Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
One book that kick-started my desire to write novels was The Devil In The Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson. Set in eighteenth century London, it is so immersive and descriptive, with a cracking plot and great characters. It made me think, ‘I want to write books like this!’
Have you ever traveled as research for your book?
The book I am currently writing is set onboard an eighteenth century sailing ship and whilst I have visited lots of museums as part of my research, I really felt I needed to get out on the waves myself to soak up all the sights and sounds. I was lucky enough to find Sail Britain, an organisation who run creative residencies on board a yacht and was accepted onto their Wild Islands residency. This involved a week sailing around the Small Isles of Western Scotland where I had the chance to learn about navigation and all things sailing, as well as experiencing life at sea – for a short time at least! It was an incredible experience and so helpful for my book.
How much research did you need to do for your book?
As a writer of historical fiction, I have to a great deal of research – and I love it! A lot of my research is done online, visiting obscure websites to discover everything about the everyday lives of my characters; what did they eat? What did they wear? How did they speak? I also spend a lot of time in museums – for my first novel, Daughter Of The Shipwreck, I visited the Thames River Police Museum in Wapping as it featured in the book. It’s a wonderfully quirky place with a very knowledgeable guide. For my current novel, set on an eighteenth century sailing ship, I am spending a lot of time at the brilliant Portsmouth Dockyard.
If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters
I love this question! For my first novel, Daughter Of The Shipwreck, I can see Jude Law and Keeley Hawes as Dr and Mrs Stephens, the seemingly respectable and charitable couple who might be hiding something darker. Shantol Jackson would be great as the clever but naïve, Mercy, and I would love Daniel Kaluuya to play her brother, Mat. I used to be an actor and so I think I’ll have to give myself a small role too!
What books do you enjoy reading?
I try to read as widely as possible because I think it’s so important for a writer and the best way to develop your craft. But I must say I am naturally drawn to historical fiction – especially anything with an intriguing plot and plenty of action. Some of my favourites are the Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel, anything by Sarah Waters, the Shardlake series by CJ Sansom, and the Thomas Hawkins books by Antonia Hodgson.
What books have you read more than once in your life?
I often reread books but the one I have read most of all is The House On The Strand by Daphne Du Maurier, who is one of my favourite authors. It tells the story of a man who discovers a way to travel back in time but gradually his two worlds begin to collide, with terrible consequences. It is such a great read with a tantalisingly unresolved ending. I have also read Jane Eyre many times and always find something new in it.
What inspired the idea for your book?
My second novel The Widow’s Last Secret was inspired my memories of visiting the Severn Valley Railway as a child with my dad. It’s a heritage steam railway that meanders through the beautiful countryside of Shropshire and Worcestershire along the River Severn. I loved the sounds and smells of the steam trains and was once allowed to ride in the driver’s cab, much to my excitement – and my dad’s envy! The Widow’s Last Secret is set in a fictional village in Shropshire and is set in the 1840s, when the first steam railways were being built and depicts the conflict that this brought to many people’s lives.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I work in an office job four days a week and so I have one day dedicated to writing – although I actually find that I do most of my writing on my morning commute! Often, the most crucial work happens when I’m not actually sat at my desk – sometimes I need to just get out and walk along the seafront where I live in Brighton in order to cook up ideas or resolve plot issues. On a writing day, I aim for at least 1,000 words but try not to beat myself up too much if that doesn’t happen.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I was 43 when I wrote my first book. I had a career as an actor and theatre director before I tried writing and I never dreamed that I would be able to write a novel, let alone to have a novel published. Now I have 2 books out in the world and am writing my third, so it’s definitely never too late to start writing!
Whom do you trust for objective and constructive criticism of your work?
I have two very good writing buddies who I met on my Creative Writing Masters at Royal Holloway four years ago. We still meet regularly on Zoom and we share our work with one another for feedback and discussion. They are amazing! And I wouldn’t share my early drafts with anyone else!