17 February 2010

Author Interview: Dorothy Koomson

I was lucky enough to get to ask the fabulous author Dorothy Koomson some questions just after I had read a copy of her brand new book The Ice-Cream Girls. I had a good think about the things I wanted to know, and I hope these questions answer a few of your questions too. I really am grateful to Dorothy for taking the time to answer my questions, and I hope you enjoy the interview!

Q1. Tell us about your latest book.

The Ice Cream Girls, my sixth novel, is about two women who were brought together in their teens by a tragic set of circumstances that made them infamous, were then separated and are now about to be reunited. They should be friends but in reality they have a lot to dislike each other for. The book is also about the secrets we keep and why we feel compelled to keep them.

Q2. The themes in 'The Ice Cream Girls' are quite strong, and obviously something you would have to research heavily before writing about them. What sort of research did you have to do before you wrote the book, and what effect has it had on you?

Each book I write needs a unique type of research (oohhh, I should really grown-up and serious, don’t I?!) but with all of my books talking to people about their experiences and reading their stories in their own words is the most important element of research. With most ‘issues’ shall we call them, you find that the same things are repeated over and over.

Every one of my books has had a different effect on me. With The Ice Cream Girls, I came away from the book feeling very strongly about the treatment of prisoners and how the survivors of domestic violence are viewed. I always held strong views about those subjects, but when you hear these stories over and over again, you start to feel as if you’ve lived it. I’m incredibly lucky that I’ve never been on the receiving end of domestic violence or been to prison, but with the research I did, I came to realise that almost all of us are only a few wrong decisions away from being in that situation. That’s a humbling – and ever so slightly scary – thought.

Q3. Where do you actually get the ideas for your books? Each of them has such a different story; adoption, murder, death of a child, rape and so on - what inspired you to write about these sorts of topics? Do you find it difficult to write about these things?

Ideas come from all over the place: overhearing things when I’m out and about; talking to people; having conversations pop into my head that are part of a story; sometimes from dreams. As an idea unwinds itself in my head, the characters and stories come with them. With The Ice Cream Girls, I originally had an idea about two people who were accused of murder who both denied it. As I thought the idea through, more elements of the story and themes that had to be explored cropped up. I like tackling a tricky subject, and immersing myself in the themes and emotions involved with them.

I don’t find it as difficult to write about these topics as I do to read it after the book is finished. Once the book has been edited and then printed, there are sections in all of my books that I can’t read again – they’re just too painful. It may sound silly, but it hurts to think of these characters, who I’ve come to know and love, going through that particular situation (that I’ve put them into, don’t forget!) so I skip those sections.

Q4. Your novel 'My Best Friend's Girl' was a huge hit thanks to the Richard and Judy book club. In fact, that's where I first heard about you, and I adored My Best Friend's Girl. How did it feel to suddenly be thrust into the limelight and have a massive bestseller?

Thanks for saying that, I’m really glad you liked it. It’s a little-known fact but My Best Friend’s Girl had actually sold 90,000 copies in six weeks before it was announced it was going to be on the Richard and Judy Summer Reads Book Club – and that’s an incredible amount to sell! Before the Book Club, I had started to get several emails – maybe 100 a week - about the book from people saying how much it touched them, and then these obviously increased after the show aired to, at one point, about 500 a week.

I feel so lucky that my books have been put in front of a wider audience. It’s the dream that almost all authors chase – to have the chance to have their books in front of a massive group of people. Despite the massive sales, I still get incredibly excited by just seeing my book on the shelves. I love that lots of people across the world have bought my books and I love going into a book shop and seeing my work up there with all those other literary greats. (I get a special thrill sharing K section space with Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella!)

One of the best things, though, about having had a massive bestseller and other huge bestsellers is hearing from readers who have found solace, comfort and understanding in my books. After Marshmallows For Breakfast was published I had hundreds of emails from readers who said the themes of the book so accurately described what they had experienced it had helped them to come to terms with being raped, or it had given them strength to tell others what had happened to them – gosh, I’m tearing up remembering those emails. That’s what is most incredible about being a writer – being able to help and touch others in a unique way.

Q5. Did you find that the expectation on you as an author increased after being so successful with My Best Friend's Girl? Were you much more aware of the public's opinion of your work because of the (deserved!) hype around you?

Every time I write a book I try to make it better than the last one, that’s the only expectation I try to aim for. If I thought about all those people out there waiting for the next book and what they may or may not like, I think I’d become frozen with anxiety. I always tell aspiring authors to write what they love and write the sort of book they would like to read. That’s what I try to do.

Q6. I've read your latest 4 books (including The Ice Cream Girls), and have loved them all. Which of your books has been your favourite so far?

Without doubt, The Cupid Effect. Not everyone’s favourite, but The Cupid Effect was my ‘first born’ book that let me call myself a published author and I’ll always love it that little bit extra for that. Only a little, though, I love all my books equally.

Q7. What books do you enjoy reading yourself? Do you have any favourites you enjoy going back to over and over again?

I love reading and tend to read across most genres although I can’t ‘do’ horror – I just wouldn’t sleep. I like a good sci-fi book (I’m a big sci-fi geek) and am planning on reading a couple of JG Ballard’s books again – he’s probably the author I’ve re-read the most. I was very sad when he died recently. The last book I read for pleasure was probably The Second Husband by Louise Candlish. I’ve got more than 2000 books (actually nearer to 3,000 now) and many of them are ‘to be read’. I used to read The List of Seven by Mark Frost at least once a year, and I’ve read My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult several times. But I’ll give most books and genres a try and tend to like books for how they’re written and if they touch me. I also re-read my own books to see where I can improve the way I’ve written or structured something.

Q8. What do you do in your spare time when you aren't writing books?

I watch TV or pretend I’m going to work on that screenplay I keep meaning to write.

Q9. Are you going to be writing another book?

Oh yes! I’ve got three ideas that are vying for attention at the moment. Each idea seems to have some merit so I’m still mulling them over for now. I couldn’t not write, to be honest. It feels like there is something wrong in the universe if I’m not writing or at least planning a story or two in my head.

Thanks for asking me those questions, Chloe, I really enjoyed answering them.

Thank you so much Dorothy!

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