Between Sisters is a little bit mysterious – it starts with a nearly forty-something mother-of-two going to work and staring at older women, the way she always does, because she wonders which of them might be her mother. Her mother – and her little sister, Coco’s mum – left when they were small children and has never returned. This secret – why did she leave? – is at the heart of the book. The girls were brought up by their grandmother, Pearl, who lives in pretty Delaney Gardens and is a huge presence in the women’s lives. But she knows her granddaughters are not entirely happy. Coco is commitment-phobic, a throw back to her childhood because she can’t trust people – because people leave. Cassie is afraid of never coming first and she sees that she never does with her husband.
Then a tragedy occurs and things change, new people come into their lives and they have a chance to solve the mystery….. where did their mother go? And would she like to see them now?
What inspired you to write about two adult sisters wanting to re-connect with their absent mother who walked out on them when they were young?
I was half-way through It Started With Paris and I had two sisters who are not exactly estranged but like – and a selfish man – had come between them. They’d once been close but this closeness had gone. Leila’s allegedly-fabulous husband had kept her from her family and then he’d run off, but when she was with him, she didn’t see much of her mother or her single-mum sister, Susi.
I began to think about writing a book with the opposite dynamic: sisters who are incredibly close. Cassie and Coco are closer than many sisters because their mother left them when they were small. Cassie was seven and Coco was one when this happened. Coco relies hugely on her older sister, even though they’re loved and adored by their granny, Pearl. But that closeness remains – I think that the loss of their mother when they were young, makes them cling to each other. And it also makes them think that important people in your life can leave, which is vital to the story in that Coco has a broken engagement and Cassie is worried about her marriage
Between Sisters features some great characters, who did you have most fun creating, Cassie, Coco or Pearl?
Coco was a joy to write because she was so sparky, had so much fun with her best friend, Jo and Jo’s adorable nine-year-old daughter, Fiona – and also because she ran a vintage shop. I love vintage clothes and know a bit about it but don’t really wear vintage because I look like I am in a play. Cassie was harder because she is this lovely woman who has what looks like the perfect marriage but it’s not and that dynamic is always harder to write. Pearl was a joy to write as she’s this wonderfully enlightened lady in her late seventies, who has a youthful soul, a dear male friend, and huge love in her heart. Also, she has a pug, Daisy. Who can’t like writing about pugs?
When thinking about ideas for your novels, which comes first the characters or the plot?
Tricky thing to answer, this. It’s different for every book. With Between Sisters, the two sisters came first. THEN I had to figure out what would make them so close, so I spent ages dreaming up plots for them. But sometimes, the plot comes first. That’s what I love about writing: nothing ever works the same every time.
How soon after completing one novel is it before you start planning the next? Do you give yourself a well deserved break first?
I plan the next one when I’m writing the current one – I am obsessive and am also scared of being left with nothing to write. I do have a break but mainly to answer the emails I forgot, see people I haven’t set eyes on for most of the year and actually tidy bits of the house because I haven’t set eyes on my good high heels for ages….. Because I write a book a year and have books published in many countries and languages, someone always wants me to write a piece or a story, so there is never a time when I can close my study door and throw away the key.
I am writing a new book….very exciting. But at am that point when I am fiddling with the plot like mad and chipping away at the characters and getting cross with myself for being an idiot. This process takes ages and requires lots of chocolate biscuits.
What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
I love writing advice and take all the help I can get but years and years ago, I was told that you must literally get ‘your bum on the seat’ and that a vital part of storytelling is to ‘show not tell.’
What would you say is the hardest thing about writing?
Not deleting everything because so often, you stare at the page you’ve spent two hours working on and you decide it is hopeless. Also, getting yourself to sit down at your desk is tough when you work from home. Delaying the moment when you have to face what you think you did badly yesterday is a big thing for authors!
If you could write in a collaboration with another author, who would you like to write with?
Gosh, brilliant question! My mother and I once tried to write a book when I was nineteen and in journalism college. It was a hilarious experiment in how not to do things. I’d go to college and she’d write longhand, which I was later supposed to transcribe on my second-hand golfball typewriter (look in history on Google for pic…) and add vital details. (She’d write: Heroine goes into room – describe room!) It SO didn’t work. I have enormous admiration for people who can write books together but I have utterly no idea how they do it because I failed dreadfully at it!
Do you treat yourself to something nice to celebrate the publication of your novels?
I have bought myself things on occasions but it’s not a rule. Once, on tour in Amsterdam, I bought myself a necklace (I am a jewellery maniac, generally costume jewellery that looks either ethnic or historical) and this was gold-ish cross with little green stones and looked as if a 15th century Spanish infanta would have worn it around her neck with a black velvet ribbon.
Finally have you anything exciting planned for publication day?
Sometimes, I do throw away the key to the study – well, have no key, really, but mentally throw it away – and have relaxing day and we might all go out to dinner. But this time, I’m going to be in London having a lovely time and the night before, I am meeting lots of lovely book bloggers on the evening before publication date!! So party time!
(And I've been lucky enough to have been invited so it will be lovely to meet you in person Cathy)
Cassie has spent her married life doing everything right - making sure her children have the perfect life, being a devoted wife and a dutiful daughter-in-law. Although it's left her so exhausted that 'wine o'clock' comes a little earlier each afternoon . . .
Her sister Coco runs a vintage dress shop and has shied away from commitment over the years. Coco believes men complicate things, and she's got enough to contend with. Until a face from her past returns.
Watching over them is grandmother Pearl, tucked away in her little house in Delaney Square. But something is keeping her awake at night. Was she right to do what she did all those years ago?
And then there's Elsa, the polished face of daytime TV, who's battled demons of her own in the past and come out on top. Now Elsa faces one final fight - but it will require more bravery than anything which has come before.