Anna, are you very disciplined about writing or can you spend all morning tidying a cupboard when you ought to be editing?
ME: I wouldn’t say I was VERY disciplined, but I try to have a routine. I began writing regularly once my kids started school, so I have been in the habit for a while now of sitting down once I have dropped them off and writing until pick-up time. I try to aim for 1000 words a day. Sometimes, if I am lucky, I manage more. I never used to work in the school holidays, but now the kids are teens, they don’t get up, so I have a blissful couple of hours to write while they are still snoring. I can still spend a whole morning tidying a cupboard or two when the fancy takes me, though…
I know you’re a keen runner – what’s the connection for you between running and writing?
ME: I think Haruki Murakami puts it best in his excellent book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:
“No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act. As a writer then, as a runner […] Basically a writer has a quiet, inner motivation […] For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor.”
I find the two go hand in glove (or foot in shoe?) and that the one helps the other: when I am stuck on writing, running often unlocks things.
What do your children think about you writing. Are they impressed?
They used to be! They used to let me read my WIP manuscripts aloud to them. They used to love it when I did school assemblies. They used to laugh at my jokes… I think they are still interested in what I do, but it’s all a bit embarrassing when you’re fourteen or sixteen. Let’s face it, everything is embarrassing at that age. And I am a bit mean because I draw on my family a lot for inspiration. It would be fair to say you might recognize a few of the characters in The Great Kitten Cake Off, for example: there is a mum who is mad on running, a son who is obsessed with filming everything and who worships a Mary Berry character, a rather moody daughter and a dad who tells appallingly bad jokes.
You used to work in publishing, how much do you think that insider knowledge helps you with your writing?
I’m not sure it helps me that much these days. The industry has changed so much since I was in-house as an editor. It is much more commercial. Publishers used to have long editorial meetings where the key decisions were made on acquisitions, and editors had a vested interest in growing individual authors and ‘owning’ them. Now the sales teams have far more say and unless your last book has sold on well, you are not going to curry much favour with your editor for your Next Big Thing. I suppose that knowing how a publishing house is structured has helped me to understand the production side of things. And I hope I am more understanding to my editor, having been on that side of the desk myself.
Tell me about Cornwall?
How long have you got?! I have been going to a little place in West Penwith for the past twenty or so years – ever since my husband and I fell in love. (Cue slushy music…) I love the wildness of the landscape, the myths and legends surrounding the standing stones and Celtic heritage, the sea, the cliffs, the big skies, Ross Poldark-- (Whoops, sorry…)
Basically I have been writing notes about the place for so long in my diaries, it was inevitable that I would write a book set there eventually, hence Summer’s Shadow – a family mystery set in a ghostly granite mansion, high on the cliffs near Land’s End.
Is your house surrounded by animals?
Pretty much. We own a black Labrador called Kenna (named after my favourite place in Cornwall, Boskenna), we have two cats who think they own us, some chickens (the numbers change depending on predators) and a tortoise called Hercules who we adopted last year. We are surrounded by a rookery, deer, foxes and badgers (hence the head-count on the chickens being a literal moveable feast) and many beautiful wild birds including a pheasant who has recently taken up residence.
Were you an animal-focused child?
I was, but mostly in my head. My mother hates animals. I mounted a concerted campaign from as early as I can remember to be allowed a pet. She finally gave in to a tortoise who did not live long, (much to Mum’s delight and my deep grief). A few years later I somehow persuaded her to let me have a cat who was a fiend in feline form, but managed to win Mum over so successfully that Mum phoned me in tears at work when the cat died eighteen years on. Probably as a result of my deprived childhood, I am a complete push-over whenever my family asks for another animal…
When you were 10 what books were you reading?
Anything I could lay my hands on. I was a member of the Puffin Club and devoured the monthly magazine for tips on what to read next. I used the local library and the school library regularly. I adored mysteries such as Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Secret Garden, The Eagle of the Ninth, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Owl Service… I think these books informed Summer’s Shadow a little, as I found myself wanting to write the sort of book I was looking for in those final days of childhood when you are on the brink of adolescence and not ready for anything too adult, but you still want a good meaty story.
And what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’m not sure I have grown up yet, which is why I love writing for children. When I was at school, I really did want to be a writer. I kept that ambition a secret for a long time, as I was convinced I would not write anything good enough. But I spent all my spare time scrawling in notebooks and kept a diary all the way through university. (Still do.) Writers have always been the people I admire the most. There’s a part of me that doesn’t really believe I have made it yet.
If you could give a single piece of advice to the 10-year-old Anna what would it be?
Go for it! Believe you have something to say. Keep on writing and don’t give up. (Actually I’m going to print that out and stick it above my desk for the 45-year-old Anna. She just might take a bit of notice if I do that.)