What is the first book you remember that made you really feel something?
It was probably Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. I had a story book version when I was a very small child and I remember crying my eyes out over it. That seems to have been a pattern, because I also cried buckets a couple of years later when I read Black Beauty – the scene where he sees poor Ginger dead on the cart? Floods of tears over that.
What are you currently reading, or planning to read?
Ah, currently that would be Gin, Glorious Gin by Olivia Williams. Highly entertaining look at the history of gin. It’s enough to make me want a gin and tonic if it wasn’t so damn cold here at the moment. After that I have Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk on my pile and the latest Jayne Anne Krentz is out at the end of the month. Although I think after reading H is for Hawk I may have to find a copy and re-read TH White’s The Goshawk. Then I have a couple of Peter Temples waiting for me. By then the next Cormoran Strike murder should be available and Ben Aaronovitch will have a new Peter Grant book out later this year. The list goes on. I’m insatiable.
What’s the one book you can’t live without?
LOL! There are any number of those on my shelves. This is one of those trick questions and the answer tends to depend on my mood. I’m not sure I believe in the so-called Desert Island list. You know, if you could only take ten books to a desert island, what would they be? I suppose The Lord of the Rings would be in there, but it’s not the only book I couldn’t live without. The truth is that I’m addicted. There are books everywhere around here. The only thing saving the house from being totally consumed by them is my Kindle.
Which book would you have liked to have written?
Oh, there are lots of those, too. Right now though, the answer would be the one I’m writing. Because then I could get to the other stories burning a hole in my brain.
Do you have a favourite literary hero/heroine?
I’m very fond of Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse, mainly because she’s so imperfect. She makes mistakes, serious mistakes, that hurt other people and yet somehow she manages to get it all right in the end. I also like Stella Gibbon’s Flora Poste in Cold Comfort Farm. Apart from being highly intelligent and manipulative in a benign way, she sums up her ambitions as wanting to write a novel as good as Persuasion. Note she doesn’t say she wishes she had written Persuasion, just a novel that good.
Are you working on another novel at the moment?
Of course. It’s a follow up to the book I have coming out next January. Quite unintended, but this extra character I knew nothing about when I started writing popped up halfway through and wouldn’t go away. Since I liked him and was curious about him I figured my readers might feel the same way.
Are there any writers, present or past that really inspire you?
Writers tend to inspire me, period. Just knowing that there are other outwardly normal humans out there with stories and people buzzing around in their heads? That reassures me that I’m probably not barking mad after all.
What prompted you to become a writer – did you write as a child?
Oh, yeah. I certainly did. My childhood and adolescence is littered with ambitious opening chapters that mirrored my reading taste of the time. Attempts at children’s adventure stories (Enid Blyton much, anyone?), fantasy epics (that was after I read The Lord of the Rings and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising). Oddly enough I never tried my hand at dragons after reading Anne McCaffrey. Even more peculiar is the simple fact that although I fell in love with Georgette Heyer in my early teens I didn’t have a shot at writing a romance until I was in my thirties.
What is your favourite time of day for writing and why?
Anytime there’s no one else around, or they’re all asleep. If the boys or my husband are home and awake I find it distracting, even if they don’t directly disturb me. Then I sneak off and go to the library or a café with decent coffee.
Is there an issue or plotline you haven’t tackled in a book yet, but would like to?
That’s sort of tricky. I rarely know a great deal about the story itself until I start writing and that’s how I get to know the characters. By writing them. So if I were to start a story with preconceived notions of what I wanted to write about, I’d probably get stuck and not write anything. I tried it once after a particularly angsty book. I thought a fluffy romantic comedy would be nice change. Apparently not. After I stopped trying to tell my characters what to do and let them tell the story it worked. It also turned out to be just as angsty as the previous book. After that experience I make sure I go in without any pre-conceived notions. I have to let the characters tell me what their story is about and what their conflicts are not superimpose them by deciding in advance that I want to write a book about a particular issue. For me that way lies writer’s block.
What real life characters, if any, have interested or inspired you?
Oh, lots. But over the past couple of years I’ve become quite interested in the 18th century politician Charles James Fox. I read a couple of very early biographies and if they mentioned his mistress, and eventual wife, Elizabeth Armistead at all, it was to dismiss her or bemoan that she was the ruin of Fox. Then I read a very brief biography of Elizabeth and another picture emerged. That of a woman at the top of her profession (yes, she was a courtesan and very wealthy) who committed the folly of falling in love with a man who had already gambled away a massive fortune, and gave it all up to live with him quietly in the country. Years later when Fox’s friends arranged for him to repair his fortunes by marrying a banking heiress he decided to marry Elizabeth instead. His letters to her at the time are simply beautiful. He was horrified to think that she had believed he would set her aside to marry Miss Coutts. When I needed a slightly unconventional godfather for the hero of my upcoming book Fox filled the part to perfection and Elizabeth became a sort of fairy godmother.
Is there a message you want readers to take from your books?
I think it’s important for readers to take from your books whatever it is they need to take. I’ve noticed over the years that what I read in a book is very often not what another reader finds. Naturally I’m quite sure that I’m right, but it does make me wary about having a message for readers. To be honest, I’m not really writing for them. I’m writing for myself because it’s probably the only way of remaining sane. I suppose, since I write romances, that at bottom I believe love should be important, but to be important it also has to be honest.
What’s is the magic secret ingredient to a good book?
I seriously doubt that there is only one. Strong characters, a good plot, great writing? Those aren’t exactly a secret, but I think the definition of them varies from reader to reader. One reader’s favourite author will be another reader’s wallbanger. My younger son loves blueberries. I quite like them, my husband dislikes them, and one of our friends is seriously allergic to them. It’s not so much a problem with the blueberries, just that we all have different reactions to the same thing. Books aren’t that much different.
Elizabeth Rolls lives in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia with her husband and two soccer mad sons. She is within easy reach of numerous wineries and good coffee and has enough room for three of what her father called “five acre dogs,” four chickens, several alpacas and one sheep. She has the usual female weaknesses for shoes and jackets but compounds these frailties with a fondness for antique tea cups, tea caddies and really, tea-anything. The president of the local soccer club is very proud of the fact that theirs is the only club in the league with a romantic novelist as secretary. This worries Elizabeth more than a little because she thinks it’s only a matter of time before someone realises that there’s probably a very good reason for that.