Erin Kelly

Erin Kelly

Joining me today is the wonderful Erin Kelly, author of the critically acclaimed The Poison Tree and The Sick Rose. Erin has just completed her third novel, due for publication by Hodder & Stoughton in early 2013, you’ll have to read on to exclusively discover the name of the third book ……

Erin, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Did you get one of those pivotal moments in school or did it come later?

All I did was read as a child – most people’s childhood summers were spent cycling, swimming and playing with their friends. I just remember a succession of books, and can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to create them myself. When I was very young I wanted to be Enid Blyton, and even developed a signature that was shaped a bit like her famous one.

I wrote my first book when I was eight. It was called Stowaway, and was about a foundling called Cotton Porter, who posed as a cabin boy and went to sea on the Mary Rose because she was bored at school. (If I was aware that 16th-Century girls were unlikely to be in full-time primary education, I blithely ignored this fact). It was about ten pages long. I remember enjoying working on it, but I didn’t write another book for 23 years.

What books/authors have most influenced you most and why?

Many of my favourite stories have a similar theme; they deal with people who have a dark episode in their history, sometimes a whole lifetime ago. The narrative usually begins just as the long-buried past is rising up to threaten the future.

A few off the top of my head: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Likeness by Tana French, The Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine and The Go-Between by LP Hartley and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Did you have a preferred soundtrack when writing The Sick Rose?

When I’m actually writing, I wear earplugs. But I do listen to music on the daily long walks or runs that keep me sane when I’m spending all day in front of a screen. For this book, I had to access emotions I had last felt in my late teens and early twenties and, like my protagonists Paul and Louisa, I was always falling in and out of immature but ferociously intense infatuations. So that meant a lot of time with my old Jeff Buckley, Suede, Depeche Mode and Mazzy Star records.

The Sick Rose

The Sick Rose

What do you find the hardest part of writing a novel – research, ideas, characters?

It varies from novel to novel. The big challenge when writing The Sick Rose was making sure that Paul’s story and Louisa’s were evenly balanced, and that their narratives converged at just the right time. I don’t do much research for my books – I did none for my first novel, The Poison Tree – and only read a couple of gardening books for The Sick Rose.

Where did the idea for The Sick Rose come from, past experiences or just a wonderful imagination?!

The biggest inspiration was actually the location of the book, the overgrown historical garden where Louisa and Paul meet. I got the idea from a couple of television documentaries about garden restoration projects (I can lose entire days on the sofa in front of the Blighty channel – it’s a terrible guilty pleasure of mine). One was about the English Heritage restoration of the Elizabethan garden at Kenilworth Castle, and the other was about a similar project down in Cornwall called The Lost Gardens of Heligan. They seemed like such isolated, intense places to live and work, and ideal for people like Paul and Louisa who are both hiding from their respective pasts.

Actually there is one, specific past experience that I drew on when writing The Sick Rose, although I’ll leave it to readers to wonder which scene I’m referring to!

The Sick Rose is driven by three very different characters – Paul, Daniel and Louisa – did you have fun creating them and how long did you spend plotting out their stories? Did you have fun with the characters?

Actually I was very lucky in that all three of them arrived fully-formed, and I was very intimate with them and confident in them from day one. I always knew what they were going to do next, even – especially –when they did something risky, cruel, naive or stupid.

Do you relish the writing procedure or are you prone to distractions?

No, I love it, that’s why I do it. I can lose hours at my desk when I’m in full flow. I’m only really easily distracted when there’s a conflict in the narrative that I can’t seem to resolve. That’s when I turn off the computer and head for a coffee shop with my notebook.

What fictional character would you most like to have been? I always wanted to be D’Artagnan from the musketeers, I could see you as a wonderful M’lady de Winter!!!

I can’t think of a single character in literature whose life I would swap for mine. The characters I have loved best – Antoinette Cosway from The Wide Sargasso Sea, Lucy Snowe from Vilette, Eva Katchadourian from We Need to Talk About Kevin – hardly have covetable lives, however beautiful and fascinating they are to read.

The Poison Tree

The Poison Tree

If you could pack your bags, money no object, and catch the next flight out of London where would the flight take you and why?

I’d quite like to be institutionalised – in the sense of a yoga course or health farm package or writing retreat, rather than a secure hospital. I know it’s not very ambitious, given the generous unlimited budget you have allowed me but somewhere like the Wicklow Mountains or Dingle Peninsular in Ireland appeal at the moment.

Given The Sick Rose is reliant on a horticultural and gardening theme, is Erin Kelly green fingered? A budding (sorry!) gardener perhaps?!

I wish! My garden is a typical London garden; tiny. I can touch both fences at once. When I first moved in I had ambitious ideas about creating a romantic little courtyard but the after the resulting years of tangled, dying plants I gave up and planted it with lavender and purple verbena and buddleia to encourage the bees and butterflies. It’s now low-maintenance and scruffy, which is just about my level.

Following two great books – The Poison Tree and The Sick Rose – can you give us a sneaky peak into the third book and what it will be about?

It’s called The Burning Air. It’s set in Devon on Bonfire Night, and it’s about three generations of a grieving family spending a weekend in a remote holiday home. Tensions grow when the son brings his new girlfriend to stay: no one was expecting her, and as the weekend progresses suspicions grow that she might not be who she says she is. Before the family can confront her, she disappears into thin air, taking the youngest child with her. As the family search desperately for the missing baby, it becomes apparent that many of their past tragedies have a single, terrifying explanation.

Social Media – yes or no?! (or is Twitter taking over your life?!)

Well, I’ve made a couple of genuine, real-life friendships through Twitter. And it’s a lovely, easy way to talk to readers who have enjoyed my books, and to get recommendations for my next read. I use Twitter all the time to get book recommendations from others. I wouldn’t say it’s taking over my life but it is easy to fritter away entire afternoons on the site. The moment when my three-year-old said ‘Mummy, PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE AND LOOK AT ME,’ was a bit of a reality check. Now I only visit once or twice a day, and usually avoid Twitter completely at weekends.

If you could invite three people/characters from the past or present to a dinner party who would you invite and why?

Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and Robert E. Sherwood, because I’m fascinated by New York in the 1920s and 30s. It wouldn’t be a dinner party, it would be lunch, at the Algonquin, of course.

Thanks for joining me today Erin, a delight as always.

If you’d like to learn more about Erin and her books please do visit her Blog, website www.erinkelly.co.uk  or to share your thought on her books why not join Erin on twitter.

You can find my review of The Sick Rose here!

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