Describe yourself in a sentence.
This is such a hard thing to do, so maybe I should quote my Twitter bio: writer, reader, momma, lawyer.
Describe your ideal reader.
Really, anyone who will read my books.
More seriously, my books are for people who like a good story that is not heavy or too literary. The label that I like best for my work is “Book Club Reads”. My books are always about the part of life that happens after “happily ever after”.
Tell us about the originating moment of the book, that wait at the park.
It’s hard to talk about the moment I had the idea without giving away the climax of the book — but like most good book ideas it happened in a real-life moment, with a friend in a park, where I thought “what if …”. For me, all the best stories are found at the other end of that question.
How important to the book were your own significant friendships with women?
I think women’s friendships are so important, especially when you have small children and you feel very unsure and alone. Being able to speak honestly with another mother about how hard parenting is can be the thing that saves you. I feel so strongly that women need to be honest with each other about the often rather horrific reality of motherhood.
Of course, the question the book poses is what happens when that sharing goes wrong? Luckily for me, it’s never gone quite as wrong for me as it does for my characters.
Describe the process of writing. How long did it take?
I have kids and a day job, so I’m not a fast writer. I try to write 500 words a day, but that only happens when I am really “into” it. With The Park it also got complicated, because I basically sat on it for a year after I finished for various reasons. So theoretically, I can write a book in about eight months. The reality is closer to a year to 18 months.
I am also a very private writer — I learnt the hard way that if I tell the story before I am almost finished, then I lose the need to write it down. So nobody reads my work, or knows what I am writing about, until I am close enough to the end that I know I will finish regardless.
And then, of course, you start the journey to publication, which involves a lot of editing and tweaking — I actually love that part of it, when eyes other than my own are finally looking at my work.
Name some writers who have inspired you and tell us briefly why or how.
There are so many — I am always amazed by people who can trot out a list of “top books” or “top writers”. So let me look at very specific inspirations with this book.
Liane Moriarty is an Australian writer of books similar to mine, with a similar subtle sense of place, who has made it big internationally, so that is very inspiring. Reading Lisa Jewell reminded me that happy endings are actually rather nice. One of the structural things I did was inspired by a similar device used by the magnificent author, Chris Bohjalian. South African writers, Pamela Power and Casey B Dolan, did a #writersgym thing with me on Twitter, where we checked in with each other, and kept each other going.
And all the amazing, readable books coming out of South Africa — far too many to name — but it is a very inspiring time to be part of the South African writing scene. If the last South African book you read was some heavy, angsty setwork, then I beg you to revisit South African writing — the fiction coming out of South Africa right now is so fabulous and fun.
Do you write by hand or use a typewriter or computer?
A computer! I am far, far too lazy to use any other method.
I’m not convinced I could have been a writer in the precomputer era. In fact, the reason that I originally became a lawyer rather than a writer was that my father scared me off writing by telling me how it would involve rewriting things again and again. Being a lawyer sounded much easier.
That said, I do usually have a notebook, of which two pages are devoted to scrawled notes about the plot, characters and timeline. I am very good at changing characters’ names mid-story and naming characters the same name. So now I try to keep notes of that. I also sometimes have random moments of genius-type inspiration that I hurriedly jot down in the nearest notebook, or on a piece of paper. I inevitably lose these. Inevitably.
What is the purpose of fiction?
I think it probably has lots of lofty and admirable purposes, but for me personally — I read to escape. I love it if I also learn a bit about something or somewhere new but not if it feels like that was the author’s whole point. I think fiction is there to take us out of ourselves, to take us to another reality — or not a reality — and to expand our mental landscapes.
What is your favourite reading matter?
I mostly like the type of book I write — novels about real life and not romance. I enjoy literary fiction but up to a point; if it gets too self-consciously clever, it loses me. I haven’t been able to finish a Man Booker winner for years.
I also like a touch of magic realism and I’d love to one day venture into that genre.
I read a lot — in a slow month, I read at least eight books — so that allows me quite some variety. As I write this, I am reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith, which I am absolutely loving.