But I told you last year that I loved you
As well as a reading life, I do of course have a writing life and it would be a lonely place at times without Sue Hepworth. She reads and comments on everything I write, sometimes several times as my work goes through successive drafts – and I do the same for her. I won’t say too much about her new novel except that, although I have read it several times in different versions, as soon as Sue gave me my own copy, I started reading it all over again and found it funnier and more touching and perceptive than ever. To mark the launch of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU (Scarthin Books, Cromford, Thursday 9th June, 6.00, all welcome) I’ve interviewed her for my blog. So over to Sue . .
Sue, how would you describe your new novel?
BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU is the portrait of a mature marriage at a crossroads. Intimate, funny, tender and honest. It’s intelligent holiday reading with a serious side.
What are the three things you like best about writing novels?
I love writing dialogue.
I take delight in loading my own unpleasant characteristics, and those of people I find annoying, onto my characters.
Lastly, I love it when I am half way through writing a novel and the story has built up some momentum. When I get to that stage, I am living in the world of the story. I wake up in the morning and can’t wait to get back into it.
What are the three things you like least about it?
I hate starting a new novel. I loathe writing the first few chapters. It’s a chore setting the scene and kicking off the story, and I always have to rewrite those first few chapters many times.
I don’t like trying to get agents and publishers interested in my work. It takes up huge amounts of emotional energy, and the whole process takes so long.
That’s it. There isn’t a third.
How important is a sense of place for you?
I need to have a real place in mind when I write my novels as it helps me to imagine my characters if I think of them somewhere real and specific. I can’t dream places up out of thin air: I don’t have that kind of imagination. So far my novels have been set in Derbyshire (where I live) or Sheffield (where I used to live) or Northumberland (where I go on holiday) or Wensleydale (where my parents used to live.)
Setting my novels in the Midlands and the North is a conscious choice in another way. I am striking a blow for the provinces. British writers are always setting contemporary novels in London. Why should that be the default setting? There are more people who live outside the capital than live in it.
Describe the room that you write in.
I love my study. One window faces north over the back garden. One faces south over the front garden and lets in loads of sunshine. I over-winter pink and pale purple geraniums on my windowsills, but then I don’t like putting them outside again in the summer because I love the colour. Favourite pieces of stained glass that my husband has made also lean against the windows. My walls are painted pale turquoise, and I have prints and paintings of Wensleydale on the wall above my desk, and posters on the opposite wall. My favourite is a giant poster for the film, It’s a Wonderful Life. The tops of my bookshelves are loaded family photographs. I’ve just bought a small secondhand sofa in eau-de-nil velvet which I adore, but it’s probably a mistake, because it encourages members of the family to come in and sit down and talk to me when I want to work.
Who is your ideal reader?
My ideal reader really likes people, they have a sense of humour (possibly a dry one), and they are not interested in shopping or designer labels.
Who are your writing heroes? Whose books do you like to read, and why?
Garrison Keillor for his wry humour and his humanity, Carol Shields because she writes beautifully and intelligently about real people and ordinary situations, Maggie O’Farrell, because she combines believable characters with emotional drama in a compelling way. Helen Dunmore writes moving stories, her characters are sympathetic, her writing is very sensual, and reflects what is going on in the natural world and in the seasons.
What are your future writing plans?
I have a new novel plotted in outline, plus the characters who live in it. I have 90 letters which my grandfather wrote to my grandmother in 1907 and 1908 when they were engaged, and I want to do something with them – either use them in fiction, or edit them and publish them as they are. I’d love to write a sequel to Plotting for Beginners with Jane
But all of these are going to have to wait for now. My publishing and marketing have been taking up all my time since Christmas, and I’d like to catch up on my real life, which is crying out to me – my garden, my saxophone, my slackline, my grandchildren.