Many of us feel that we have a book in us, but few get round to putting pen to paper. Victoria Woodhall meets some inspirational late-blooming novelists
Dinah Jefferies The Silk Merchant’s Daughter
Dinah, 67, began writing seven years ago. She has since had three novels published, including a number one bestseller. She has worked as a teacher and an artist, and lives in Gloucestershire with her husband. She has a daughter and two grandchildren.
The motivation My husband Richard and I lost almost all our savings in the financial crash of 2008. We had retired to Andalusia but had to move back to the UK. I had been thinking about writing a novel for some time and thought now would be the time to give it a go. My first didn’t get published, but it did attract an agent. My next book, The Separation, was sold to Penguin.
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The inspiration My 14-year-old son Jamie died in a motorbike accident in 1985. It felt like the end of the world and I draw on the experience of loss in my writing. For The Separation, I relied heavily on my childhood in Malaysia and the shock of how it felt to move to England when I was nine. The themes for all my books reflect my life and include deception, secrets and uncertainty – as well as passion.
The method Once I’d decided to set my next novel, The Tea Planter’s Wife, in Sri Lanka, I read as much as I could about the country. My late mother-in-law was born in India and a conversation sparked the idea for the central story about a heartbreaking decision reflecting the racism of the 1920s.
The life change My life as a writer has been peppered with moments of euphoria (when The Tea Planter’s Wife stayed in the top ten for 15 weeks) and doubts (when I agonise over whether a story will work). Writing has allowed me to travel to Vietnam – where my latest book, The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, is set – Sri Lanka and India for research. Returning to the East felt like going home.
Tip It took me seven years to write a bestseller. I stuck Post-it notes all over my wall saying things I wanted to achieve but phrased as though they had already happened. I had notes that read: ‘I have received a fantastic advance’ and ‘My books are published all over the world’. In my subconscious, I was already there.
Former Blue Peter presenter Janet, 60, is a mother of three (including singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor) and grandmother of four. She landed her debut publishing deal last year.
The motivation I’d always wanted to write a book, but I thought I would have to get up early, write a set number of words a day and lock myself away. Once I got going, though, I fitted it into my life. I felt brave enough to write a story that people might not expect from a former Blue Peter presenter. My heroine is not entirely likable and her actions might shock, but I didn’t feel inhibited as I wrote.
The inspiration The Butcher’s Hook is about a girl called Anne in Georgian London who develops an obsession with a butcher’s apprentice. I kept a teenage diary so Anne’s introspection and selfishness feel very familiar. I remember the way you fall in love when you’re young: fancying someone rotten, regardless of whether they’re the right person in any way.