Advanced search

This topic is for Q&As arranged by MNHQ. If you have questions about the site and how it runs, please do post in Site Stuff topic. If want to know about Q&A opportunities, please mail

Q&A with author Joanna Trollope. Send a Question and enter a draw to win one of ten copies of her latest book The Soldier's Wife - ANSWERS BACK

(46 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 31-Jan-13 10:28:16

Author Joanna Trollope is going to be taking your questions this week. Her latest book, The Soldier's Wife has been described as 'an absorbing look at the modern military wife' and 'a cracking read...thoroughly researched, compassionate, humourous and topical.'

Joanna has been writing for over thirty years, first as a historical novelist and more recently as a writer of contemporary fiction, including The Choir, Daughters-In-Law and The Rector's Wife. She was appointed OBE in 1996 and was Chair of Judges for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012.

Send a question to Joanna before the end of Tuesday 5th February and you'll be entered into a draw to win one of ten copies of The Solder's Wife. We'll post up Joanna's answers on 12th February.

Lomaamina Sat 20-Apr-13 14:55:33

Well, I finally sat down to read 'The Soldier's Wife' and found it to be a great, absorbing read. There is something so emotionally true about Joanna Trollope's writing. Even though I'm not familiar with this world (other than the snippets of understanding gleaned from watching Gareth Malone's military wives choir series) Trollope is essentially dealing with the dilemma of the modern woman: career or family? You really cannot have it all. Of course the added challenge of being married to a soldier on frequent stints abroad makes for unimaginable complications and I think that the book does well to show how hard it is to switch from being a single parent (while DH is away) back to wife and lover when he returns (especially when he's still decompressing from time away fighting).

Almost all of the main characters have a clear voice, allowing you to understand each their motivations in turn. I thought the father and grandfather-in-law were particularly well drawn, yet even the ostensibly difficult to read ex-diplomat and his wife are painted sympathetically using only a few descriptive brushstrokes to get a sense of how their life stories have shaped their characters. The little girls are delightful characters and their antics sounded very true to life (and this just goes to show how careful the book is to take the time to flesh out all its characters).

The ending is rather too neat; I wonder how typical it is to find such sympathetic senior officers as in this book, but then you don't read Trollope for sharp-edged critiques of society, but for their truthful capturing of a particular part of society. Here, I would say this is one of her most successful books in recent years.

Thanks again to Mumsnet and the publishers for the free book.


RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 20-Mar-13 11:20:25

Great - pleased to hear the books have finally arrived and we're sorry there was a delay. If you still haven't received your copy, do pm me and I'll chase. Let us know whether you enjoy the book -as you said Lomaamina, a great Easter break read smile

Lomaamina Tue 19-Mar-13 19:43:00

Thanks Mumsnet towers and Random House - I received the book in the post today. Great stuff: just in time for the Easter break!

Lomaamina Fri 08-Mar-13 17:28:01

Not me! So not you either, I presume wink?

Awks Thu 07-Mar-13 17:47:45

Has anyone received their book yet?

SunshinePanda Fri 15-Feb-13 19:33:40

Enjoyed reading the discussion. Thanks for the recommendations Joanna - will definitely get Friday Nights for DD. Excited to have won your new book and can't wait to get stuck into it (I'm sure DD will soon be borrowing it as well).Thank you!!

Lomaamina Fri 15-Feb-13 10:18:05

Thanks for the lovely reply and for the book (what fun to win!).

The book recommendation made above is very enticing as I'm a great fan of mid-century literature (a Persephone Books addict, as it happens).

n.b. I've checked and Rosé Macauley's 'The Towers of Trebizond' was reissued by Flamingo in 2010:

highlandcoo Fri 15-Feb-13 00:09:46

What an interesting discussion and I'm delighted to have won the book - thank you so much.

Just to add I have seen Joanna at Hay on Wye twice and she was a very entertaining speaker; do go to see her at a book festival if you get the chance.

Merrylegs Thu 14-Feb-13 22:29:36

Thank you Joanna - and for the book. I look forward to reading it.

(My library service has one copy of the hardback and two of the paperback of 'Towers of Trebizond' so I am going to borrow it tomorrow on your recommendation.
Never underestimate the power of the library....!)

mooniy Thu 14-Feb-13 22:27:40

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

HeavenlyAmy Thu 14-Feb-13 19:43:51

Fantastic, I won a book! Can't wait to read it. Thank you.

montage Thu 14-Feb-13 19:26:04

This made my day. I was delighted to have a question answered in such proper detail.

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 15:10:48


Hello Joanna.

It's National Libraries Day on Saturday 9th Feb.

If you were to go the library on Saturday, which book would you choose to borrow and why?

(You can borrow up to 15 on your card in my county so you could pick more than one!)

Always supposing that the library still had it, because it was published in the 1950s, I would borrow a hardback edition of Rosé Macauley's 'The Towers of Trebizond'. This is the last novel she ever wrote and the best. It's a love story , a travel book. It contains wonderful jokes, wonderful poetry, and also, wonderful polemic on religious and social issues, particularly feminism. It has a fantastic final few paragraphs. I have a nasty feeling that it is out of print, so in any modern library, it will only be a phantom...

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 15:10:08


Hi Joanna, if you ever need to ask any questions for a possible follow up to this book, I used to be an army wife for 17 years, and have a wealth of experience I wouldn't mind sharing. Your book looks interesting, if I don't win it on here, I may buy it.

Thank you.

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 15:09:10


Hi, over the years I have read all your books! What I'd like to ask you is when you are working on a novel do you focus solely on that storyline or do you have storylines for several novels on the go at once?


Truthfully, I think it's the latter. I can't seem to switch off an alertness to possible human situations that might become a future novel, and because the novels are entirely concerned with human relationships, I suppose that this state of affairs is inevitable!

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 15:08:03


How long does it take you to both research and write a novel, and do you procrastinate while you should be writing? Thank you, I love your books smile

Thank you. On average I suppose it's about 18 months in all of which six months is the research. It varies of course depending upon how much research needs to be done and whether the research itself is an ongoing situation. The books do overlap which means that I am often thinking about, and even beginning to research the next novel while finishing the current one...

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 15:07:13


What books inspired you as a child?

Thank you and I enjoy reading your books.

Thank you! I grew up in a pre-television era, strange thought that is to think of now, so, like many of my generation I was probably reading comfortably by the time I was five.

I grew up, largely because children's literature always a very impoverished category then, on the books my mother and grandmother had loved. I read all of E Nesbit, all Frances Hodgson Burnett, a lot of the classics and anything about ballet - Noel Streatfield, Rumer Godden, so you can imagine huge excitement when modern fiction for the young and the growing up began to appear in my mid-teens!

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 15:06:21


How do you decide upon the main story line or plot in your stories? Do you have ideas in advance that you have always wanted to write about or are they inspired by specific events or experiences?

I think the answer to your questions, actually, both. I am quite an acute observer of humanity by now and so I seem to pick up the current situations and preoccupations almost by osmosis. So it could be a situation that is current in the press such as the consequences of wills, as in 'The Other Family' or it could be a much more generic situation like 'Daughters in Law' . But I start every novel with some kind of human dilemma or knot in relationships and then I devise the cast list and the location. Then I work out the narrative.

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 15:04:58


I always used to save your books for long flights as I knew they would be absorbing, I still throughly enjoy rereading them especially as a comfort read.

I like the way that you portray characters who are being controlling towards others (the Judge's wife in "Marrying the Mistress", and the mother-in-law in "The Village Affair", in particular) and how those around them gradually realise they can't take being manipulated anymore. I find the dynamics wholly realistic. I like the way that self-absorbed behaviour and acting to stifle other people does not ultimately work for any characters that attempt it, it's always a very positive read.

My question is, have you ever considered writing a sequel for one of your books and letting us know what happened to the characters down the line? (I would most to know what happened with Frances in "A Spanish Lover" after the story ended!)

What a lovely and interesting post. Thank you. The short answer to your question is, I'm afraid, no.

I have lived with these characters intensely for a couple of years and by the time I've actually written a hundred thousand words about them I am, frankly, longing for other company! I like to leave the endings of my books slightly ambivalent so that the reader can take the story on in their own imaginations as best suits them.

As to Frances, my personal view was that she became a successful professional and a devoted mother and might even have stayed in Spain. I couldn't quite see her having another significant relationship or minding very much about it. Her son became her emotional fulfillment as well, I think, as her nephews and niece back in England. But if you have completely different ideas, I'm all for it!

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 15:03:44


I loved 'Daughters-in-Law'. The depiction of the interior life of the characters was paricular close to my own experiences. There is one moment in the book that really made me stop short as it rang so true (having left my country of birth and lived in England all my adult life): when Sigrid's mother tells her that she doesn't belong in Sweden any more: "You've been away too long. It isn't even the country you grew up in. All the people you grew up with have changed with the country, and although you have changed with England you haven't moved on here. How could you? You haven't been here'" This so utterly resonated with my own experience of feeling a dislocation when visiting 'home' - which isn't home any more, even though my family and old school friends are still people I like to see when I visit.

So not really a question, (but if you felt like responding, please do!).

p.s. I thought your description of Arnold Circus wonderful. Not just of the architecture, but capturing its odd social make-up with older socially housed tenants living alongside the incomers.

It is such a compliment to be read as perceptively and discernibly as you obviously do. Thank you so much for responding with such gratifying precision to the book and also for taking the trouble to write and describe the telling details you have picked up!

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 14:59:47


Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?

Well, now. When I was 14, with frizzy hair, thick specs, braces on my teeth and I was already 5 foot 9, I wrote a short novel about the kind of teenager I wished I was which was the compete opposite of all the above... Nobody has ever read it and they aren't going to, either! My daughters can fall about with mirth over it once I am safely six feet under!

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 14:58:41


Hi Joanna,
After looking at your back catalogue I think I have read all your books over many years! Which one novel would you recommend as bring quintessential Trollope, for either a new reader (eg my teenage DD) or as reader reacquainting themselves?

Thank you! I think for your daughter it might be a good idea to start with something like 'Friday Nights' to see if she likes the style and the voice. For somebody coming back to reading me ( thanks to them too!). What about ' Daughters-In-Law', especially if they have one?!

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 14:57:46


Hi Joanna

Have you ever inadvertently portrayed one of your friends and family in your novels and if so did they recognise themselves?

Never! I promise you I would neither dare to, nor dream of it! My characters are patchworks of real human elements but i would never take anybody from real life and put them in a novel. And, I have to say, at the risk of sounding a bit stuffy, I rather disapprove of anyone who tries to. You have to be a genius, like Evelyn Waugh, to get away with it.

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 14:57:10


Joanna - How hard is it to write a particularly unsympathetic character? I'm thinking particularly of the vicar husband in 'The Rector's Wife' - I wanted to shake him so many times during the story - was there a temptation to soft-pedal the character?

What an interesting question - thank you. When it comes to the less likeable characters, my aim is to make them realistic, whether good or bad. So, I strive to give reasons for people in my novels behaving as they do even if, like life, there are no excuses. So, because authenticity is my aim, my heart doesn't have to be embedded in every character and, if it were, the outcome would be a very sentimental cast list which you, the reader, wouldn't believe in!

JoannaTrollope Thu 14-Feb-13 14:56:05



How do you feel about the recent Shades of grey phenomenen? A good or a bad thing for the publishing world.

Thanks in advance for answering my question.

Broadly speaking anything that sells the written word is good! Having said that, my personal view is that the Fifty Shades trilogy was so riotously successful because it was actually about money, and the power money brings and the sex was almost incidental. It has been ever thus with romantic fiction, even with the sainted Jane Austen! But my considered view is that in five years time we will look back on this and describe it as 'a fad'. Don't you think? Thanks so much for writing.

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now »

Already registered? Log in with: