Linda McLaughlan worked in the field of film and television production in her native New Zealand and in the UK before branching out into writing. A keen globetrotter, Linda met her illustrator husband Sam on a backpacking excursion around Asia. The couple eventually set up home in the English countryside and it was in farm life that Linda found her creative Mecca. The fruit of those labours is her delicious debut novel, Chasing Charlie. A quick witted and engrossing tale of hot romantic pursuit, the story is set against the backdrop of buzzing London. Since the book’s release earlier this year, Chasing Charlie has proved compulsive reading, gathering an impressive online following.
Linda McLaughlan lives in Hampshire with her husband and their children Frankie (9) and Billy (7).
I am from Hawkes Bay, on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, known to kiwis as ‘The Fruit Bowl of New Zealand.’ I grew up in a town surrounded by orchards growing apples, plums, nectarines, peaches, apricots and much more. Not unsurprisingly, I eat a lot of fruit still. Many of our best wines are also grown there. Whenever I am not in Hawkes Bay, I miss my family of course, but also the big open skies above my head, the way I have always felt people’s doors are open, and the great Tukituki river that wends its way across a wide shingle bed, and makes up half of my blood in my veins.
McLaughlan is my married name – and is Scots, but my maiden name is Keown, which is Northern Irish. My great-great-great grandfather (I think that’s enough greats) left Belfast in the 1860s as one of many searching a new life in the wild unknown that was New Zealand and made a life there. I am yet to track down my roots in Northern Ireland, but would dearly love to do so one day.
I have had the pleasure of living on the South Downs fifteen minutes outside of Winchester for almost eight years, so we can be near my husband’s family. We also moved here because we were very keen on having some time in the countryside, and it can’t get more country than here. At night, the only sound we can hear are owls, and some days more horses pass than cars. Wonderfully untidy hedges border our lane, which sets our extremely wild garden off perfectly. We are lucky to have a great village shop at West Meon, not too far away. It is sadly struggling to stay alive with the competition of a busy mini-supermarket down the road, but has the community behind it trying to keep it open. When we go out, it is almost always to one of our favourite pubs, that include the pub known locally as The Pub with No Name in Froxfield, the Thomas Lord in West Meon or the Flower Pots in Cheriton.
I get one blissful day a week when I get to work at home, but most of the time I work in my car. During the week, I get to my workplace (an arts college) as early as I can, walk around the car and pop myself into my ‘office’ – known to most people as the passenger seat – open up my laptop and get cracking. I deliberately park with my car pointed into a hedge. It is a large car park, and in the half hour before lectures start, there is steady stream of students (and lecturers rushing in with over-sized bags) crunching over the mud and gravel and parking badly. With my nose in the hedge, I can ignore the people arriving most of the time. Even if I only have ten minutes to spare before I have to start work, I write. Anything.
On weekends when I can carve out an hour or two from the job list at home, I drive to a car park on top of a hill on the South Downs, underneath a cluster of friendly oaks. Occasionally, the silence is broken by ramblers or horses. There is green all around me, and I find it a really restful place to work. OK, so in winter I’m in a puffa and have a blanket over my legs, but at least it’s quiet!
My favourite bookstore local to me is One Tree Books in Petersfield. The staff are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. I always feel in safe hands when I am there, and can be guaranteed excellent advice when buying for friends and family.
On inspirational artists
If there was one artist’s work I would have been very happy to have created, it would be Matisse’s paintings. I love the joy in his work, his dancing lines, his use of colour. Throughout my twenties, I lived with a dog-eared print of Woman in a Purple Coat blu-tacked to the various houses I lived in through this time, and channelled the sass in that painting into my life. In terms of books – the person who got me really keen on writing would most definitely be Katherine Mansfield. Very few people write with as much economy and style as her. I am a completely different kind of writer, and nowhere in her league, but so often throughout my life, and particularly in my writing life, I can hear Else’s soft voice, saying, ‘I seen the little lamp’, and it spurs me on.
One of the places I have visited that resonated most to me was Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz people are not only warm and hospitable, but also have great genes and a wicked sartorial style that I immediately wished I’d known about sooner, and could emulate myself. The men quite often have chiseled cheekbones and ride horses as nonchalantly as if they were just walking along the road, dressed in pin striped suits and wearing tall black and white hand-felted hats. The women wear really loud prints. I would highly recommend traveling around the edge of Lake Issyk Kul, grab some dried or smoked sardines on the beach, wash it down with some vodka and sit back and enjoy watching Russian holiday makers wrestle in the sand.
I have worked as a producer and production manager on all sorts of weird and wonderful films, the majority of them documentaries produced in New Zealand. More recently, alongside writing, I have been mentoring undergraduate students at an arts college in England, as they learn their craft by making films. It has been really rewarding going into the educating side of the film and television industry. I imagine I will have my toes in the industry for a good while yet, it is too stimulating to leave behind completely.
On what’s next
We have some big changes and adventures to look forward to. My family and myself are returning to live in New Zealand. On the way we are going to volunteer in Fiji for three months, as ‘WWOOFers’ – Willing Workers on Organic Farms. I’m not sure how willing the children will be at working in folks’ gardens and farms, but I do know we will all learn loads about each other and ourselves and have lots of great experiences to take into our lives.
Chasing Charlie (€9.29) is published by Black & White and currently available from Amazon.co.uk as well as digital format nationwide.
Image by Charlotte Anderson
Sophie Grenham @SophieGrenham
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