Q&A with Dinah
Q. What is a typical writing day like? Are you a planner or do you start writing and see where it takes you?
I start writing straight after breakfast and keep going until lunchtime when I take a quick break. After lunch I’m either back at the computer, or I’m in a quiet corner with my pen & one of my dozens of notepads. I don’t plan the entire book before I start, though I have a pretty good idea what it’s about and also who the main characters are. I make copious notes as I go along because, as I write, I often find new ideas and twists come to me that I never could have thought of prior to starting the novel. I don’t play music as I find it distracting and I like to completely immerse myself in what I’m doing. It’s always a bit of a shock to find I’m in the 21st Century when I stop in the late afternoon to take the dog for a walk. Once I start writing a book I’m thinking about the story and the characters all the time, even down to waking up in the middle of the night to jot down an idea. I probably drive my husband mad.
Q. Where did the inspiration come to write The Separation?
Inspiration came from so different places as the threads of the story began to settle in my mind, but my mother’s fabulous 1950s photograph albums provided the starting point. We talked about them and I asked about the guns I remembered seeing as a child. My father went out every day with two armed police and, at the time, I had thought it was perfectly normal. My parents had kept The Emergency hidden from us when we were children, but now I wanted to know more, so I began my research. I had already decided I wanted to write about a loss, and I felt that Malaya in the 1950s was the perfect time and place. I wanted to make it as difficult as possible for my character Lydia to find her missing children, and with the chaos following WW2, and communications once again disrupted because of the Emergency, it seemed ideal. I was captivated by the contradiction between danger and beauty, and love the sense of danger that follows Lydia. Plus I think it adds a feeling of enchantment when you write about a place you love.
Q. Being a first-time author in your mid sixties is quite an achievement. Have you always wanted to write?
Writing is something I’ve dabbled in most of my life, but only in the form of journal writing, or as a way to cope with difficult times, particularly after my son died in 1985. But writing as a career is recent. I started soon after my sixtieth birthday and haven’t stopped since. At this late stage in my life I’ve been really fortunate to discover the thing I love to do more than anything else. I wish I’d found it sooner but I didn’t, and I feel incredibly lucky that Penguin and several foreign publishers have bought my books.
Q. What are you working on now and will all your books be set in the East?
I’ve finished my second book The Tea Planter’s Wife set in Ceylon between 1925 and 1934 and it will be published in May 2015. I’m now writing my third book which is set in Vietnam. I went to Vietnam in March to see if my plans for the book would work, and came home with changed ideas, so now I’m having a major rethink. Sometimes there are just too many different ideas, and the hardest thing is to fix on one and just get on with it. My publisher at Penguin would like me to write a book a year, and as all my books are set in the past, and in foreign countries, the research takes as long as the actual writing. After the third book I’m not sure where I’ll be going to write book four. My publisher likes the idea of Burma, but it could be anywhere. Which country or place would you be pleased to read about in Book Four? Join my Readers Club and let me know …