on and began my own independent story, which in 2006 became my first published novel, ‘More Than Love Letters’. I was lucky enough to find an agent (the wonderful Robert Dudley) who saw something in the book. The first draft was rather a shambles – in particular, Robert pointed out that I had made the rookie error of forgetting to include a plot – but he worked with me through two re-drafts, and knocked it into good enough shape to find a publisher (Headline).
3. When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?
Sorry, I don’t listen to music as I write – although if there were music or other background noise it wouldn’t put me off. When I am writing, my absorption tends to be complete – as my children will testify. (‘Mum, isn’t it tea-time? Mum, I’m hungry. Mum!’ ‘Hmm?’)
4. Which writers have inspired you or have you emulated? How so?
My initial inspiration was Elizabeth Gaskell (see question 2!) and I am a keen reader of the classics and of period fiction as well as contemporary fiction. My own writing tends to focus less on a fast-moving or complex plot and more on the minutiae of everyday relationships, and in that – without for a moment presuming to make hubristic comparisons – I suppose I have been influenced by some of the great mid-twentieth century women novelists, such as Barbara Pym. (Goodness, how pretentious that sounds!)
5. How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer? (physically or mentally)
I must admit that writing has taken a toll on my physical fitness – because the early mornings when I now write used to be when I went for a daily run. But we have dogs – two inexhaustible spaniels – and walking them gets me out of the house. In fact, dog-walking time is a great time for wrestling with a plot problem, or outlining the next scene in my head.
My mental health (such as it is) I ascribe to my partner, the children, my job – all of which leave me no time to take my writing too seriously or get it out of proportion.
6. Some authors live for reviews, while others never read them. In which category do you fall and why?
I’ll admit I do enjoy reading reviews – especially right at the beginning, when a book is first out. Until then, it has been seen by maybe three people, beside the author: agent, editor, copy editor. There is a huge curiosity (for which, read ‘terror’!) to know what other people are going to think of it. After all, writing is essentially an exercise in communication: writers write to be read. So receiving feedback from a satisfied reader – whether a reviewer, or an ordinary person who picks up the book in their local library and takes the trouble to send a quick e-mail – is what makes the whole thing worthwhile.
Bad reviews do hurt, of course – and any author who tells you otherwise is lying. But you can become good at putting them behind you. No book, after all, is going to please everyone.
7. What books have you been reading, and which would you recommend that others give a try even if they are not on the best seller lists?
The best book I read in 2010 was Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ – a towering achievement, not least for making the most hated man in Christendom into a warm, human, sympathetic character. I have just finished Lorrie Moore’s ‘A Gate at the Stairs’, and am now wondering how I managed to miss her before and busily ordering all her other books. For something less mainstream, I recently read and loved a new collection of short stories by Susannah Rickards entitled ‘Hot Kitchen Snow’, published by a small UK press called Salt. Well worth seeking out.
8. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?
I am not actually working on a novel at the moment. But I have a completed book currently doing the rounds of publishers, looking for a home. It is a domestic story, like my other books, exploring family relationships – but with just a very slight edge of psychological mystery about it.
Thanks, Rosy, for answering my questions. If you haven’t checked out my review, please do.