‘It does occur to me occasionally that making yourself cry as part of your working day is a strange way to earn a living. But my books usually have at least one big emotional moment, and over the course of nine books I’ve learned that if I don’t cry while writing them, I can’t expect the reader to cry while reading them. It’s a point of honour that I once made my editor sob so hard, her colleagues thought there must have been a family tragedy.
‘It takes me a year to write a book, and I treat it as a proper job. I rent a tiny office near my home, and most days I write there during school hours, aiming for 1,000 words a day. It is spartan, and the walls are plastered with newspaper pages from the period I am writing about. My office neighbours are quite used to seeing me red-eyed or cackling with glee.
‘I don’t wait for a muse; 10 years in newspaper journalism – and the time constraints of three children – taught me to write anywhere. I have written love scenes on packed trains, sudden deaths in noisy cafés. When it’s going well you become a conduit for the words, the characters start acting independently; it’s like no job on Earth. When it’s going badly, which is far more common, it is a daily test of confidence and will. I try to write through it. I firmly believe that anybody with writer’s block hasn’t done enough crummy jobs.
‘The internet is a writer’s best friend and worst enemy. Twitter is a dangerous timesuck, but also an antidote to the job’s inherent loneliness. And it’s an immediate way to get feedback from readers. My latest novel has been selling partly via word of mouth on there, and it’s incredible to be able to witness people buying it, reading it – and, yes, weeping – in real time.’
The Last Letter From Your Lover is published by Hodder and Stoughton.