Sum up your book in three words.
Dead Mum Talking
Where did the initial idea come from?
The idea of a story about a mother dying in childbirth came to me while I was pregnant - I’m a catastrophist. I could hear the voice of Pearl, her teenage daughter, and the idea of the baby surviving opened up lots of interesting plot and thematic possibilities. ‘The Rat’ as Pearl calls her baby sister - represents both the mother’s death and ongoing life, and Pearl’s struggle with her grief is also a struggle to accept her baby sister. The final element of the idea, the mum coming back as a very real ‘ghost’ throughout the story, came because the voice of the mother was so strong and funny. I could hear her and I knew that to understand Pearl’s emotions the reader would need to hear her too. She almost wrote herself into the story.
How was the title chosen?
The title came to me when I wrote the very first scene. As I wrote it a lot of things fell into place. I realised the book would take place over the course of a year and I realised the nickname for the baby would be ‘The Rat’. And suddenly I had a title.
What's your writing routine?
I have three young children so my writing has to fit in with their school day. Mornings are hectic, but once they’re off to school I sit down at my desk with a strong cup of coffee and get writing. If I’m really on a roll with a story or close to a deadline I’ll get up early and try to get an hour or two done before the children are awake - I’m not really a morning person, but I find I get a lot more writing done in a lot less time early in the morning compared with late at night. I try to edit at night, my tired brain can cope better with that.
Which book do you wish you'd written?
There are so many! At the moment Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall would have to be top of the list. I’ve loved Tudor history since school and Mantel’s writing is just so perfect. The way she breathes life into the previously shadowy character of Cromwell, the way she catapults the reader right into the physical, political and emotional world of the Tudors, and creates a story which is fresh and surprising even though you already know the facts... it’s a masterpiece. Every sentence is a thing of beauty. It’s an extraordinary book. (Can you tell I liked it?)
What's your favourite word in the English language?
Discombobulated. While it’s a classic example of a long word where a short one would probably do, I love it both because it sounds exactly like what it is, and because it perfectly describes my state of existence most of the time.
Who's your favourite fictional character?
Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
What was your favourite book as a child?
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I still love it and often re-read it around Christmas time.
What book are you recommending to everyone at the moment?
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Such an interesting concept and I love her writing.
What do books and reading mean to you?
Escape. Enlightenment. Pleasure. The chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes.