1) What inspired you to write your novel?
My dad’s Cornish and we spent every summer in his hometown of Falmouth. So, “The Summer We All Ran Away” began with snippets and stories from my childhood. The view down Quay Hill, which leads straight down through the down, onto the Quay and off the end into the harbour. The houses on the far side of the harbour at dusk, with lights in their windows like stars. A man my dad’s family knew who kept lions as pets. (Apparently they used to sit on his doorstep in the mornings, waiting to be let in for their breakfasts.) My grandparents’ hotel, with endless bedrooms and bathrooms and unexpected nooks and crannies. Vast country estates whose original builders were gentleman smugglers and pirates. Casual namedrops from local ferrymen – “Pierce Brosnan owns that house...and Roger Moore owns that one...nice chaps really, we don’t see a lot of them but they’re no trouble”. Feeling so unbelievably lucky that I partly belonged to this beautiful haven. The smell of diesel mixed with seawater. If I was going to run away, Cornwall is where I’d run to.
2) When and why did you first start writing?
I’ve been writing pretty much since I learned how to write – usually on the sly while I was supposed to be doing something else. I wrote underneath my desk in lessons, in the backs of my notebooks in boring meetings, at my desk while at work in an open-plan office (seriously, alt-tab is the single greatest keyboard function ever invented). I mostly wrote novels and short stories, sometimes as presents for friends or family, or sometimes just for myself. So basically these were pieces for audiences of either one, or none. Since I started doing this at school and never really stopped, I did this for literally decades.
The other thing that went on for decades was all my friends and family telling me, “Look, I think it’s time you realised this is what you want to do for a living. No, seriously, it is. Are you even listening to me, or are you just waiting for me to stop talking so you can change the subject? Oh, for God’s sake...” It took a ridiculously long time for me to start listening.
3) Who are your favourite writers/influences and why?
I’ve written my answer to this question about fifteen times now because it keeps turning into a massive laundry-list! – So I’ll try and confine myself to five.
Tove Jansson’s Moomin books are exquisite – wise, insightful fables that I’ll never, ever get tired of. If I could come close to her deceptively spare writing style one day, I’d be satisfied.
I remember being introduced to Roald Dahl’s Kiss, Kiss when I was about fifteen and it absolutely blew me away. It was the first time it really dawned on me how much fun you could have with monsters.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. It still seems insane that before 1865, we didn’t have “running to stand still” and no-one had ever wondered why a raven is like a writing-desk and the Jabberwocky hadn’t yet been discovered. I just re-read that. Nope, still can’t believe it. How did we manage without these things? How? How?
Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm always, always makes me laugh, and also provides a useful would-this-get-an-asterisk sanity-check. I’m sure there are still plenty of places where I’ve gone rambling off into terrible purple-heather loveliness, but I certainly do it less thanks to Stella.
Finally, the music of Tom Waits. Since I was introduced to his music when a dear friend recommended his album Rain Dogs, Tom’s lyrics have been part of the landscape of everything I’ve written.
4) Do you have a writing routine or place where you always write?
I’m a freelance copywriter, so my fiction writing slots in around whatever I have on for my clients at the time. I usually work from home and I tend to write at the dining-room table, because I like the view - the windows face straight out onto the street, so I can see what the weather’s doing and remember to go outside occasionally. It also means people look into my house as they walk past, which stops me from reverting to a primitive state of savagery. You can’t spend all day in your pyjamas surrounded by cat-hair and breakfast crockery if you know all your children’s friends will be looking in through your window to wave to the cats at school-run time.
The other place I write is while watching my children at their riding-lessons, because as long as they’re bossing horses around, I’m allowed to have my laptop open without them instantly taking it as their cue to distract me with outlandish requests and pointless arguments. The inside of the covered school is the coldest place I’ve ever sat in (sometimes there are icicles on the inside of the door), so the parts I write there tend to mention exactly how warm or cold everyone is at the time in somewhat wistful detail.
5) Apart from writing what are your other passions and interests?
I love baking, making rag-rugs and quilting (by hand, naturally...you haven’t really lived until you’ve hand-stitched 3,000 3” triangles together into a king-sized square), which is possibly a sign of me desperately wanting to be Ma Ingalls. On a slightly less apple-pie note, I really, really, really like zombie movies, and have a coherent and fully-fledged Zombiepocalypse survival plan.
6) What was the last book you read?
Oh no! This is terrible, but unfortunately it was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, because I thought I ought to! Damn it. Can I tell you about the last book I read that I really enjoyed, instead? It was The Doll, Daphne du Maurier’s recently-rediscovered short story collection. Some of them are brilliant all by themselves and some of them are more like practice for becoming brilliant in the future, but it’s a fabulous collection.
The Summer We All Ran Away is available to pre-order by clicking here