Edwina says: ‘You could hoover this place for ever and you’d never get rid of us completely.’ Do you think that’s true of old houses; that they somehow absorb the spirit and character of the people that lived there, especially families? Do you have personal experience of this ‘imprint’ effect?
I’m a big fan of houses full stop: I believe they all have a character, a sense of who has lived here and whether they are happy places or not. I was an army child so we lived in army houses, which were resolutely without character in terms of decor, so when I visited non-army homes I was knocked out by all the non-regulation furniture, the different patterned carpets, sofas and curtains. Houses have featured in all my books. I steal them – the house in Moving belonged to my sister twenty years ago; it’s on Kennington Road in south London. I’ve stolen loads of houses: the Victorian house in Manchester where Fern lives is where I lived when I was at drama school. And yes, I believe we all leave a little bit of ourselves behind when we move on: earrings drop between floorboards and arguments are soaked into walls.
Would you agree that there is something almost uniquely British about your story; after all, we are a nation of home-owners unlike any other in the developed world. Does that mean we inevitably find ourselves developing a ‘special relationship’ with humble bricks and mortar?
This is a tricky one to answer, because I can only write from experience, but I think there probably is more of a sense of ‘mine’ when you are a home-owner. That said, I think we Brits enjoy a communal sense of ownership, which is reflected in series such as Downton Abbey. The concept of the family in the big house has always appealed; it can be done in so many ways – think Dynasty! But really, adults are just like big children: we want a story that reminds us a little bit of ourselves. I think what is very British about my novels is that the characters are very much a product of their British backgrounds – even Lucas, who has lived for many years in America, is just a damaged little London prep-school boy at heart.
Most of your student characters are fairly sexually unsophisticated; even the gorgeous (and doomed) Charlie is hardly a master of the carnal arts. Poor Fern can’t even manage her diaphragm properly and ends up pregnant. Again, do you think that’s a rather British characteristic, particularly at uni – neck some booze, switch the lights off and muddle through?
I hadn’t thought of any of them being sexually incompetent. I think Fern knows what she wants and it wasn’t a case of not managing her cap, but being lazy about it. Good sex is quite boring to write – I’d rather someone tripped over their knickers or hadn’t brushed their teeth than it be perfect. Charlie drinks too much and is easily distracted but I imagine is a wonderful kisser, while James is a rubbish kisser but would be a diligent shag. Lucas is too fat to even think about it.
And for your next trick – novel number five…?
Book five is tucked up my sleeve somewhere, like a hankie. I just need to sit in that study and let the characters start talking – they don’t keep quiet for long, and already I can hear murmuring.