Guest: Fanny Blake
Q: Fanny, you've had such a fascinating career - first as a publisher and editor, and recently as a journalist and novelist. What have been the highlights so far?
So many highlights as a publisher and editor, working closely with the likes of Dirk Bogarde, Marilyn French, Elizabeth Jane Howard. As the paperback editorial director of Penguin, I worked with William Boyd, Martin Amis, Katie Fforde, Clare Chambers, Muriel Spark and many many more. It was a golden time and I was very lucky.
Since then the real highlight has been becoming a published novelist myself, not something I ever dreamed would happen. The publisher of my first novel, What Women Want, gave me a wonderful party to celebrate which I’ll never forget.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your writing journey. Have you always written from a young age, or did this come later?
Funnily enough I must have had some dreams of being a writer since I recently found my carefully hand written first novel that I wrote when I was about eight, about a family of Canadian geese. That ambition (along with the one of being an actress!) got buried for years as I worked with authors on their books and believed that writing was what other people did. It wasn’t until I finally left my career in publishing that I fell into a career in journalism (thanks to a very good friend). After years of writing interiors pieces, book reviewing and travel journalism I turned my had to film and TV tie-ins such as Grand Designs, A Place in The Sun and Location, Location, Location. This in turn led to me ghosting a number of celebrity autobiographies, which I loved doing. Only after that did I turn my hand to fiction. Truth to tell, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve turned my hand to. The travel journalism was obviously wonderful because I got to travel to far flung places like St Lucia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Canada, South Africa and then wrote about the experiences which were many and varied. I loved ghosting because it took me into different worlds that I knew nothing about, such as high couture, athletics, singing or International Red Cross nursing, each one absolutely fascinating.
Q: It's been a tough year for everyone, how have you found the lockdowns creatively, and do you have any advice for anyone struggling?
I’ve found the past year difficult. My concentration’s been shot to pieces and I’ve found it very hard to knuckle down and write for a sustained period of time. But I know that many people have suffered the same thing and worse. If you’re struggling, I’d say be kind to yourself. If you miss a day writing, it’s not the end of the world. With a deadline (personal or publisher’s) I find it better to set myself a routine and write for short periods, so by the end of the day I’ve done something, even if not as much as I’d like.
Q: I've always maintained that the so-called 'Pram in the Hall' is a good place to rest your notebook. Do you have any tips for writers starting out on their career balancing day job/home/writing?
I didn’t start my writing career until my 3 children had grown up so I didn’t have that dilemma. But I’d say all you have to do is show up at your desk and write – it doesn’t matter when. I’ve met people who have written before their children are up and after they’ve gone to bad. If you want to do it badly enough, you will. It just might take you a little bit longer. But don’t give up.
Q: You were the Books Editor of Woman & Home for many years - when you're not reviewing, what do you love reading? Who are your writer heroes?
After years of working in publishing, I’ve got pretty eclectic taste. I love a good thriller – just read Paula Hawkins’ brilliant Slow Fires Burning for example. Another at the top of my list is an sharply observed slice of life that’s witty and touching such as Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Writer. As for heroes. I’ve got so many but my top two have to be Anne Tyler and Margaret Atwood.
Q: What's been your proudest moment (so far)? And what's next for you?
My proudest moment was when my first novel What Women Want was published. Since then I’ve written another nine novels, and it never gets easier so I’m almost as proud each time one hits the shelves. At the moment I’m just finishing a novel about a mother and her daughter-in-law. It’s a twisty family drama where lots of secrets are forced into the open and threaten the stability of everyone’s lives.
Q: Your latest book is 'The Long Way Home' - what can you tell us about it?
The Long Way Home is about a 60-something year-old grandmother, Isla, who finds herself left out of her mother’s will. All she receives is a picture while the rest of the sizable estate is split between her sisters. To find out why, she decides to travel round the UK to unpick the mystery. Just as she’s about to leave, she’s forced to take her sullen and difficult 14-year-old granddaughter, Charlie, with her. Together with her smelly old Labrador, the three of set off to uncover some shattering truths and life-changing truths, at the same time as learning to love each other. The novel moves between this and 1950s’ Paris where the mystery really begins …
Q: Your books cast such a warm, wise eye on family life and the locations are always wonderfully escapist. Which destination is next on your wish list once we can all travel freely again?
I’m dying to go back to Formentera, an island I love and visit often as I have friends who live there. Otherwise, I went to Peru at the end of 2019 and would love to see more of South America.