Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: People ask me this a lot. One friend recently said: “Since you don’t watch much TV, where do you get this stuff from?” While I loved the implication that most novelists just lift stuff off of the tube, I explained that, no, as a writer you’re supposed to invent your own stories. I am never short of story ideas. A news item I read, an anecdote I’m told, or even a conversation I overheard in a pub might grow into a story.
These real stories, however, are just jumping-off points. In the past, I have tried to write “true stories” and found sticking to the facts restrictive. Ironically, my “it-really-happened” stories came across as unbelievable.
Q: Are your characters based on real people?
A: While everyone seems to think so — and convinced that they know them — the answer is no. Sometimes I do incorporate a real person’s experiences, mannerisms or features into a fictional character but it’s never a case of simply trying to recreate a real person. That’s biography, which involves far too much research for my taste.
Q: Where do you write?
A: I like to swim and often come up with story ideas and scenes whilst doing laps. The characters will hold conversations in my head, and I’ll get a sense of what scene should come next. The actual writing, which is about 30 percent creation and 70 percent editing, is done on my laptop, at my desk, in my office. My office has big double doors that are usually open and a balcony that overlooks a tangle of coconut palms and umbrella trees.
Q: When and how did you decide to become a writer?
A: In my late teens I decided that I’d study journalism. This wasn’t a great career choice for me as I’m quite shy and hate to call people I don’t know on the telephone. I spent years editing other writers’ magazine features, and began to write short stories in my spare time. When my agent told me that short story collections are hard to sell, I decided to attempt a novel.
Q: What advice do you have for young people wishing to become writers?
A: I’m not sure that I’d encourage anyone to “become a writer”. It’s a really hard way to make a living. But if you’re desperate to write—and can’t think of any other career that would leave you fulfilled—I’d recommend that you find a job that pays enough to cover the bills yet leaves you with enough time and energy to write daily. Personally, I wouldn’t mind being a mailman.
Q: What qualities do you need to write fiction?
A: A weird, compulsive need to write, first of all, plus a vivid imagination. Determination is vital, as is the self-discipline to write for many hours per day, often without pay or feedback. You need empathy and intuition in order to create emotionally complex characters. And you must be willing to spend a lot of time alone, and have the resilience to keep writing despite rejection after rejection.