I was born and brought up in a house next to the family silk mill. My father, and then my brother, went to work each day at the mill, so silk played a large part in my early life, even though I didn’t really appreciate that at the time.
As a student I did a range of holiday jobs in the mill but, like Lily in The Last Telegram, the business held no real romance for me. What I really wanted was to become a journalist so, after a few years teaching skiing in Canada, that is what I became. I worked in news and features for local and regional newspapers, as a news journalist for local radio and regional television, and at BBC Broadcasting House and Television Centre, before leaving to work in PR which had much more family-friendly working hours!
The silk company has a long and distinguished history which had never been recorded, so I started to research it with the intention of writing a book, but work, marriage and my two lovely daughters took precedence in my life and, like Harold Verner’s, my research languished in a file. As my parents reached their eighties, I realised there might not be much time left, and started recording conversations with them, individually and together, about their extraordinary lives.
During one of these conversations, my father mentioned that during the Second World War what kept the mill going were contracts to weave silk for parachutes, surgical dressings (silk has amazing antiseptic properties) and electrical insulation (plastic had not been invented). He also told me how tricky it had been getting the porosity of the fabric just right for parachutes.
The germ of an idea for a novel was born, but it was not until I retired from full-time work and took an MA in Creative Writing at City University in London that I started writing The Last Telegram, and the story started to unfold.
My research into the history of the company is also complete and some of information is already available on the website for Stephen Walters & Sons Ltd. The fuller version will be published later this year, although probably not for public sale.
My Writing Room also on the Novelicious website
I’m really quite a tidy person, though from this photo you probably don’t believe me. I was tempted to tidy up before taking the photo but then thought: why not tell it like it really is? So here it is, mess and all.
I love having a dedicated office but don’t like to be shut away so the door is always open unless it’s mid-winter and I want to preserve heat. It’s on the ground floor too, so I can hear people around the house and smell what’s cooking. The window faces out onto the front garden so I can see people coming to the front door.
By the keyboard is my trusty Moleskine notebook. I get through one or two for each novel, and they are with me wherever I go in case of inspiration. I love the quality of the paper and the sturdiness of their construction, but if you are listening, Moleskine, please will you make the covers in a wider range of colours, to reduce confusion? There’s also a Mozart Requiem cd (my other main passion is singing choral music), the omnipresent coffee mug (which becomes a tea mug in the afternoons), my diary (I haven’t yet learned to trust the electronic version entirely), and a paperweight that was a present when I left my last job. It reminds me of the lovely people there, but not the office politics I was glad to leave behind.
Post-its are a must – they get stuck onto the whiteboard behind me on which I also write lists, plot-routes, character relationships and reminders about what to get at the supermarket. Also on there is an old ‘love you, Mum’ message from one of my daughters which I am loath to rub out. On the walls are photographs of my family and holiday snaps to remind me of white beaches and blue seas when things are grey and miserable here. I also stick up photos from magazines or from the internet to remind me of my characters – an ancient photo of my mum in her twenties is how I imagined Lily, the heroine of The Last Telegram.
Out of the window is a prolific pink-flowered fuschia bush and a tall acacia tree whose leaves are just turning yellow. I often lose myself in its colours and the motion of its branches when I am looking for inspiration.