I’m working, very slowly, on a PhD thesis, but, more creatively, more or less on two novels. Both have been in the works for ages. One very nearly got published by Pan Macmillan back in the 1990s – a long story why it didn’t – and since then I’ve kept on fiddling with it. The other is in part based on some childhood experiences of mine, although I’ve ‘disguised’ the story as a sort of mystery. At the moment it’s being quite tricky. Both of these novels are set in present or fairly recent times, and really I think I’m better at the more distant past. A sort of sequel to Shakespeare’s Will keeps wanting to be written.
What do you love the most about the main character in your book?
If we take Anne as the main character, and I think she is – her sense of humour and her toughness.
Why do you write?
Because writers have to.
Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
I simply got sick of male biographers assuming that Shakespeare was trapped into marriage with a dull, illiterate country bumpkin and couldn’t wait to get away from her. There is very little actual information about Anne Shakespeare, but what there is, indicates that she may well have been a woman of some sense and moral character. Anyway, one day I found myself thinking about Shakespeare’s marriage (and in his plays he clearly thinks well of marriage, and the wives are very often strong, intelligent women) and out of nowhere came that first teasing, bantering scene in the novel, where Anne and William meet after some years apart, and suddenly I had my characters and most of my story. I then had to hold off on publishing it (not that the book was quite ready then) because ofShakespeare in Love.
What is the best piece of writing advice you have received?
Murder your darlings.
What are you reading at the moment?
This weekend (14/15 March) it’ll be Terry Pratchett, because he has just died. He was one of my favourite authors. Other than that, research material and the occasional gory serial killer novel for light relief.
What tricks do you have to beat writer’s block?
I think “writer’s block” is a sign that you’re either writing the wrong book, or are trying to force the story in the wrong direction. A good hard think, making some notes, and working on something else for a while usually frees up the subconscious and gets you (me) going again.
Do you write with a plan or do you see where the story takes you?
A bit of both. The story often changes in the writing and characters have their own ideas. I do, though, often end up finding that the first conception of the narrative works best.
Do you take negative reviews of your book personally or do you shrug them off?
Unless there’s obviously spite or some personal agenda behind a bad review or critique (and I’ve only experienced this twice) I shrug them off or share them for a laugh.