Your descriptions of the Isle of Kip are so beautiful and atmospheric, what made you decide to set a story on an island so far from your home?
I’ve always been fascinated by islands – I love the sea so the idea of being surrounded by water appeals, as does the idea of a community living away from the mainland. I grew up in the South West but have a certain affinity with Scotland; my husband has Scottish heritage and some of our most enjoyable trips together have been in Scotland. We love the landscape and even the rain there – it suits us more than tropical climates to do the walking we so enjoy doing together and is a perfect excuse to curl up with a hot drink by the fire. I had always wanted to visit a Scottish island and had an idea to set a book on one, so headed to the Isle of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides on a research trip. I immediately fell in love with the scenery and was also struck by the strong sense of community amongst the islanders despite the remote and isolated location. I liked the idea of contrasting this with city life where you can often feel isolated despite being surrounded by people. That’s where the idea for my two main characters came from – one who is embedded in island life and one who is returning for the first time in years and is much more isolated.
I made two visits to Eigg, once in September and again in January when the weather was wild but wonderful. I spoke to islanders in order to try to get a better understanding of island life. And on the second trip my husband proposed – so the island will always have a special place in our hearts!
We loved your incredible observation of human behaviour in your previous book The 24-Hour Cafe, and your exploration of relationships is equally moving in The Island Home, have you always been fascinated by people?
Thank you! I think a big part of being a writer is being inherently nosy and interested in people! When I’m out and about I’m always thinking about people’s stories – I believe we all have our own story even if it’s not immediately obvious to someone passing us in the street. I think I’m lucky too in that I’ve always had quite a strong sense of empathy which I think is important as a writer – being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and to imagine how they might be thinking or feeling, even if they have their flaws or are very different to you. It’s probably my favourite part of writing, coming up with characters and exploring their backgrounds and emotions.
You have an interesting career background, what attracted you to writing fiction?
I’ve always wanted to be an author, ever since I was a child and realised that someone had actually written the stories I so loved reading! But as I got older I became put off I suppose by all the features I read about how few writers manage to get published and make it their career. I decided to study journalism, thinking it would be a good compromise in that I’d still be able to write but it might be more of a ‘proper’ job. I worked for a while as a journalist and enjoyed aspects of it like interviewing people but overall found it took me away from creative writing which was my real passion. I just didn’t have the time or headspace to write creatively after a day of journalistic writing. So I changed careers, making the move to marketing. It wasn’t exactly my passion but gave me more time and headspace and it was in one such marketing job that I started to write The Lido. I do think my marketing background has helped me deal with certain aspects of the publishing process, but it was a dream come true when I was able to quit my job and become a full-time author. It feels such a privilege to now be able to write every day because writing is the thing that I have always done for enjoyment and as a way of exploring issues and emotions in my own life.
What advice would you have for other aspiring novelists?
I’d mostly say that perseverance is key, and to encourage them that it is possible – because I certainly had many years when I doubted this. I think that inspiration is only a small part of writing a novel – the biggest challenge is just forcing yourself to sit down and write it and also dealing with the constant self-doubt. It’s so easy to want to give up and I have definitely had those moments many times while writing each of my novels, but writing books has been a huge lesson for me in dedication and perseverance. I’d also say to try not to lose sight of why you write. For me, it always comes from a place of loving to write and it being something that I just have to do. It’s wonderful that I’m now able to do it as my job but honestly, I would still be writing regardless of whether I’d been published or not because it’s just who I am. Even though it’s now my career I really try to hold onto that joy and love I felt when writing as a child. To me that’s what it’s really about.
Can you share any information about your next book?
My next book, my fourth, will come out next summer and was written almost entirely during lockdown. It’s set partly in Somerset, where I now live (while writing the book I was fantasising about leaving London and moving back to the south west where I grew up) and partly in New York State. I spent a lot of time exploring on Google Maps which proved a wonderful distraction when I couldn’t leave my flat. In this book I also explore my long-standing interest in vintage fashion, which was a real joy to write! It has some similar themes to my previous books such as female friendship and community – I think because these are things that are just so important to me that I think I will always want to explore them in my work.
When you are not writing, what do you like to do to relax?
I might be a writer but I think of myself first and foremost as a reader. It’s how I first became interested in writing and curling up with a book is still one of my favourite things to do. I’m also a keen outdoor swimmer and since moving to Somerset I’m particularly enjoying exploring local wild swimming spots. There’s something so calming about being in the water amongst nature.
Author image credit: Bruno Gordon