Feature article

It all started the day the dustbin men came!

An inerview with Veronica Henry

Wednesday 5 November 2014 ~ Romance Matters

Veronica Henry on the train that inspired the book.

RM: When did you know you were going to be a writer?
I was about six, and wrote a story about a hamster who escaped and hid in the rubbish bin. The ominous opening line was ‘It was the day the dustbin men came.’ That was the moment I understood the power of storytelling, and the importance of a beginning that grabs you.

RM: What type of school did you go to?
I was an army brat, and went to eleven different schools – state schools, private schools, boarding school, with three years at school in America. My constant companion was reading, so I think the biggest influence on me was probably that I wasn’t with any one teacher for very long!

RM: What was your first big break as a professional writer?
Getting my first job as production secretary on The Archers – it plunged me straight in. I worked for a wonderful producer, William Smethurst. I learned so much from him, not least that story comes from character, and that a story doesn’t have to be huge to be gripping: it can be about the small things.

RM: What made you turn to novel-writing and how were you ‘discovered’?
I worked as a television scriptwriter for years, but had always wanted to write a novel, so I sat down and wrote fifty thousand words based around a glamorous but dysfunctional family who own a brewery in the Cotswolds. My television agent introduced me to a literary agent, who took me on and worked with me to get a book deal for what is now Honeycote.

RM: How many novels have you written to date?
I’m working on my thirteenth – I’ve written a book a year since my first deal. It takes six to eight months to research and write the first draft, I hand it to my editor, then we polish and hone until it sparkles!

RM: Who are your fave authors?
Dickens for plot and page-turning-ness; HE Bates for description and PG Wodehouse for humour. I’m a big fan of Douglas Kennedy: his novels are always intriguing, original and three dimensional, and he writes women brilliantly.

RM: How do you write? Anytime, anywhere?
I need absolute peace and quiet and no distraction – tricky in an open plan house! I write at the dining table straight onto my laptop – with a wonderful view of the sea, which gives me inspiration. I work out a basic plot, so I know where I am heading – a bit like setting the sat nav – then I start writing and see where the characters take me. There are always surprises en route but I usually end up where I thought I would! Years of writing television taught me the importance of having some sort of structure, but a book allows you to take the scenic route.

RM: Ever had a Eureka moment about your WIP or a novel idea?
Yes... I was looking out of my window at the row of beach huts near my home when I had the idea for The Beach Hut – a collection of interlinked stories. I love those lightbulb moments. You can’t force them, but the tingle when you have one is inspirational. The book emerged almost fully formed, but I suppose there was years of experience underpinning it.

RM: Ever had writer’s block and how do you unblock it?
I often have days when writing seems like wading through treacle, but it’s part of the process as you can’t just create to order – sometimes you have to let your subconscious do the work and you have to give it time and space. If something really isn’t working you have to go with your gut and kill your darlings. Cutting things out is as much of the process as writing.

RM: Do you prefer to read digitally or an actual book?
I have a Kindle for convenience, and love the fact that you can download something on the spot and get stuck in, but I infinitely prefer real books. I love the John Waters quote ‘If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t sleep with them.’

RM: If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to be?
Hmmm – a TV chef or a show-jumper or a divorce lawyer – or maybe all three!
...and we all know, as a writer, you can be any of these, anytime.

RM: Many thanks Ronnie, an absolute pleasure talking to you.

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It's a fact

The movie adaptation of EM Hull's romantic novel The Sheik, published in 1919, established Rudolph Valentino as the top male actor of his time.