A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
A former scriptwriter and editor, Veronica Henry started writing romantic fiction in 2000 and is the author of twelve novels. Bookfox Kirsty leapt at the chance to ask her a few questions and, as ever, started off with a really obvious one.
How and when did you start writing?
I started writing when I became pregnant with my first son, when I was 26. I had been a television script editor, and knew that babies and script editing didn’t really go together, so I decided to give up my job and jump over the fence. I spent ten years writing scripts before the deadlines started to get to me. I had always wanted to write a novel, so I sat down and wrote twenty thousand words of Honeycote — the story of the Liddiards, a dysfunctional but glamourous family who lived in the Cotswolds. I was introduced to a literary agent by my television agent, who loved the Liddiards and their antics, and went on to get me a two book deal.
How did you find the transition from scriptwriting to fiction writing? Was it what you expected when you made the leap?
Scriptwriting and novel writing are very different. Writing drama is very collaborative – there is a huge team of people, and constant meetings – whereas with a novel you are pretty much on your own. There are a lot of restrictions when you are writing a tv show – time limit, budget restrictions, limit to how many characters you can use — plus you are very often having to pick up other people’s storylines and also setting stories up. What I did love about writing fiction is being able to go to town on the description. With a script, description is kept to a bare minimum. I often think drama is about what you leave out (because other people, like the director, set designer, actors have their input) while fiction is about what you put in.
How do you write? Do you have a particular routine, habits, superstitions, bugbears?
I’ve totally changed how I write recently in that I have got myself an office — working from home became too stressful. There were too many distractions and interruptions. Now I have my own space and total peace and quiet. It’s much more businesslike. The most important thing is that I haven’t had the internet connected. It was proving too much of a time waster. I can pick up any important emails on my phone and if I’m really desperate to look things up I can go to the deli nearby for a hot chocolate and wi-fi! My output has doubled as a consequence. I find it hard to work with music on these days, but my eldest son has made me some CDs with what he calls ‘Chillectro’ which seems to be atmospheric and not too distracting. I drink endless cups of chai and light scented candles — my favourite is a Marks and Spencer grapefruit and ginger, which keeps me alert. Sometimes I have a ten minute power nap on the sofa at lunchtime. People don’t understand how exhausting it is inhabiting someone else’s world. I also try to get out for a run every other day, as sitting at a desk does nothing for the figure.
Do you keep up with reviews of your books?
I’m not one of those writers who checks their Amazon page every day. That way madness lies. But I think it is important to see how readers have responded to your work. Reviews can give you a surprising insight into what works and what doesn’t. Horrible reviews are an occupational hazard — you’ll always get one or two, but you have to learn to shrug it off and not take it to heart.
What’s the oddest response to your writing you’ve ever had?
I’ve just written a Quick Read, which is part of a scheme to get reluctant readers to pick up a book. Amongst the very lovely Amazon reviews was one complaining it was too short — in an aggrieved rather than a wistful way!
Here’s a nice vague one: anything you want to tell us about your creative process?
Thinking up a new book is something of a layering process. I always start with the setting — I think about where I would like to write about, and then start to imagine the sort of people who might belong there, and what they might be up to. Then I start to focus on who the main character will be, the one whose story provides a skeleton for the book. Everyone else’s story has to weave itself around that central protagonist. I often make a mood board as well — snipping out pictures of people and places that inspire me and help me visualise my story. I very much see it as a film unfolding in my head. I love writing about the English sea side, which is where I now live, as it is a place many people dream of being. But even in a fantasy setting things can go wrong – it’s up to me to put it right again. That’s where the story comes in! My latest is set on the Orient Express, a wonderful stage indeed — gloriously nostalgic and romantic and glamorous — but of course the journey doesn’t go smoothly for everyone …
We always ask our guests to recommend five books they think our readers should pick up. What are your five?
These are all books I enjoyed when I was much younger, but I go back to them time and again.
Frances Hodgson Burnett: A Little Princess
Peter Benchley: Jaws
Jacqueline Susann: Valley of the Dolls
Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary
Stella Gibbons: Cold Comfort Farm
Many thanks, Veronica, for talking with us today!
There is quite an emotional range in this week's reading by the Bookfoxes - from amazement tinged with inadequacy on Monday to disappointment on Friday, via a sense of unease.
Monday: Hilary, who cannot put two stitches into a piece of canvas without creating a hole and several knots, is amazed almost beyond description by the V&A's latest exhibition Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery - and has bought the book to prove it.
Wednesday: Kirsty D is unsettled by Deborah Levy's Hot Milk.
Friday: Simon learns to deal with disappointment - with The Eyre Affair.