Writer’s Block With Joanna Trollope

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author JOANNA TROLLOPE about writing, SECOND MARRIAGES and the HUMAN CONDITION

Photograph by Barker Evans

The incomparable Joanna Trollope is one of Britain’s most popular living authors. Her unique insight into romantic entanglements and family dynamics, not to mention her belting wit, are just some of the reasons why she has sold millions of books worldwide. She has also written ten titles under the pseudonym Caroline Harvey and a study, Britannia’s Daughters: Women of the British Empire (1983).

Some of Joanna’s most recognized works include The Rector’s Wife (1991), Marrying The Mistress (2000), Daughters-in-Law (2011) and City of Friends (2017).

Prior to becoming a full-time writer in 1980, Joanna worked at the Foreign Office (1965-67) and had numerous teaching posts.

Joanna was honoured with an OBE in 1996 and made a trustee of the National Literacy Trust in in 2012. She has chaired the Whitbread and Orange Awards, judged many other literary prizes and been part of two DCMS panels on public libraries. She is a patron of many charities, including Meningitis Now, and Chawton House Library. In 2014 she updated Jane Austen’s timeless classic Sense and Sensibility for the Austen Project.

Her new book, An Unsuitable Match, is her twenty-first novel and about a second chance at happiness later in life. Joanna returns to her roots with her charming depiction of sixty-somethings Rose and Tyler and their two affluent families, with two sets of self-absorbed adult children who struggle to support their whirlwind engagement. An Unsuitable Match is an absolute treat of a tale from start to finish – Trollope fans will no doubt be delighted.

Joanna Trollope lives in London. She is currently writing her next novel.

An Unsuitable Match (€11.99) is published by Pan MacMillan and available from bookshops nationwide.

On home

I live in west London, in a townhouse (useful stairs for keeping fit …) and love the amenity richness of it, as I’m within 10 minutes’ walk of a cinema, two bookshops, a laundry, two supermarkets, a stationer and a public library – perfection. It’s an area of London that’s full of schools, therefore children, and dogs, and council flats, so it isn’t particularly removed in any way. It’s also where I had huge fun when I was growing up, which probably accounts for at least my subconscious choice of the area now.

On roots

I was born in Minchinhampton, in the lovely Cotswolds, and that remained Romantic Home all my childhood. But Real Home, where I grew up and went to school, was between Redhill and Reigate in Surrey, on a – then – empty common next to a defunct windmill. My memories of both towns – one definitely working, one more aspirational – are pretty remote, as if real life didn’t start till after I left. Which I think it didn’t – I wasn’t much good at either childhood or adolescence.

On creating

I use a west facing bedroom as a study, having previously always written on the kitchen tables (warmer…) wherever I happened to live. The room has a computer desk behind the door, and then the opposite end is my writing desk – a big, old fashioned Edwardian desk with drawers. There are books everywhere (some even on shelves) and work related artworks (the title of one novel, for example, in printer’s blocks) and tottering piles of papers and magazines. It looks quite orderly, in a strange way, but I know it isn’t. I so admire those people who know where everything is, in an apparent chaos.

On bookshops

I have affection and admiration for ALL independent bookshops. I think the women and men who run them are not only terrific in themselves. It is relentlessly hard work, but provide a crucial therapy service to their communities, however much they modestly decline to acknowledge it.

On her “To Be Read” pile

It’s not so much a pile as a small mountain, and contains things I have been sent as well as things I have chosen. The variety is enormous, from Jerry Brotton’s This Orient Isle and Sun Tzu’s ancient little The Art of War, through Juliet Gardiner’s Joining the Dots (a must for any woman born before 1950) to a proof of Francesca Segal’s latest novel. Oh, and Helen Dunmore’s posthumously prize winning collection of poems, Inside The Wave – she was a stunning writer and this looks like a very poignant finale.

On escapes

My peace isn’t a place so much as a state of mind, and it’s being alone, with enough time to have some at least, to spare. It certainly wouldn’t suit everyone and doesn’t, I know, but a weekend on my own, thinking – or not thinking! – with walks and reading and drifting about is my idea of restorative bliss.

On high society

Of course, I have been in some outstanding company over the years, but part of the uniqueness of being with remarkable and fascinating people is the privacy of it. So, while I don’t at all blame you for asking such a question, I have no intention of answering it as you propose! All I will say is that I completely concur with one bestselling star who once said to me, “You’d believe all this, wouldn’t you, if it was happening to someone else?”

On second marriages

I wouldn’t dream of offering advice to anyone. We are all so different, with different priorities and hopes and fears, that whatever suits one person might be anathema to the next one. The point of these novels of mine – the ONLY point – is to start the conversation on a difficult or even taboo topic, and that includes a second – or third – marriage when adult children’s opinions are, of course, part of the dilemma.

On the human condition

I am always more than intrigued to discover that something I have noticed is actually a well known psychological syndrome. I might have loved a formal study, but I wonder if scientific study might have restricted the creative in me a bit? I must say that I am very happy doing it amateurishly, the way I do…

On what’s next

Another novel in a couple of years’ time. I can’t/don’t discuss work in progress, but it will concern another modern relationship preoccupation.

@SophieGrenham

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