ANNA NICHOLAS TALKS TO EDITORJASON MOORE FOLLOWING THE PUBLICATION OF DONKEYS ON MY DOORSTEP, HER LATEST BOOK.
JM. Donkeys on my Doorstep is your fourth book in the series which started with A Lizard in My Luggage. Did you always plan to write a quartet, and what plans do you have for yet more titles?
AN. In truth, I had always envisaged writing a sequel to the first and then I had so many new ideas that I decided to write a quartet. I'm not planning on another at this stage because I have other books on the boil.
JM. How did you first start writing? Was it always an ambition, or did it just happen?
AN. When I was seven I told my mother I would be an author one day and she told me that was all very well but I'd need to experience life first. I took her at her word.
JM: It has taken you only three years to produce the quartet. What is your secret writing skill?
AN. Complete self-discipline and hard work! I am a great self-motivator and like to set myself goals. I don't have a secret writing skill, just determination and a genuine love of the written word.
JM. They say that finding a publisher is the greatest problem for a new writer. How did you find one?
AN. It's a bit of a minefield and it is increasingly difficult to get work published because of the sheer competition. I found a London literary agent first but just as the book came to fruition she defected to New York so I decided to approach a publisher directly. I knew Summersdale's titles and so sent them some chapters from the book. Luckily for me they liked what I wrote.
JM. Are there other writers who have inspired you? Indeed, do you have time to read at all?
AN. Reading is a major pastime and I can't sleep unless I read a few chapters of one of the many tomes by my bedside. No one author has influenced or inspired me but I have of course read many historical titles about Majorca and books by members of the Graves family.
JM: Donkeys on My Doorstep touches on the Spanish Civil War. How did you become interested in this period in Spain's history?
AN. I have read many titles by English authors about this period but what I found puzzling was that very few focused on the Balearics at that time. As fate would decree, I came across an elderly Catalan poet whose love story inspired me to write about the war. I therefore have read titles by the Catalan writer, Josep Massot I Muntaner and Antoni Vicens Castanyer and also Elliot Paul who wrote of his disturbing experiences in Ibiza. William Graves has been a huge source of inspiration and also a local friend and author, Ignacio Recalde.
JM. Did the locals offer you useful information about this period in history?
AN: To be honest, few are left from that time and the relatives are understandably reticent to dwell on the atrocities committed. However many did share their memories with me. My favourite was about the man hidden down a well in our town for the duration of the war. The neighbours would send him down food parcels at night!
JM. Your books are about juggling life in two places, London and Majorca. How has the emphasis changed over time, and since your first book appeared?
AN. All my titles are retrospective and so now, nearly ten years on, my family and I are very settled on the island. It was an interesting transitional period but I am hugely relieved to be out of the rat race of London and able to concentrate on my writing more or less full-time now.
JM. What particular characteristics of your home town in Majorca have played a part in your books?
AN. More than anything the sense of community, the Majorcan language, the customs, fiestas and joie de vivre.
JM: With four books now in print, do you find now that you have a following of loyal readers?
AN. Yes, and I meet many who visit the island for their holidays. Some have become real friends and even attend my launches in London! I even know their extended families. Many readers contact me through my website and are hugely supportive of my writing, which is wonderful.
JM. How do local people who feature in your books regard your writing about them?
AN. At first I was sensitive about mentioning genuine names but locals urged me to give them publicity so I've changed all that! However, I disguise many of the odd balls and felons I write about in London for fear of being sued!
JM. Have your publishers tried to have your books published in Spanish or Catalan?
AN. Yes but it's a tricky business. Translating and distribution is a big cost and so far no one's been willing to make such a hefty investment although countries such as Korea jumped at the chance!
JM. Your next book to be published is something completely different. How did that happen?
AN. My next book is Strictly Off the Record, a humorous memoir about my time working as a Guinness Book of Records adjudicator. It's a tribute to Norris McWhirter, the book's founder, a dear friend and a man I respected hugely. It's published in early September.
JM. And beyond, what other books do you have planned?
AN. I'm backpacking around Eastern Europe in July with my husband, Alan and my son, Ollie, researching Sunflower Sisters, a novel set in 1961. It's loosely based on my mother and eccentric aunts' madcap adventures by car at a time when few women travelled to the Eastern Bloc countries alone. I also have some future fiction titles planned which will be set in Majorca so watch this space!
Donkeys on My Doorstep by Anna Nicholas is published by Summersdale Publishers, and is available from Amazon and all good bookshops. Price £8.99.