1. The Tapestry of Love is your fourth book. Has the writing process changed at all for you since you first began writing?
Not in essentials, no. I still haven’t been able to train myself to plan a book in advance; I still start out with the haziest of initial ideas – a situation, a handful of characters – and just begin to write. I suppose I am more aware of the process of writing than I was with my first book. Back in the beginning I was wholly untutored and wrote by pure instinct, whereas since then I have read a lot of books about ‘craft’. The trick, I think, is to absorb the technical advice and then to push it to the back of your mind so that you can go back to writing naturally and instinctively – but it’s a difficult thing to do.
2. I read on your website that you didn't start writing until you were 40 and that you still lecture at a college. Do you have any plans to make writing a full time career?
That’s right – writing fiction is not something I’d always wanted to do; rather, it came upon me suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 41. You might call it a mid-life crisis! I scribble away at my novels in the early mornings, but from nine to five I ‘m a lecturer in Law at the University of Cambridge, and I must say it’s a job I adore – the teaching and research and writing, at least, even if not the administration and endless committee meetings. I don’t think I would ever want to write full-time. I fear it would be a lonely life – I’d miss the human interaction of teaching far too much. I like to write but I also like to talk!
3. Have you been back to Cévennes since you wrote The Tapestry of Love?
I’m afraid not. It’s an area of France I have only visited once – for a fortnight’s family holiday twenty years ago – but it made an indelible impression upon me, for the beauty and desolation of the landscape, but also for its folklore and history, its people and its way of life. I would love to go back some day, but somehow family and work commitments have always got in the way. I do visit other parts of France quite frequently, however; my parents live in a lovely rural spot in the Loire Atlantique, and my brother and his family live in the Rhône-Alpes region, a short drive from the mountains.
4. Food is a big part of The Tapestry of Love (and one of my favorite parts). Do you do a lot of cooking on your own typically?
I do love to cook, yes – and so does my partner. We have two daughters, and we’ve always tried to make sure they have proper home-cooked meals. I think it’s a case of wanting to instil good eating habits, and it has certainly meant that they have adventurous tastes and enjoy a wide variety of foods. Whether I’m any good at cookery is another matter. My cooking, I fear, is rather like my writing – instinctive and somewhat lacking in advance planning!
5. In The Tapestry of Love, Catherine goes to Cévennes to set up shop as a seamstress of sorts specializing in tapestry. Is this a skill that you have? If not, what drew you to write about it?
Cooking is one thing, needlecraft quite another. I’m afraid I have no patience for it, and can barely sew on a button! But my mother used to do tapestry work, until she recently had to put it aside, sadly, due to the encroachment of Parkinson’s disease. I think I wanted Catherine to sew for a living because in previous books I have had central characters who are very cerebral, who work with their brains and who analyse the world very much in terms of ideas. I wanted for a change this time a heroine who works with her hands – who stitches and cooks and gardens – and who responds to the world around her in a more visual and sensual way.
6. What are some of the books that inspire you to write?
The book which originally inspired me to try my hand at writing fiction was Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’. Or, to be more accurate – although I’ve always loved the book – I was inspired by a BBC television adaptation of the novel which was screened in 2004, and by the gorgeous actor Richard Armitage in the starring rôle. I went online to read up about the series and discovered the world of internet ‘fanfiction’. I thought I’d take a crack at it myself – and before I knew it I’d written a full novel-length pastiche sequel to ‘North and South’! It was complete rubbish, of course, but by then I’d caught the writing bug, and carried straight on to begin my first ‘real’, independent novel (‘More Than Love Letters’) which was published in 2006.
Apart from the classics – Gaskell, Eliot and Austen, in particular – the writers who inspire me are many and various, from ‘period’ novelists such as Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Bowen to current day favourites like Barbara Trapido, Anne Tyler, Kate Atkinson and Margaret Forster.
7. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Somebody far wiser than I am – and whose name I’m ashamed to have forgotten – said that there are three simple rules for an aspiring author:
1. Read a lot;
2. Write a lot;
3. Repeat as necessary.
I think that says it all, really. I’ve always tried to read as much and as widely as possible, not only in my own genre, and usually books by authors who write far better than I ever could. I hope that somehow, something may be learned by a process of osmosis! And writing, I firmly believe, is a skill like any other and can be improved by practice. However busy I am, and whatever else is going on, I try to write a little every day. Even if all I do is read through what I wrote the day before and add a short paragraph – or a sentence, half a sentence – I think it keeps the story ticking over in my mind and the creative juices flowing.
Thank you very much, Meg, for inviting me along to talk to you. It’s been a pleasure to answer your questions.
Picture of Author Rosy Thornton