What is involved in ghost writing the way you did in Murder at Mansfield Park? What got you into it?
I first read Mansfield Park for my school-leaving exams, and I was just bowled over by the beauty of her prose. She’s a one-woman tutorial in the elegant use of the English language, and of course there’s the delicious twist that a good deal of that elegant prose is barbed with her equally vicious wit. So I’ve always been a confirmed admirer of the way she writes. As for Mansfield Park in particular, I realised even at 18 that this book was very different from the others – much more serious, and with a hero and heroine that are really rather difficult to like. You talked about ‘ghosting Austen’ and I always felt there was the ghost of another novel buried in Mansfield Park, just waiting to be set free. But it was only many years later – after I became a freelance copywriter – that I had the time, and probably the maturity, to set about freeing that novel myself.
What does a normal writing day involve for you?Because I work as a writer anyway, I’m pretty disciplined about putting in the hours and not getting distracted. Most days I go to the gym first thing, then I’m at my desk by 9, and generally work through (with a break at lunch) until about 5, whether it’s my own writing or something for a client. I find I don’t work well at night, and if I have to do so to meet a deadline I generally end up re-writing it all the following morning, so it’s a bit of a waste of time!
What sort of books do you enjoy reading in your spare time?I have to confess I don’t read as much as I used to – or as I’d like to! If I have spare time I usually choose to fill it with my own research or writing, rather than reading for pleasure. The exception is holidays, when I can get through a book a day easily, and irritate my husband by filling the suitcases with books (which I do them leave behind, so other people can enjoy them). On that basis I suspect I’m the ideal market for an e-book reader! And to answer your question, it’s classic English fiction, and really good crime that I enjoy most. And of course it’s a fusion of those two things that I’m trying to write in my own books.
What is your favourite Austen book?I think my favourite – like most people – is Pride & Prejudice, but the one that intrigues, inspires and irritates me the most is, of course, Mansfield Park!
What can you tell us about your next book and when will we be able to read it?It’s another ‘literary murder’, though this time it’s inspired by Charles Dickens. In other words I’ve moved forward a bit in time, but it’s still a historical setting, though I’m not writing pastiche this time, so the book is ‘in my own voice’. Fans of my thief-taker Charles Maddox will also be pleased to hear that he’s back – though not, perhaps, in the way people might expect. It’s coming out from Corsair in early February in the UK, and then in the summer of 2012 from Random House in the US.
What types of films do you enjoy watching?I like good drama, a well-made mystery, or a genuinely thrilling thriller. I don’t like sci-fi or horror, and there are only a few film comedies I would put on my list – the exceptions would be The Full Monty and Spinal Tap. My favourite films would include the Lord of the Rings trilogy (a favourite book of mine since I was a child, so I was apprehensive but in the end delighted with the film versions); also The Long Good Friday, a classic British thriller; the Pierce Brosnan version of The Thomas Crown Affair, and Chariots of Fire.
What book would you like to see made into a film?This is a bit of an obscure one but one of my favourite books is Isabel Colegate’s Statues in a Garden. A wonderfully elegiac book set just before the First World War. The Shooting Party is also by her, and made a very moving film, but I think Statues in a Garden is better.
What question do you wish you were asked but never have been...
There isn’t a question I wish I was asked, but there is a question I always seem to be asked, and that’s which on-screen Austen I prefer. And my answer – as always – is the BBC Persuasion starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. Perfect casting, perfect settings, and a fine attention to period detail that other aspiring moviemakers could learn a lot from. Just perfect.