How would you describe your writing style?
Escapist, empathetic beach reads with real, relatable characters.
Where and when do you write? Any rituals?
I write in the mornings, taking myself off to a small writer’s room in town where I sequester myself for three or four hours. I need frequent large cups of coffee and spare batteries for the huge noise-cancelling headphones I wear, listening to either classical or ambient music.
Do you have any special traditions when you begin writing a new novel?
A new notebook dedicated to the book! Large, thin enough to slip into my computer case, the very first page always contains notes on the story, before moving on to characters. All my thoughts and notes go into the book, always in longhand, before being typed up on the computer. And it’s usually pink.
You gave up a career in journalism to write fiction. Any regrets?
The only thing I miss is going to work every day with my best friends. I worked on the women’s desk of the Daily Express and we were such a tight knit group, going to work was actually my favorite part of the day.
Once you hit the New York Times bestseller list as an author, is there more pressure on you to continue to write books that hit the list?
The pressure grows and grows…will you make the list, will you be higher than last time, is your career on the upswing or is this the moment it all comes crashing down and everyone realizes you’re actually a load of rubbish. I had tremendous, and instant, success with my early books, and later had a period when things were quieter. It was a humbling, and valuable lesson. Now I tend to focus less on how well the book does, and more on creating the best possible book I can create. If I know I’ve done that, then I’m happy.
Who are your favorite characters from your own novels?
I love Nan from The Beach House – she was incredibly real for me, as were the cast of characters in that novel – I felt like I was spending time with friends throughout the course of writing that book…
Do you have any desire or intention to write sequels to any of your novels?
Over the years I have thought many times of writing about Jemima Jones and where her life has gone. I do have an idea of where she is and what she’s doing, but new story ideas keep getting in the way so I haven’t got round to it yet.
What is the first book you remember reading?
Probably Dick and Jane. I did start reading very young, with my mother teaching me by using flashcards, and as soon as I could read, I was always buried in books.
What effect does being an author have on you as a reader?
I think perhaps I am more aware of the editing process, and the rhythm of words, and I have little patience if either aren’t good.
Are there any books you can read again and again?
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series.
What is your favorite genre?
Right now I’m loving anything with more of a suspense element – I just discovered Lucie Whitehouse, another English author living in the States, and I’ve loved the last two novels I have read by her.
You love to cook. How and when did you learn? Have you had any professional training?
I learned in my mother’s kitchen, perched on a stool and helping out as she cooked, graduating to studying recipes as a teenager, and finally, a few years ago, doing the Part One of a professional chef’s training at the French Culinary Institute in New York. To go back to being a student again at this age, when I have children, and a whole other life, was an enormous privilege – it was exhilarating and huge fun.
What are some of your favorite dishes to cook, those that you return to again and again?
I’m a big fan of comfort food, so anything that can be slow-cooked in one pot is always going to be a win. I make braised lamb shanks and short ribs quite regularly, and an English Victorian breakfast dish called Kedgeree, which is curried rice, salmon and eggs, that we all adore.
Friends are gathering for a summer supper at your home. What’s on the menu?
It depends how energetic I’m feeling. For more elaborate meals I sometimes do a vegetable terrine to start, a steamed sweet and sour fish, a cucumber and dill salad, or for casual suppers often huge platters of deconstructed Salade Nicoises. Dessert is often a very simple Eton Mess which is a classic English dessert: whipped cream, strawberries, crushed-up meringue and a raspberry coulis. Ridiculously easy, delicious, and pretty.
If you could dream up the perfect gathering to host in your home, what would it be?
My birthday dinners are always perfection for me. If the weather’s nice we gather my favorite people and put trestle tables along the stone terrace, underneath the pergola which is dripping wisteria in May. Tiny lights twinkle above, and lanterns hang down. I fill small vases with peonies and lay them down the centre of the table, and we serve Prosecco fizzing with pomegranate seeds. There is nothing that makes me happier than gathering the people I love together at home.
You also have a flair for decorating. How would you describe your decorating style?
Comfortable, cozy elegance, Old England meets France meets New England. All my childhood influences rolled into one, with the most important thing being comfort – I want everyone to walk into the house to not only think it beautiful, but to instantly want to kick off their shoes and curl up on a squashy sofa.
What are some of your favorite treasures in your home and why?
Everything given to me by a parent or Grandparent. I love the mahogany Victorian writing box, that opens to reveal a leather inlaid desk and secret compartments underneath, the dining table and chairs that came from my parents house in London, and the Victorian trunk that was in my bedroom in the South of France when I was a little girl.
What room in your home do you love most and why?
I love the kitchen, because it truly is the heart of the home and where everything happens, but I recently redid my office and now it’s the most incredibly serene retreat – it’s where I steal away to escape the noise and bustle of the kitchen!
When you are not writing, cooking, or entertaining, what are you doing? Any hobbies?
When I’m not cooking, writing, entertaining, being a wife, mother, friend, running a house and the lives of 6 people, there isn’t a tremendous amount of time left over. I do, however, get obsessed with things that I do completely compulsively for a few months before trying something else. A couple of years ago it was candle making, which I still do, then jewelry making, which I don’t.