The wonderful Natasha Harding, literary editor of The Sun’s book column, not only made me jump up and down with joy when she gave The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells five stars, she also set up an interview with me which featured in last Friday’s The Sun newspaper. Below are the full questions which she used and condensed in the article.
Tell me about The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells (which I ABSOLUTELY) loved by the way.
Six years ago Norah Wells walked out on her young family. Now she’s back, expecting to pick up where she left off. Only, her role as a mother has been filled by another woman, her husband has moved on, her youngest daughter doesn’t know she exists and her teenage daughter soon realises that the absent mother she’s idolised for years, is very different from the woman standing on her doorstep today. The story takes place over a tense May bank holiday weekend and is told through five points of view: the two mothers, the two daughters and the husband.
You always wanted to write, do you feel as though you’re living your life long ambition?
Absolutely. I’ve wanted to be a published writer ever since I was a little girl –and I’ll bet there aren’t many people get to live their childhood dreams. I still have to pinch myself when I receive a box of my novels from my publishers – especially foreign editions: it’s incredible to think that copies of What Milo Saw and The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells are reaching readers around the world.
What Milo saw was incredibly well received, are you more anxious this time?
I’ve been overwhelmed by how positively people have responded to little Milo – it has been such a joy to watch readers fall in love with his story. But, in some ways I feel even more strongly about my second novel: it’s about motherhood, something that I’ve lived and breathed (both on and off the page) ever since I fell pregnant with my little girl in 2013. Motherhood is an emotive, knotty, fascinating subject, one that we don’t talk about with nearly enough honesty. I hope that Norah Wells will get readers debating!
Is the second novel, like the second album – harder to create?
Yes and no. Yes, because, with a second novel, I’m more self-conscious about how my readers will respond and, of course, I want them to love Norah Wells as much as they loved Milo. But on the other hand, I’ve grown as a writer through writing Milo, I’m that bit more experienced, I know a little more about story and character and how to create that magic that will touch readers. And I trust that if I put all my love and energy and commitment into the story, readers will respond to that.
What inspires your books?
Everyday life and everyday people inspire me. I write about contemporary issues through the lens of family life and ordinary people: the quirky, bonkers, inspiring, frustrating, infinitely complex people who surround me. I want readers to recognize the world they live in, the people they know – and for my stories to help them look at that world anew.
Do you think you’ll always tackle life’s tough situations and subjects?
I hope so. When I was doing my A-Levels, I had an amazing ethics teacher who brought newspapers into class and made us discuss some of the most pressing social issues of our age. That curiosity about the tough situations and subjects came together with my love for literature and formed the foundations of my life as a contemporary novelist.
I love and admire novelists who write unflinchingly about some of the most difficult issues of our age: from Charles Dickens in the nineteenth century to Jodi Picoult today.
Are you still teaching?
Yes, I teach part-time English and creative writing. I live and work in a boarding school and feel inspired and stimulated by my students – and teaching keeps me reading amazing texts too, like A Doll’s House, which was an inspiration for Norah Wells.
Teaching, writing and looking a life family must mean you have to be good at time management – how do you manage your time?
I’m not sure I always ‘manage’ but I do try to prioritise. A friend once introduced me to the ‘jar of stones’ principle: fill your jar with the big, important stones first and then slot in the water and the sand and the pebbles. If you do it the other way round, there won’t be space for the big stones. In other words, I focus on writing, spending time with my little girl and my husband and teaching. The rest (hoovering…shopping…getting my roots done), may or may not get done, depending on the time and space left in the jar. But that’s fine. If I’ve done the important things, the others don’t matter so much.
What have your students said about your books?
They’ve been lovely – and a huge support too. I think their reaction to Norah Wells will be particularly interesting as I’ve talked about the issues of family life and motherhood in many of my literature classes, especially through studying A Doll’s House and Medea. Many of my pupils are amazing writers and aspire to be published one day, so I hope that I’ve inspired them to follow (or as I say, ‘lead’) their dreams.
Is the dream to write full time?
Yes. I love, love, love teaching but I’m struggling to fit it in alongside looking after my little girl and writing. I long for a bit more time to sink deep into my stories, my characters and my research. If my books do well, maybe I’ll be able to make that decision in the next few years.
Will you continue to write in coffee shops?
Yes! I can’t tell you how wonderful my local coffee shop is – I mention one of the baristas, Richard, in my acknowledgements for Norah Wells. The regular customers stop by my table and ask me how my stories are going, my friends and family drop by knowing that this is where they’re most likely to find me on any given day, the coffee is awesome and being surrounded by everyday people leading everyday lives is important to my process as a contemporary novelist.
What other ambitions do you have?
My greatest ambition is to keep doing what I’m doing: to write a novel a year for the rest of my life – hopefully until I’m well over 100!
Of course, I’d love for my books to reach an ever-wider audience and it would be a dream to meet some of my readers from around the world. I’m hoping to publish some Young Adult novels too: it’s so important to provide inspiring stories for teenagers as they navigate that tricky period of their lives. On a more personal level, I hope to be a support and inspiration to my daughter, Tennessee Skye, as she grows up. And I’ve always fancied training to be a yoga teacher but I think I’d better get a bit better at yoga myself first!
What are you working on at the moment?
My third novel, which will be out in January 2017: it’s on the subject of international adoption and follows a couple’s journey through infertility to the hope of having a child – and how that hope is jeopardized in a way they could never have imagined.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you to everyone who has read What Milo Saw and who is planning to read The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells: to know that even one reader has spent hours of their time immersed in a world I’ve created is just the greatest honour.