What better grounding for writing than having edited hundreds of books? Sitting in her north London flat drinking freshly ground coffee and eating glittery brownies it is hard not to be jealous of Harriet Evans. She seems to have it all with a successful publishing career and now a published author herself. "I've worked for two of the best publishers and I'm published by another of the best. I know how lucky I am," she says.
I Remember You is Evans' fourth novel. The book tells the story of Tess, a teacher who moves away from the big smoke and back to the small town she grew up in. She is reunited with her best friend Adam, but things have changed and he is harbouring a big secret. She takes her class away to Rome and gets swept off her feet, only to come back down to earth with a heavy bump.
It was while researching this book in Italy that Evans decided to leave her job at Headline. After juggling writing and editing for years Evans says, "it became a bit too much to carry on doing both of those and remain sane".
She has spent her whole career in publishing, working at Heinemann and then Penguin before she became fiction publisher at Headline in 2003. Her mother, Linda Evans, is Sophie Kinsella's editor and her father and uncle were both writers. It is because of this that she always thought she would become an author. "It was never that big a deal— it's not like I'm Billy Elliot and I've never seen a ballet before."
Despite everyone at Headline being "really supportive" Evans kept her editing and writing separate as she wanted to remain professional. "It was quite good because it meant that everything to do with the book was a treat. I wouldn't talk about it at work much but as time wore on the two became more and more blurred."
Two months ago she left Headline to write full time. She says she "adores" her new life and loves being a full-time writer but misses her publishing pals and authors, including Penny Vincenzi who she describes as her "sunrise and sunset". "I really loved being an editor and a publisher— I loved working with people."
Of the decision to try writing herself she says: "I kept reading books that I hated and they'd go for loads of money. And people would sign these huge deals and I would think, 'You're morons and I can do better than that!' That's a terrible thing for an editor to think. You should want to encourage writing and want to be supportive but I realised it was something I had to get out of my system."
So in 2002 Evans started to write before work each morning and had penned 30,000 words when her hard-drive corrupted and she lost the lot. "It actually made me think I don't care about the fact I've lost it, I really do want to write."
Singing their praises
She compares writing with karaoke, (something which she regularly enjoys with others from Headline). "Don't criticise the person up on stage until you've got up and had a go yourself. I have a lot more respect for writers now than I did before."
Evans' love of reading is evident in her flat with its hundreds of books lined neatly on bookshelves. "I've always read obsessively. Reading is everything to me." She is a keen advocate of female commercial fiction and describes Marian Keyes and Joanna Trollope as "amazing, amazing writers".
"I find it bewildering how often people are rude about commercial fiction and how many really mediocre pretentious literary books are published every year," she says. "A lot of attention is paid to books that I quite often think are really shoddy."
With such strong views about literature, Evans has a firm idea about how she wants her titles to be read. "What I want my books to be is some kind of escapism. I want you to get lost in them, I want you to feel like you are going on holiday with them and that you know them, that it could be you and that it's some representation of recognisable life, but with a bit more magic thrown into it."
With the publication of I Remember You looming in October, Evans is working on polishing the text. "I hate doing rewrites" she admits. "I find it really awful, it makes me really upset." Once published, books are thrown open to public opinion, something that terrifies her. "If you write a book that people don't like they can write the vilest things on Amazon and everyone can read it." She says that she could quote the negative reviews word for word.
Evans is already writing her fifth book but will give no clue of the content. She is very thankful to HarperCollins and says she is "bloody lucky".
"I hope that my publishing background gives me a knowledge of what they do," she adds. "Half is how good the book is and half is how well it's published."