Meet the author: Joanna Trollope
Joanna Trollope's new novel, City of Friends, follows the lives of four best friends: their happiness, heartbreaks and secrets. You can find out more about Joanna below.
About the book
She glanced at her phone again. There were appeals from the girls, from her colleagues, a text from Steve reading with uncharacteristic imperiousness, 'Call me.' She couldn't. She couldn't call anyone. She leaned forward, gripping the edge of the bench, and stared at the ground. God, she thought, am I losing my mind? Is this what happens when you lose your job?
The day Stacey Grant loses her job feels like the last day of her life. Or at least, the only life she'd ever known. For who was she if not a City high-flyer, Senior Partner at one of the top private equity firms in London?
As Stacey starts to reconcile her old life with the new – one without professional achievements or meetings, but instead, long days at home with her dog and ailing mother, waiting for her successful husband to come home – she at least has The Girls to fall back on, Beth, Melissa and Gaby. These girls, now women, had been best friends from the early days of university right through their working lives, and for all the happiness and heartbreaks in between.
But these women all have personal problems of their own, and when Stacey's redundancy forces a betrayal to emerge that was supposed to remain secret, their long cherished friendships will be pushed to their limits.
About the author
Joanna Trollope is the author of nineteen highly acclaimed and bestselling novels, including The Rector's Wife, Marrying the Mistress and Daughters in Law. She was appointed OBE in 1996, and a trustee of the National Literacy Trust in 2012. She has chaired the Whitbread and Orange Awards, as well as being a judge of many other literature prizes; she has been part of two DCMS panels on public libraries and is patron of numerous charities, including Meningitis Now, and Chawton House Library. In 2014, she updated Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility as the opening novel in the Austen Project. City of Friends is her twentieth novel.
Meet Joanna Trollope
Can you tell us about your book?
The new book is called City of Friends, and it is about women and – work. It tells the story of four women, in their late forties, who have been friends since university and who all work in that traditionally male bastion of the finance industry. One of the friends is married with children, one is a single mother, one is gay and one is married but has no children. What I'm exploring is the way in which women work, and the fact that they don't work in the way that men do, but also that work as well as personal relationships, are extremely important to them, not just because they feel validated and fascinated by their work, but also because they are all very good indeed at what they do. Which is definitely how it is in real life, as I was well aware of long before I even started on the research!I spoke to more than a dozen women in the City and Canary Wharf and became completely involved in their world and outlook, as well as being deeply impressed by what they had achieved.
Is research a big part of your writing process?
Huge. It may well have once been a hangover from the historical fiction I wrote at the outset, but it has now grown into something of its own, and is immensely important to me. After all, I'm writing topical, contemporary fiction about 'The way we live now', so out of respect for the reader, at the very least, I must get it as accurate as I possibly can. And I find it compelling in its own right. I became absolutely hooked on the manufacture of pottery when I was doing the research for Balancing Act in the Emma Bridgewater factory in Stoke on Trent, and for City of Friends, I spoke to more than a dozen women in the City and Canary Wharf and became completely involved in their world and aims and outlook. As well as being deeply impressed by what they had achieved.
Could you describe the room that you write in?
I have a study at last! I spent most of my writing career writing novels on the kitchen table (it was bigger and the room was warmer) but now I use a back bedroom in my West London house. It is quite small but has two big windows facing west, and the computer (on which I do not write novels – journalism, yes, random pieces of writing, yes, but not novels) is on a purpose built desk behind the door, leaving my old enormous Edwardian desk free to be covered in all the gerbils' nest of paper and notes and cuttings which constitute the novel writing process. The room has very pale grey walls, lots of pictures, and a fat corduroy covered armchair for reading in. There are piles and piles of books everywhere, on a low table inherited from my grandmother, on shelves (which also have forests of family photographs on them), on any old flat surface. My aim – not always successful – is to keep them off the floor.
Do you have any peculiar writing rituals or habits?
As I said above, I handwrite write novels – this is very eccentric for nowadays, I know – in A4 narrow ruled pads with a margin. All of that is very important although I seem to be completely un-fussed by what pen I use. Something that I might have found beside my bed in a hotel will do fine. I write on the right-hand page only, leaving the left one blank, because that is where I tinker with what I have already written, sometimes four or five times. I can write – when it is really going well, that is – up to 1000 words an hour by this antiquated method, but I love the silence of it, and the privacy. I can't write very late in the day now – although I'm not sure I was ever very good at it – and am best in the morning, so in my swotty way, that's what I do: settle the house, phone calls, washing machine etc. and then make myself a cup of tea before I re-read the previous day's work and think myself back down into the novel…
What are you reading now?
I am, at this minute, about a third of the way through Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent, and I have just finished Grayson Perry's The Descent of Man. I'd highly recommend both books.
What is the last book you bought someone as a gift?
I bought, for an American friend, the Virago classic paperback of a quietly powerful novel, written in 1947, called One Fine Day, by Mollie Panter-Downes. The action takes place in the course of a single day just after the Second World War, and follows the thoughts and fears and frustrations and joys of the heroine, Laura Marshall, trying to come to terms with this unaccustomed peacetime and having her husband home again, never mind the painful knowledge that many things will never be the same again. It is very subtle and very strong.
What advice would you offer to aspiring writers?
Always tricky because one doesn't want to blight hopes nor over-emphasise how difficult it is. But I think, after years of getting the advice wrong, I have come to believe that the most important aspect of oneself that one has to train, as a novelist, is one's powers of observation. It isn't just what you see about the world and other people, it is how you interpret what you see. So, to this end, I would recommend keeping a journal. Not a Dear Diary for every day, but a – preferably hard covered, spiral backed notebook that fits in your pocket or bag – mentally orientated scrapbook, into which you write quotations that catch your eye, scraps of overheard conversation on the bus, descriptions that occur to you, poems you like, ideas, pen sketches of people, adding maybe newspaper cuttings (getting harder to find, I know), postcard reproductions of favourite paintings etc. What you are doing is training your mind to be alert, to notice everything and to invent, as it were, a narrative, a back story, for every person and situation. You will be amazed at the power and capacity of your own imagination.
We gave away 30 copies of City of Friends to Mumsnetters, in return for their feedback.
We ask all winners to share their thoughts about the book on the discussion thread. Anyone who has read City of Friends can post on the thread. Everyone who posts their detailed feedback by midday 10 April will be entered into a draw to win a £100 Love2shop voucher.
This giveaway is sponsored by Macmillan