Hello Rosy and thank you for talking to me. The paperback version of your book The Tapestry of Love is out today (14.10.10), congratulations! Where did the idea for this book come from?
Thanks very much for inviting me along to your blog, Lucie.
I suppose the book really began as the embodiment of a fantasy! It’s about an Englishwoman, Catherine Parkstone, who sells up her house in England and moves to a remote mountain hamlet in France to set up in business as a seamstress and tapestry-maker. Haven’t we all, at some time or another in the middle of all the pressures of busy, complicated lives, dreamed of jacking it all in in favour of a simpler life, in beautiful surroundings? Well, the book was my version of the dream.
Did you find it easy to write?
I’m not sure about ‘easy’ – writing a novel is never entirely that – but it was certainly an intense pleasure. All through one gloomy, grey English winter, I sat down at my keyboard and imagined myself in an old granite farmhouse on the slopes of Mont Lozère, surrounded by chestnut woods and silence.
What is your link with France, do you have a background there or is it a passion?
It is certainly a passion – but I do also have close personal links with France. My parents moved to a dilapidated stone farmhouse in the Loire Atlantique when they took early retirement seventeen years ago; they have gone thoroughly native and even taken French citizenship. My brother is married to a Frenchwoman and lives in the Rhône-Alpes, and I have two wonderful French nieces. In fact, I seem to the only one left living in England! I must admit to having drawn shamelessly on my family’s experiences when writing the book.
How would you describe The Tapestry of Love in terms of storyline? I assumed it was romance but reading it, romance seems to definitely be a plot development within it, but not the dominating feature. What would you say were the key themes of the book?
As you say, there is a love story in the book – but in a way it is more about Catherine’s love affair with the place she has chosen as her new home: its landscape, its people and its fragile way of life. There is a lot in the book about isolation and loneliness, but also about what makes us put down roots. There’s stuff about the human relationship to the landscape, about loss, and (if it doesn’t sound too pretentious!) about the redemptive possibilities of family and friendship as well as of romantic love.
You are a lecturer at Emmanuel College, Cambridge as well as being a writer – how do you fit it all in?
With difficulty! Trying to combine writing fiction with a full-time job and a family (I have two daughters, aged 14 and 11) is a constant juggling act. I tend to fit in my novel-writing in the early mornings. Typically I write from 5.30 to 7am, before I do the packed lunches and get the girls up for breakfast.
I have only come across The Tapestry of Love recently so, for others out there who are not familiar with your works, which other titles have you written? Do you have a personal favourite?
I have published three previous novels: ‘More Than Love Letters’, ‘Hearts and Minds’ and ‘Crossed Wires’. I think my personal favourite is probably ‘Hearts and Minds’, which is a campus satire set in a Cambridge college. An entirely fictional one, of course – but I had great fun winding up my colleagues by saying they were going to be in it!
Have you always aspired to write?
Far from it. I’ve always been an avid (not to say obsessive) reader of novels, but it never crossed my mind to try my hand at writing one. I teach Law, and lawyers (as well all know) are noted for being pedantic, prosaic and totally lacking in imagination! The idea of writing fiction came on me very suddenly in my forties, after watching the BBC’s 2004 adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic novel ‘North and South’. (Anyone remember it? The one with the gorgeous Richard Armitage as brooding mill-owner, John Thornton.) I went online and discovered fanfic, tried my hand at writing some myself, and then found that I had been bitten by the writing bug.
Do you have a plan outlined when you write? Do you write longhand first or straight onto the computer?
I’m a confirmed ‘panster’ – that is, I write by the seat of my pants! I begin with some characters and an initial situation to put them in, and just start to write. I used to apologise for it, until I discovered that all kinds of famous, erudite and bestselling novelists also work this way. It is very freeing after academic writing, which has to be planned in meticulous detail and every footnote checked five times.
What do you enjoy to read? Do you have a favourite book at present?
I read a wide range of things, fiction and non-fiction. In terms of fiction I mainly find myself drawn to women authors, ranging from the classics (Austen, Eliot, Gaskell) through period fiction (I’m a big fan of Barabra Pym) through to contemporary fiction (Barbara Trapido, Kate Atkinson, Margaret Forster, AS Byatt, Ali Smith, Anne Tyler, Jane Smiley, E Annie Proulx, Margaret Atwood, Salley Vickers…). I also enjoy crime fiction (especially Donna Leon) and the occasional foray into light, funny, breezy chick lit (my favourite being Phillips Ashley).
I know it’s boring to say so, as everybody does, but the best book I’ve read this year is probably ‘Wolf Hall’.
What are the best and worst things about being a writer?
I just LOVE writing fiction – it’s my escape, my self-indulgence, my precious me-time.
I’m not keen on editing, though – or checking proofs!
And lastly, what are you currently working on?
I’m actually taking a break at the moment – for the first time since I began writing fiction nearly six years ago. (All those early mornings were taking their toll!) But I have completed one more novel since ‘The Tapestry of Love’ – and I’m sure I will get back into a new very one soon.
Thank you so much for talking to me – I wish you all the very best of luck and success with the book.
Thank you, Lucie. It’s been a real pleasure!
Rosy has had the brilliant idea of putting together an accompaniment for her novel in the form of a recipe booklet. Those of you who enjoyed reading the book, will no doubt love this. And those of you yet to read it – this will give you a real taster of the Cevennes! Providing the recipes used in the book, Rosy has really brought the story to life. A definite must have for all readers of this novel.
And the great thing about this? You can have a copy! All you have to do is comment on this post leaving your email address and I will email a copy of this recipe leaflet to you. It’s as simple as that.