Interview by Carl Marsh - May 2015
you have just been announced on the shortlist for The Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize 2015, and you are the only one of the six not to have been shortlisted before. Congratulations!
Thanks Carl, it’s really exciting. And I get to meet the other authors, so it’s like my bookshelves have just jumped to life.
Your debut novel is called The Bees, what made you write such a story?
A beekeeper friend died far too young, and though I’d never been particularly interested in bees, I started to read about them because she loved hers so much. And very quickly I realised that there is a world of drama and stories behind the walls of the hive, and my imagination flared up like never before. I knew I had a book when I found out about the laying worker, that one in ten thousand sterile female bees, who suddenly, and for no known reason, start forming eggs in their bodies and become fertile – the sole role of the queen of the colony. From this biological anomaly, came all sorts of dramatic ideas – but nothing stranger than the truth.
And what makes this book stand out, so that anyone reading this, who have not read the book, will go and obtain a copy?
Well it’s been called a thriller set in a beehive, a Cinderella story, an adventure yarn, a political allegory – but the most constant comment I’ve had from readers is “I’ll never look at bee the same way again.”
Are you much of a bee person, with plenty of hives at home?
I think I have to call myself a bee person now, the bees have been so good to me, and I must return the debt, with interest. I don’t keep bees myself at the moment, though I can imagine a time when I will – but I feel a very real responsibility to help raise awareness of the plight of pollinators, and writing this book has made me much more environmentally aware, and active.
I recall you telling me you are writing a new novel, what will it be about, and when can we expect it released?
I’m still in the research phase – it’s a big book and I need to educate myself in order to write it well – so 2017 on the shelves.
Can you offer any advice to anyone considering writing a book, or is struggling at the moment?
I’ll turn to Goethe for a quote, ‘Do not hurry, do not rest.’ I think above all, if you really feel the compulsion to write, then you must be friends with your true self, and trust yourself. Because only then will you have the confidence to tell a story that is grounded in conviction. Also, don’t give up. I wrote The Bees age 48, in complete obscurity. It can happen.
Being a writer, you obviously will read and have read a lot of books; which ones stuck out for you, and why are they your favourites?
You cannot ignore The Canterbury Tales, as a comic catalogue of human nature – not a lot changes. And Chaucer’s storytelling ability is an education to a writer. I also love PG Wodehouse, and I would not be the writer I am today, without the great Margaret Atwood.
Why should people read more books?
Mischievously, I’m going to say people should indulge their love of story in any and every form that takes their fancy – and if they love the form of the book, then they should buy from indie bookstores so that we keep those open, and they – we! – should read as much as gives us pleasure and no more. A good book will automatically lead to searching for another.
Last question: If you were an animal, what would it be, and why?
A blue whale, hidden away in the vast ocean, never coming anywhere near humans. And I would then understand that experience – and keep it to myself.