Erica James, author of 15 novels, was in town recently to promote the launch of her 16th novel, The Real Katie Lavender. Having not read any of her previous work, I was excited to be able to sit down and have a chat with Erica and find out a little bit more about her inspirations and her plans for the future.
Diane: Can you tell me a little bit about where you get your inspiration from. Do you seek out experiences to use them in your books?
Erica: As an author you have to be on the lookout for material, it falls into my lap to some degree but it’s how I respond to what I hear – I always have to have an emotional response to whatever I hear. For the new book an example would be the big craze into researching your genealogy in the UK at the moment, because of a popular TV show.
While this isn’t me at all, I noticed that people everywhere were on the internet looking back into their family trees. And then I thought why was I having such a negative response to this. Then it occurred to me that I’m not interested in even yesterday, I’m concerned about today and tomorrow, that’s what’s important to me. I’m not interested in what happened to someone in my family 200 years ago – what possible bearing could that have on me today.
And then I thought what if I had a character who suddenly cares very deeply about what has gone before. The classic “What if..?”Â I then imagined this girl whose parents are both dead, who discovers that her father was not her father, and she’s given the name of her biological father and she sets out to meet him, and that’s the beginning of the story.
If you follow that long explanation that’s how the idea of a book can come to me. A response to something I get.
Diane: Have you thought about taking a character forward from a previous novel, exploring other themes inÂ another novel ?
Erica: I’ve had many readers asking me to write sequels, because they love a particular character or story line. The only time I’ve ever written one was my second book, following on from the first one and I’ve never written another sequel as I’ve always had other ideas for other novels.
Diane: The families in The Real Katie Lavender have such a lot of surprises to deal with, not least beingÂ the suicide of one of the characters early on. What inspired you to write a story that dealt with everyone’s different response to bereavement and grief at such length?
Erica: Our families are touched by extraordinary things all the time. I have friends and their families have been caught up in all sorts of things at the same time. The themes of my books have been poignancy, as well as a feel-good factor. It’s the two sides of the coin of life, one minute you’re laughing and the next you’re crying. I’ve always done that in all my books. It’s in my nature.
If there’s something terrible that’s happened I emphasize greatly what’s happened, sometimes too much. I can put myself in the shoes of someone going through a terrible time, listen to other people and I listen to what they’re going through, and I store it away and have this great empathy.
In this book I knew suicide was going to feature largely and that came from something that someone told me, someone having committed suicide after committing fraud. I just seem to be a magnet for people telling me things, and the way I respond to it is how the novel gets started.
Diane: One of the other things I like was that the character’s names determined their personalities. As an author, do you start with a character idea and give it a name, or do you start with a name and fill in a character around it?
Erica: When I’m writing a book the names are incredibly important. For example the book the I’m writing at the moment, I know I have some of the characters’ names wrong, but I’ll finish the first draft and then I’ll come back and then have a rethink before I write the final draft. The main characters I know I’ve got right, but some of the other characters aren’t fully formed.
With Katie Lavender I was watching television in London and it was either a weather girl or traffic reporter and her surname was Lavender and I jotted it down thinking “Hmmm, what a pretty name” and it wasn’t until months later I thought “Oh Katie Lavender” and her character started coming together.
Diane: You’ve written quite a few novels. Do you have anything more in the works?
Erica: I’m well on the way with my next novel which should be published this time next year. And I’ve just had a little twinkling of an idea about the next one after that, just in the back of my mind.
I’m very fortunate that the ideas keep coming. Although as an author, my job is really about shutting myself away and writing the whole time, when I come out to play I love to meet people and travelling, and then you get to sit next to someone on a long flight to Sydney.
So hopefully that will continue to happen and there will be more books to come.
Diane: What is it that keeps you writing?
Erica: Writing for me is like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes and after writing 16 books it’s become a way of life and it’s the way I am now.
Available now: Hachette RRP$29.99