The Wind on his Back is a beautifully-written collection of six short stories that explore different aspects of love. From a furious divorced man who refuses to forgive his errant wife, to the wife faced with losing her husband of 30 years to a sudden terminal illness, to the motley group of relatives who come together to celebrate Christmas Eve, each story has love – and its offspring, pain and loss – at its core.
Each story can be read independently of each other, although they are united by a common theme of love. The Wind on his Back will have you feeling a range of emotions as you share in the highs and lows in the relationship in each story, and will appeal to fans of female novelists such as Barbara Pym, Donna Tartt and Kate Atkinson, all of which the author enjoys herself. The Wind on his Back is a heartfelt collection that is ideal for those who are looking to dip in and out of a love story.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I grew up between Oxford and London, and moved back to Oxford in 2008 with my three children. I’d been trying to come back for years – there’s a kind of magic to the city that makes it a really rewarding place to live and an especially good place for family life. I live in Jericho in North Oxford, with the canal at the bottom of my garden and a great pub down the road. I got married to my partner last year in the local church (positioned conveniently between my house and the pub!). I feel really lucky to live in a community, with people who say good morning to each other. That became especially important when my partner (now husband) fell ill with a brain tumour 13 months ago. Since then, the kindness of people never fails to astound and amaze.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
The title story, ‘The Wind on his Back’ grew from my partner’s diagnosis of a terminal brain tumour. In many ways, the character is different – age, length of marriage, background – but the feelings about impending death – rage, sadness, fear, how to tell people – are all real. They are just a part of what my partner was feeling last February, a few weeks after his diagnosis, which is when I wrote the story.
How do you create your characters?
All my characters start as a scrap of something. For example, how does someone feel if they are facing death? Or, what does a furious, entitled male character get up to if he loses everything he has? (The Good Samaritan). From that point I start to develop the character as I write the first draft. The detail seems to build up in an organic kind of way. I often draw on places I know – Cornwall, Oxford, London – and other things – lots of my family are barristers, I come from a background of multiple divorces and stepparents, (Christmas Eve) and I had a grandmother who lived in Stoke, (One More Train) which means I can visualize settings and draw on some known facts. But that’s simply scaffolding to hang the story on; it doesn’t mean anyone in the stories are ‘real’ people. I would hate anyone to think that. It would feel very limiting.
What inspires and what got your started in writing?
I’ve always written – I kept diaries and scrap books as a child. I also read a lot – I love escaping into a totally different world. I think that’s why I write, too. A therapist might call it Avoidance.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I can write almost anywhere, so long as I have my laptop. My handwriting is illegible, so pen and paper is rarely a good option. On the train to London and back, sitting in bed in the early morning, in a cafe with a cup of coffee. I like the anonymous undemanding company of working in cafes.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
By living…reading the newspapers, talking to people, listening to their stories and walking my dog. Something sparks and I go from there.
What do you like to read?
My partner jokes that I only read books by women and it’s partially true. While of course I read books by men – most recently I loved Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child – I do seem to end up reading more female authors than male authors – Anne Tyler, Donna Tartt, Tessa Hadley, Margaret Forster, Maggie O’Farrell, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Jane Gardam and many others besides. I also love biographies – I’m just starting Artemis Cooper’s biography of Elizabeth Jane Howard. I am often reading more than one book at once.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Keep reading and keep writing. And find a writing buddy. I have two fabulous writing friends I met on the Creative Writing MA I took at Oxford Brookes, and we meet regularly to talk about our writing and life. I really value their opinion on what I write. We jolly each other along when we become despondent about getting anything published.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I feel very grateful to have writing in my life. It’s a place to go to where I always find something positive, a way of helping to make sense of things, as far as sense can ever be made of life. Being a writer is frustrating and doesn’t always pay the bills, but I’d rather be one than not.
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