I am delighted that ERICA JAMES is joining me on my blog today. Erica's latest book - The Dandelion Years - was published in paperback by Orion on 18 June 2015.
It was a love of reading that triggered the thought that maybe it might be rather fun to tell a story of my own. I was proved right!
Where do your ideas come from?
As with most authors, ideas come from all sorts of places and often in the most unlikely. Occasionally an idea will come to me following a conversation with somebody, it could even be something as simple as a particular word used that could set off a thought process. With The Dandelion Years, it was reading something about Bletchley Park that set me off.
Have your personal experiences influenced your writing? And if so, how?
I think I can only really write about something that has an emotional resonance for me, I need to be able to 'feel' the situation I'm going to write about, it's about empathy. Many times in my novels I've dug down deep to explore and use my own emotions; it's frequently been a very cathartic experience.
I'm a storyteller.
Do you have any strange writing habits?
Oh, where to start! My first novel was published in 1996 and ever since I've written in the same way, printing chapters off as I go along and putting them into a red file - no other colour would do. I have my 'magic' pens and pencils that nobody else is allowed to touch, I drink from 'magic' bone china mugs (again nobody else is allowed to use them) and I have everything set out on my desk in the same way for each book. Basically nothing must change or the magic will leave me.
Do you plot out the whole book before you start or just start writing and see where it leads you?
I've never plotted a book before, I just go where the characters take me. When I started work on The Dandelion Years I had no idea I was going to write Jacob's character in the first person, but suddenly that was how he wanted his story to be told. Who was I to disagree?
What do you consider to be the hardest part of your writing?
Holding my nerve when the doubts kick in, as they always do. I've never written a book that hasn't given me cause to doubt that I'm writing a story people will want to read. I call it the Wobble Factor and there's nothing else for it but to keep going in the hope it will pass.
Do you read? If so, who are your favourite authors?
My reading taste has changed quite a bit over the years and I find that I'm reading more and more books written by men. Daniel Silva is a thriller writer I've recently discovered, but my favourite book of the year so far, and a book I'd been meaning to read for a very long time, is E.F. Benson's Mapp & Lucia. The wait was worth it; it's a gloriously funny novel.
Your latest book The Dandelion Years prompted me to visit Bletchley Park (the day after I finished your book, in fact). What's the most interesting place that you have visited for your books? And what's the strangest?
I suppose Venice and Lake Como are at the top end of the spectrum when it comes to the most interesting places to visit for my novels, but strangest… well, I can't think of anything that fits that particular bill.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would be the title?
'She Could Have Done Better'
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Never ever rubbish a book you've just read and claim you can do better. Nothing annoys me more than hearing the kind of arrogance from aspiring authors.
And lastly, why should people read The Dandelion Years?
Oh lawks, I'm a hopeless self-promoter, so practically the latest person to urge anyone to read anything I've written. But if you had a gun to my head, I'd say The Dandelion Years is a bargain with two stories for the price of one - Saskia's story as a book restorer in contemporary Suffolk, and Jacob's story set during WWII at Bletchley Park. How does that sound?
About Erica James
With an insatiable appetite for other people's business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother's compulsion. The author of many bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight, which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and her recent Sunday Times top ten bestsellers, Summer at the Lake and the The Dandelion Years, Erica now divides her time between Suffolk and Lake Como in Italy, where she strikes up conversation with unsuspecting Italians.
Find Erica James on her website and follow Erica on Twitter - @TheEricaJames
The Dandelion Years
Published in paperback by Orion (18 June 2015)
Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had every seen as a little girl. A rambling pink cottage on the edge of the Suffolk village of Melbury Green, its enchanting garden provided a fairy-tale playground of seclusion, a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood.
Now as an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to the broken, battered books that find their way to her, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages. When she discovers a notebook carefully concealed in an old Bible - and realising someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own - Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love...
The Dandelion Years is one of my favourite books of 2015 so far. Click here to read my review.