Welcome to the four hundred and twenty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with novelist and scriptwriter Veronica Henry. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Veronica. Lovely to ‘meet’ you. Please tell us how you came to be a writer.
Veronica: I started work on The Archers, as a secretary, when I was about 20. I fell in love with the idea of creating fictional worlds for people to escape to. From there I went on to become a script editor, then a script writer, and wrote hours of television drama before finally getting down to what I really wanted to do: write books!
Morgen: I wrote a couple of novels (still in files) before writing a script for the now-sadly-defunct Script Frenzy and, like you, much prefer the novel format. You generally write contemporary women’s novels (or as Amazon says “escapist fiction with an edge”), have you considered (or written) other genres? And have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym?
Veronica: I’ve spent quite a while building up the Veronica Henry brand now so I think it would be dangerous to go too far away from what readers are expecting – but sometimes I think it would be fun to have an alter ego and write something completely different. Maybe something darker; something a bit Fatal Attraction-ish.
Morgen: As a writer of ‘dark’, I’d love to see that. Julie Cohen (who was also at this year’s Chipping Norton Literature Festival, as you and I were) writes erotic science fiction as Elektra Shepherd. I have her novella ‘Love Machine’ on eBook but haven’t read it yet but it does sound fun. I write a mixture of genres but then I write mostly short stories so that’s easier to do. To-date you’ve had published ‘Making Hay’ (2003), ‘Wild Oats’ (2004), ‘An Eligible Bachelor’ (2005), ‘Honeycote’ (2006), ‘Love on the Rocks’ (2006), ‘A Family Affair’ (2009), ‘Marriage and Other Games’ (2009), ‘The Birthday Party’ (2011) and just recently ‘The Long Weekend’ (2012). Is it still a thrill when a new book comes out and are you ever nervous when submitting or releasing a new book?
Veronica: Absolutely – I think anyone who delivers a book with confidence must be either mad or not as good as they think they are! It’s part of the creative process, to be unsure. But I have a fantastic editor who knows my strengths and my weaknesses, so I look forward to her reaction. Even if I’ve gone wildly off course I know she can fix it. And the first time you hold the first edition of your latest novel in your hand is always special.
Morgen: I’ve self-published eBooks but I hope one day to have that, although I do have a story in a charity anthology so have held a book with my work in it (just slightly more thrilling than seeing a magazine with my work in it). I’m easily pleased. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Veronica: I adore Patrick Liddiard who features in the Honeycote trilogy. He’s self-assured and a little bit wild but he loves his family and will do anything for them. I love how he can be reckless one minute and responsible the next. I love his father Mickey too – he’s charming but feckless. I always saw him as a forty-something Anthony Hopkins – slightly dissolute but with mesmeric eyes.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Veronica: I’m working on a book set on the Orient Express – an inspiring setting if ever there was one, but there are no murders in it. Yet.
Morgen: It worked for Agatha Christie. The wonderful thing about the Orient Express is that you could pick any setting that it goes to, and in any era back to the 1880s. Do you manage to write every day?
Veronica: I try to work office hours. The problem is nowadays that the business of being a writer often gets in the way of the actual writing, so you can be working flat out for three days and not have actually got on with the work in progress.
Morgen: When I ask authors of their least favourite aspect of writing these days, most say the marketing… some because of the technology involved but most say how much time it swallows up – we’re writers, deep down all we want to do it write. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Veronica: I often hit a brick wall or fall out of love with what I am writing. I find sleep helps – a lot of the knots untangle themselves in your subconscious.
Morgen: I think it was PD James who said she leaves sentences half-done so she can just pick them up in the morning. I think many writers, especially those early in their career, go to bed with a problem, and probably lose confidence in what they’re writing (I know I do) but then wake up with the solution, or an idea, and then re-read and think it’s not actually that bad (I do often ) or at least see how to fix it. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Morgen: Isn’t that great, that has to be my favourite aspect, especially when the characters take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, and what do you think makes them believable?
Veronica: They are very real, very vivid right from the start – but they still surprise me when I write. It’s like getting to know people in real life. You think you know them, and then they turn the tables on you. People you dislike reveal redeeming features; people you adore turn out to have feet of clay … it’s a journey of discovery.
Morgen: I write a short story a day as love it when I can bring back a character, as you say it’s like getting to know them better. I was chatting to Katie Fforde when she judged my writing group’s H.E. Bates short story competition last year as I’d been reading her book ‘Love Letters’ and asked if she was going to do anything with the secondary female character, Monica, and Katie’s face lit up and said she’d thought about it, so I hope she does. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Veronica: I write in the third person, from an omniscient point of view. Having said that, I have a diary as part of the book I am currently writing, which is obviously first person, and I am really enjoying it – it feels more personal.
Morgen: First person really gets inside the character’s head, doesn’t it. Most books are written in third person omniscient as it seems to be what editors / readers prefer, and is more flexible with telling everyone’s story, but alternate first and third have become popular. You write features and short stories for magazines, do you write any poetry?
Veronica: I don’t write poetry now – although a friend found a poem I had written for our school mag and posted it on Facebook recently, about an abandoned gypsy caravan. I think it’s probably best if I stick to books …
Morgen: Oh dear. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Veronica: I think it’s vital to have an agent, to protect, defend and encourage you, and to act as a sounding board. It’s very important to find the right person for you – you might want someone go-getting and hands-on, or you may prefer someone more thoughtful and nurturing.
Morgen: Many authors I’ve spoken to have said they’ve tried the agent route and either been unsuccessful and gone the self-publishing route or found one (or more) and it’s not worked out but when they do find and secure a good one, they do sing their praises. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Morgen: I’m not a red tape fan. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Veronica: Aristotle, Picasso and Jack Nicholson. I don’t suppose they’d pay me any attention whatsoever. I’d serve a huge platter of garlicky prawns, then butterflied leg of lamb with sauté potatoes, tarte tatin – and a cheese board, so they could sit at the table all afternoon and outdo each other.
Morgen: But wouldn’t that be fun to watch. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Veronica: Meretricious, which means tawdry or falsely attractive. Meretrix is Latin for lady of the night! I just love how the word sounds.
Morgen: Maybe something for your ‘dark’ pseudonymed book. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Veronica: My favourite thing in the world is to go riding on Exmoor. I’m a bit of a coward these days, but I love getting the nerve up for a good gallop, Lorna Doone-style. The adrenalin is amazing.
Morgen: Wow. My mum and aunt were grooms for racing driver Stirling Moss’s sister so I should have been horse-mat but a little fat pony on holiday as a teenager was as close as I got. Thank you so much, Veronica. Do let me know if you do veer off your genre and I’d love to have you back to talk about it (and have you back anyway of course).
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