Photo (c) Lesley Powell
Laurie Graham is a mother of four, grandmother of six and a half, and the author of sixteen novels. Her latest book, Anyone for Seconds?, is published on August 23rd.
Describe a typical day?
For the past year, since my husband took up residence in a dementia nursing home, I’ve lived alone, so my days are now long and flexible. Nevertheless, I’ve become a creature of habit. I drink my morning coffee on my balcony whatever the weather. If I’m not at my desk by 9am (with the email feed turned OFF) I feel like an irredeemable slob. After lunch I take an hour to do something mindless and brain-recharging, usually sewing or cooking or a walk by the sea. I then work on till I’ve achieved my target word count for the day, bearing in mind I’ll probably end up throwing away half of it. I aim to leave the page with a clear idea of how I’ll pick up the thread next day. The evenings are when I miss my husband the most. Netflix and cake are too often my companions. I’m in bed with a good book by 10.00. I fear I may be turning into my mother.
What are your biggest achievements?
The closely-spaced (four in five years) children I was told I was crazy to have. Not only are they very good company and supportive of each other and of me, but, compound interest working as it does, they have also provided me with a rich store of grandchildren. I suppose my books also count as achievements but I live in Ireland, where you can’t throw a cherry stone without hitting another writer, so getting published isn’t anything to brag about.
What’s in your handbag?
A notebook containing scribbled lists and notes that must once have meant something if I could only decipher them. Sometimes a sketchbook, because
I take rubbish photos and drawing makes me pay proper attention to my surroundings. My much-treasured senior citizen travel pass. Lipstick. A bag of nuts and dried fruit because I develop hair-trigger snittiness if I’m hungry. A torch and a carefully folded carrier bag. So yes, confirmed, I have turned into my mother.
What are your ambitions?
Very few. I’m lucky enough to have done almost everything I wanted to. It would be nice to see one of my books reach the screen, large or small, – my novels are all very suitable for dramatization – but so far nothing has made it past the first hurdle.I occasionally entertain the idea of learning Argentine tango but I fear I no longer have the ankles for it.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
The sensible answer would be, how precarious a writing career is. But had I known that I might never have stepped out onto the narrow ledge of self-employment, and then I’d have missed a lot of fun and satisfaction.
It’s also probably just as well I couldn’t know how much the publishing world would change: the e-book and the J K Rowling phenomenon to name but two seismic shifts. Nowadays you’re either very, very bankable or you’re clinging on by your fingertips.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
As I’m now in my 70s I no longer indulge in long-term planning. I’m booking tickets to take my grandchildren to the theatre at Christmas but that’s about as far as I’m prepared to chance my luck.
What advice would you offer a budding author?
Learn a trade that will always be needed. Plumbing would be a smart choice.If you’re not going to be a plumber at least don’t settle for being a Cubicle Person. Writers need to get out into the world and meet all kinds of people. And don’t take courses (except plumbing, see above.) Just keep writing until you either find your voice or realize you’d rather do something else. No-one else can find that voice for you. If they tell you they can, they are rogues and scoundrels.
What advice do you have for new parents?
I hesitate to give any. I was a new parent in the early 1970s – a very different era. I stayed at home until our youngest daughter started school. We had no money and owned very little ‘stuff’ but neither did we have the pressure of juggling work and home. Parents’ lives (and children’s) today seem very hectic and complicated. So I suppose I’d say, keep it as simple as possible. Children don’t need to be constantly stimulated and entertained by adults. Boredom gets a bad rap, but boredom can be the seed bed of creativity.
Oh and put away the damned phone/tablet.
My children, grandchildren, in–laws, outlaws, the whole tribe gathered around a table, and tears of laughter at our stupid, irreverent, taking-no-prisoners family jokes. Happiness is thinking, ‘mission accomplished.’
Anyone For Seconds? By Laurie Graham is published in Hardback by Quercus on 23rd August.