How did you feel writing a character who was based on a real person? Do you prefer this over writing a character completely from scratch?
As I say in the back of the book, Jess was a real gift from the writing muse. She came to me more quickly and easily than any character ever has. I’m not sure if it is because she was based on a real person or whether it’s just because, in each book there’s something that comes easily and everything else comes hard!
Certainly basing her on a real person had its pros and cons. In some respects, it meant that I already had interesting plot points to include; I was initially fascinated by Lee Miler because her life was so very interesting. But real people don’t always do what you would want them to do to make a narrative work so that is why I chose to be inspired by Lee Miler rather than to write a story precisely about Lee Miller.
At present, you publish one book a year. How do you manage your schedule? What’s your writing routine?
I write while the kids are at school, so from 9am until about 2.45 each day. I’m pretty disciplined and I turn off the wifi and just sit down and get it done. I work another shift at night, which is for admin, social media, invoicing etc. I write better during the day, so I don’t want to waste that time on non writing work. I also work for a few hours every Saturday morning while the kids are at tennis, swimming etc.
It’s all about fitting work in to any available piece of time, and being focussed while doing it. It is possible to waste time, I find, if I don’t have goals and if I sit down for too long. I write in half hour blocks and I expect myself to get a minimum of 500 words written in that half hour block. Over the course of a regular day, this means I will write a minus of 3,000 words, but it’s usually around 4,000 words. Doing that each day adds up to a book pretty quickly!
But then comes the rewriting, which takes the most time. But again, I just set goals, establishing a certain number of pages that I have to rewrite each day to get it done.
Photography is such a huge part of this novel. How much research was involved in making sure the information was accurate and authentic?
Lots! I’m not a great photographer so I knew very little about the technical aspects. However, I didn’t do a lot of technical research but rather I read memoirs of war photographers because that told me more than the Rolleiflex manual would have, and was easier for me to understand.
More importantly, I specifically researched war photography because I think that is a very specific kind of thing. War photography can be about propaganda, about resistance, about showing the public what war really is, about so many different things. I wanted to understand all of those, as well as the effect that immersing oneself in those kinds of horrors might have on the photographer.
What is a genre you love to read, but would never write?
I love a good memoir but I don’t think I would ever have the guts to write one! Nor do I think I have an interesting enough life.
What element of novel writing do you most struggle with?
Planning. I am not a planner when it comes to writing. I begin with a fragment of an idea – in the case of The French Photographer, it was to write a book focussing on a character similar to Lee Miller – and then I dive in and write and hope for the best: that a plot will emerge, that characters will develop, that a worthwhile story will fall out at the end. It’s a huge gamble, starting out not knowing if it will all work out but praying that it will.
What element of novel writing do you think is your biggest strength?
Writing interesting female characters. Because I love to research, I am always able to find anecdotes and incidents that bring the particular struggles my main characters face to life. I’m also fascinated by the things women did in the past, and how so much of that has been forgotten, and I’m passionate about bringing those stories to life. I think that passion comes through in my characters because I truly love what I do.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on the structural edit for a book called The Dior Legacy, which will be out in late March 2020. I can’t say too much more about that one at the moment unfortunately!