British author Rosamund Lupton first caused a stir last summer with U.S. readers when her twisty debut novel, Sister , received rave reviews (including a star from LJ) and became a best seller and a book club favorite. Publishing here this month, her sophomore effort, Afterwards ( LJ 3/1/12),won’t disappoint fans of the first book and will snare new readers on the opening page as a mother races into a burning school to save her daughter. Joining the likes of Jodi Picoult and Kate Atkinson, Lupton mixes top-notch psychological suspense with smart women’s fiction in an exciting way.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I have always written stories. Recently my mother gave me one I’d written when I was five (written with clear enthusiasm but almost totally illegible), and I used to tell my friends stories as we were growing up. It was my dream to be a writer as a full-time career, but it was a long struggle to get there. Then a TV company had a competition for a television play, and mine was selected. A few weeks later, the Royal Court Theatre in London invited me to be one of its workshop writers. From then on, I was asked to write scripts for television and film, before becoming a novelist. I still find it amazing that with just a computer or a pen and paper for materials you can earn a living.
What is your writing schedule like? Do you write in a certain place, at a certain time?
I work from the minute I get back home after dropping my children at school to the time I leave to pick them up again (ignoring the washing up, empty fridge, and any other domestic distractions). With Afterwards, I’d write after everyone had gone to bed, late into the night and at weekends. I would love to have my own study with wide windows onto a peaceful garden, but the reality is a small, cluttered room I share with my husband. I have to close the blinds most of the time to see the screen and have been known to call it the cell. This is where I do my serious word-count kind of writing and when I am writing dialog. But I do take time away from the computer, going to a café with pen and notebook. The hum of people around me stops the panic when there is just a silence in my imagination and helps the ideas flow. When I have a finished manuscript, I read it on the sofa, as if I were reading a real novel, and make notes in longhand.
Sister features a strong sibling relationship and Afterwards a wonderful mother-daughter bond. Do you base these characters on real people?
The bond between the sisters in Sister is based on the closeness between myself and my younger sister. Although the characters aren’t modeled on anyone I know, I couldn’t have written the story without knowing about the bond firsthand. The mother character in Afterwards is far closer to me, although not completely autobiographical. Her feelings toward her family are emotions that I experience personally, and I think they are shared by many women.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? Is there a fear of keeping up with your initial success?
Yes, I do get writer’s block. In contrast to those wonderful days when the words seem to flow, I feel like I’m chiseling at concrete with a feather. I do keep on chiseling, though; writing bad sentences that I will delete later is preferable to writing nothing, and I try to keep faith that soon I will feel inspired and energized again. I had actually finished the first draft of Afterwards before Sister was published. I tend to focus on the story I am writing, rather than the book that I’ve written, but I do worry about a reader being disappointed by a new book.
My favorite responses are when readers tell me they prefer Afterwards.
I love that your novels read as contemporary literary fiction, dealing with many of today’s issues, and yet they also turn into exciting thriller/mysteries. Do you start off planning for the twist, or does it just evolve naturally?
I actually plot obsessively before I start writing the novel, so all twists and turns are mapped out. I find it intellectually challenging and very hard work. It’s the aspect of the novel I dread but know it needs to be done. Once I’ve got my thriller and mystery map, I’m then free to set out and write the novel itself, which is the part I love.‚ Marianne Fitzgerald, Anne Arundel Cty. Sch., Annapolis, MD