Rebecca James is the author of Beautiful Malice. If you haven't read it yet I recommend you do.
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
I can’t remember what I was reading as a small child (if I was reading at all) but the first book I remember really having an impact was a book called The Shape of Three by Lilith Norman. It’s about twins who are separated at birth because of a hospital fire. I just loved it! I’d really like to find a copy of it now so that I can reread it (not sure how it will stand up against an adult reading, though) and also so I can give it to my kids and see if they love it as much as I did.
In my teens I loved a variety of different authors including Ruth Park and VC Andrews and when my parents weren’t looking, Sidney Sheldon.
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
I first started writing fiction in my thirties when I had four young sons. It seems a strange time to take up something new like that, but I found motherhood so intense and demanding that I really craved some kind of creative outlet of my own that had nothing to do with changing nappies or mashing banana. Once I started writing I realised that I enjoyed it, and also that I was quite good at it - I was hooked!
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
I have no problem reading for pleasure at all and I always have a novel or two on the go. I guess most writers can’t help but be a bit critical when they read...but then again, I think I was quite a critical reader before I considered myself a writer. I was always very conscious of whether I thought a novel worked or not, and if not why not.
One thing that has changed in my reading habits (although I’m not sure whether it’s just because I’m getting older or because I now write myself) is that I no longer force myself to finish a book if I’m not enjoying it. There’s just so much out there that I want to read, and I know I’m not ever possibly going to be able to read all of it - there seems very little point in persevering with a book I find boring.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
Hmmm - no, I haven’t yet felt the need to avoid reading a certain type of fiction while I’m writing. I guess I might though if I felt that another book had a premise or element that was very very similar to my own. Fortunately this hasn’t happened to me yet.
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.
I always find the 'influence' part if this question very difficult to answer. I know that I have been influenced but I’m not at all conscious of how or by whom.
I am, however, constantly inspired by the work of other writers! I’m often amazed by the talent and insight that goes into the fiction I’m reading and sometimes it can inspire me to work harder, and yet at other times it can make me despair, and think ‘Oh, what’s the point, I’ll never be as brilliant as that!’
There’s a bit in a Richard Yates book (I’m pretty sure it’s Easter Parade) where a woman is observing her sister. The woman being observed is reading a book and eating at the same time. Yates describes the way she turns the page, licking her finger, leaving crumbs on the corner of the page. I can’t adequately describe it (and I may have the scene all muddled in my head!), but I remember how it struck me at the time as such a magic bit of writing, it really captured this small, domestic scene perfectly, and managed to be both revolting and touching all at once. Writing like that both inspires and humbles me and if I could manage to capture one or two moments like that in my entire writing career I think I’d be satisfied.
(And now that I’ve answered this question I realise I didn’t answer it properly at all. I didn’t even notice the ‘five’ part of it. Sorry Lisa!)
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
If it was the kind of travelling where I would be flying and busy and likely to be tired I would probably take something easy to read and fun, a good thriller or a mystery but nothing too taxing or serious. I find it hard to concentrate when I travel. (Which is probably because I have four kids - either they are travelling with me, in which case I’m busy nagging them and organising, or they are not and I’m missing them and feeling blue.)
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
I don’t think you can single out one element that makes a book 'unputdownable'. It can’t just be a great plot because without good characterisation a great plot can feel completely hollow. I guess it’s a combination of many elements, great plot, believable characterisation and clear writing, that makes a good book 'unputdownable'. But because reading is such a subjective experience what makes these different elements ‘great, believable and good’ is going to vary from reader to reader.
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
I love a lot of different authors and my answer to this question varies depending on what I’ve recently been reading and, ah, how well my (dodgy!) memory is functioning when I’m asked. My favourites, for today at least, include Helen Garner, Anne Tyler, Richard Yates, Lionel Shriver, Roxana Robinson, Sue Miller and Elizabeth Berg.
And why do I love them? Hmm. I think it’s mainly because they all write about the domestic and everyday and they do it beautifully and in a way that is honest and critical of human beings and all our foibles without being superior or smug. There’s a tender understanding of humanity to their writing and while they are all brilliant at dissecting the more shameful side of what it means to be human you never get the sense that they’re sneering at people. I like that.What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
One Day by David Nicholls. I just loved it. It made me laugh and it made me cry and I stayed up late to finish it.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
I certainly hope there’s a future for print books, it would be a real shame, I think, to lose the tangible beauty of paper books. Having said that I’m not afraid of e-technology at all. Obviously there are some big changes taking place in the world of publishing right now and I think these changes are both exciting and inevitable. It can also feel quite frightening, of course, because change is frightening and we don’t know what the future holds. But human beings do insist on evolving and inventing things and making progress and a side effect of that is that we constantly have to learn to adapt. But it’s all good really - who wants things to remain static? How dull would that be?! I think all the new technology is pretty cool and wonderful, it’s good fun and it keeps us all on our toes, and I think it just proves how inventive and exciting and imaginative people are!
Rebecca has worked as a waitress, a kitchen designer, an English teacher in both Indonesia and Japan, a barmaid and (most memorably) a minicab telephone-operator in London.
Find out more about Rebecca here.