Can you tell us about your writing day?
I don’t have a writing day as such. I spend most days trying to play catch up and dealing with the most urgent matters that come up in life. If there was ever a time I’m most likely to write it’ll be late at night, when nearly everyone who can distract me has gone to bed. Right now, it’s gone midnight and I’m sitting in bed with the television muted in the background, typing on my laptop.
Writing can be a lonely occupation – how do you cope with the solitary nature of being an author?
I was single for a significant proportion of my writing career (and adult life) so I really was alone a lot of the time – sometimes I’d go days without seeing people, but I didn’t mind too much. If I needed company I would go to the local post office just to practice conversation. It is easier to write when you don’t have another person at home who – rightfully – wants you to engage with them. I find having the television on in the background – sometimes on mute, other times not – helps alleviate any loneliness. A lot has changed in the world since the invention of Twitter and Facebook, though. Now you can find conversation and ‘company’ whenever you want it, virtually.
Have you ever experienced writers’ block and, if so, how did you get past it?
I’ve never had writers’ block. I don’t think that’s luck, it’s more the way I write: I don’t write in sequence, so if something’s not flowing, I’ll write another part of the book. That stops me from feeling ‘stuck’. Also, having been a journalist and editor for many years, I’ve never had the time to be blocked, I suppose, I’ve always needed to produce the words. Obviously it helps that there are always at least two different story ideas running in my head at any given time.
When I first got my publishing deal with a small independent publisher – they’re not independent any more – I genuinely thought I would be able to give up full-time work. I thought I’d be at least making enough to write books full-time. Ha-ha! That was a lesson learned. I didn’t actually give up my full-time job until after I’d finished my fourth book, Marshmallows For Breakfast. Even then I only did that because the magazine I was working on in Australia folded and my hand was forced – I had to make the leap of faith to try living even more frugally than I already did and give being a novelist a proper go. The other way being an author is different is that I thought authors had more say in covers, book titles, etc. Thankfully I’ve always been involved in deciding on my titles and covers, but I know other authors aren’t as lucky.
Have you got any abandoned manuscripts no one will ever see?
I have loads of them! Some dating back to when I was in school – my first ‘book’ was written in my exercise books when I was 13. Sometimes I will start a book and will quickly realise that it’s not ready to be a full-length novel yet so I’ll put it to one side. Then years later I’ll come back to it and know the time is right. That happened with some of the story of Goodnight, Beautiful – it began life in a very different way.
Who is the favourite character you’ve created and why?
My favourite male character is Greg from The Chocolate Run. I am so in love with him, even though I know he’s not real and everything. Favourite female character is probably Ceri from The Cupid Effect. Why? She’s my ‘first-born’ (first published main character).
What was your proudest writing moment (so far)?
Not sure if you mean from physically writing a book or part of the whole ‘thing’ of being a writer. If it’s the former, then it’s writing/editing the final words to The Cupid Effect, knowing it would be on the shelves of a bookshop; if it’s the latter then it’s walking into Borders on Oxford Street, London, and seeing The Cupid Effect on the shelves for the first time. The Cupid Effect features in both of my proudest writing moments because it is the book that changed my life.
If you had to live within the confines of one book, and only interact with its characters (but you would still be yourself), which book would you choose?
Now there’s a question! Do I choose a fun-loving book that would eventually drive me crazy to be trapped in, or a more meaty tome that would have me depressed over a long period of time? At a push I’d go for Hollywood Wives – for the glamour and the celebs.
Which three books would you take to a desert island?
The largest single volume available of The Oxford English Dictionary because I can learn lots of new words; The Chocolate Run so I could adapt it into a screenplay; and a single volume of all J G Ballard’s short stories because they are excellent reading – even if you’ve read them before.
If a film was made of your life, who would you want to play you?
Everyone always says Whoopi Goldberg should play me, but since she’s older than me I don’t think that’d work. I’m going to be completely self-indulgent and go for Naomi Harris. I’m sure she’d love leaning over the bath to wash her hair and sitting in her pyjamas in bed writing with the deadline for the next book hanging over her head. I can see it as clear as day!
Thank you so much, Dorothy.
Dorothy’s latest book, The Woman He Loved Before, is out in paperback later this week (and it’s gripping!).