Rosie Thomas talks about how life moves on in spite of us.
1. Can you tell us about your latest novel Lovers and Newcomers?
It’s not my latest, in fact. That would be Daughter of the House. Lovers & Newcomers was written five or six years back, but it is only now being published for the US market. I’m really proud and pleased that Overlook Press is making it available for your readers – it’s one of my favourites of all my titles. The book is about a group of old college friends, once glamorous young things who now – to their outrage – find that they are no longer either of those things. Over the intervening years they have drifted apart, but now time and circumstances draw them together again. They gather round one of their number, the widowed Miranda, who lives in a lovely but faded and over-large house in the depths of the English countryside. And then the big idea is born: why don’t they all move back and share their lives, as they did at the outset of their lives?
2. Where did you get the inspiration for the novel?
From a variety of personal concerns and recent experiences. Like many others, when we were young my circle of friends and I fantasised about spending our last years together in some idyllic commune. I also observed how, as people age, they don’t change so much as become more emphatic versions of themselves. Their most dominant character traits become ever more pronounced, the argumentative types becoming more quarrelsome and the peacemakers working harder than ever. Putting these two half-notions together became a whole idea – as often happens with my fiction. There was scope for a lot of interesting present strife and revelation of past secrets!
3. What was the hardest part of the book to write?
There are two age groups in the story, parents and children. I was concerned to make the young sound convincingly different from the older generation as well as behave their age – but without overegging it, which would just have been annoying. I spent some time eavesdropping on my 20-something children and checking out their blogs and Facebook pages. With their permission, of course…
4. Can you pick one of the secondary characters in the novel and tell us a bit more about him/her?
Lovers & Newcomers is an ensemble piece, in which Miranda and Selwyn are the most prominent characters. Miranda has a first-person as well as a third-person voice, which was interesting to do. I wonder if readers thought this worked? The character I probably felt the most sympathy for is Katherine, the oppressed wife of high-powered lawyer Amos. At the beginning of the book she is unhappy and overpowered, but although the narrative light never shines fully on her, gradually and – I hope – subtly she extricates herself from the predicament of her marriage and finds a way to assert herself. She is never going to be a leader or an innovator, but by the end I felt a good deal of affection for her.
5. What are you most proud of about the book?
Difficult! Probably the research I undertook to get the archaeological facts and details just right. (An important strand of the narrative concerns a significant Bronze Age find on land belonging to the manor house.) I spent some time on a dig with the Museum of London Archaeological Services team, and also with their findings and restoration departments. It was fascinating, and it would have been all too easy to get side-tracked and never write the book at all.
6. When did you decide to write and what prompted you to start?
I decided to write after my first baby was born. I had been intending to go straight back to my London job as a publisher’s editor, but when the time came I found that I just couldn’t walk out of the house and leave him behind. But we were hard up and I needed to earn some money. The obvious choice was to write a novel – which seems a decision of staggering chutzpah in these days of writing courses and Masters in creative writing. However, I was lucky and the book that emerged was published. It’s a long time ago – that baby is now MD of a publishing company.
7. What is a great book you’ve read recently that you would recommend to others?
I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout earlier this year. It’s wonderful, with not a superfluous word or a fogged detail.
8. What is one thing about you your readers would be surprised to know?
I love wild camping. The further from civilisation the happier I feel and the more deeply I sleep.
9. What’s next for you?
I have just come back from a wonderful trip to Peru. I intend to go back there and to take in Bolivia and Ecuador as well. (There may be some wishful thinking here, alas.)
Miranda Meadowe decides a lonely widowhood in her crumbling country house is not for her. Reviving a university dream, she invites five of her oldest friends to come and join her to live, and to stave off the prospect of old age. All have their own reasons for accepting.
To begin with, omens are good. They laugh, dance, drink and behave badly, as they cling to the heritage they thought was theirs for ever: power, health, stability. They are the baby boomers; the world is theirs to change. But as old attractions resurface alongside new tensions, they discover that the clock can’t be put back.
When building work reveals an Iron Age burial site of a tribal queen, the outside world descends on their idyllic retreat, and the isolation of the group is breached. Now the past is revealed; and the future that beckons is very different from the one they imagined.
Rosie Thomas is the author of novels including the bestsellers The Kashmir Shawl, Iris and Ruby and Constance. Once she was established as a writer and her children were grown, she discovered a love of travelling and mountaineering. She has climbed in the Alps and the Himalayas, competed in the Peking to Paris car rally, spent time on a tiny Bulgarian research station in Antarctica and travelled the silk road through Asia. She lives in London.