Tell us about your latest creation:
The latest creation is called Mrs. Hemingway. It’s a historical novel, told from the perspectives of Hemingway’s four wives and mistresses: Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Set from 1921-61 it all happens in France and America, in places you’d probably like to go on holiday to, and which I had the arduous task of visiting, for research purposes only, of course.
Where are you from / where do you call home?:
London is home. I grew up in Hong Kong but have been back in England now for quite a while. Although I don’t have family in London it’s where all my friends are – my urban family.
When I was a kid I wanted to become “a bloodsucking lawyer” which was a cute if annoying phrase I stole from Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family (one of my favourite movies still). Only later did I realise I wanted to write – and I was twenty-three when this desire to write really took hold.
What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:
I’m definitely happiest so far with Mrs. Hemingway. I’m proud of the amount of research I put into it and I’m pleased that I got to give voice to four impressive and under-known women.
Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:
I live in London where the rents are astronomical, and my room is tiny! This is a guilty thing to admit but often I write in bed with coffee and toast. The room is too small to even have a desk. And if I’m under the duvet I can save on the central heating. It all gets a bit chaotic and invariably there’s ink all over the bedcovers.
When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:
Too many writers to possibly name but! Kazuo Ishiguro, Marilynne Robinson, James Salter, and I am slowly getting into the work of Kent Haruf. Beautiful work, beautiful sentences.
What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:
The classics, really – anything by Roald Dahl. I was also a real sucker for the tender friendship shown in Charlotte’s Web. In my early teens I had a brief but intense swing into fantasy and adored the books of Robin Jarvis – all I can remember about them now is that they
were about some rather plucky mice and that I couldn’t put them down.
If you were a literary character, who would you be?:
I’d like to be the marvellously damaged Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises. Beautiful, urbane, and able to drink like a fish.
Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:
I like to work on small patch-working projects – things like cushions and small quilts. You can find pictures of my designs on my website. I like working with colour. It’s very pleasing to the eye after the black/white nature of writing.
What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:
I love Korean food and would like to put kimchi into everything. Fave drink = red wine, of course.
Who is your hero? Why?:
Martha Gellhorn – for her work, her bravery, her independence at a time when women war correspondents just didn’t really exist.
Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:
The biggest challenge to the written word is probably the image. Images, especially movings ones, are incredibly easy to consume, they tell a story in half the time, and they give the same emotional punch. Will people read if TV box-sets and movies take over? I hope so. But it might be a dwindling proportion of us.