Joanna Trollope on books, inspirations and City of Friends
Joanna Trollope is the author of many highly acclaimed and bestselling novels, including The Rector's Wife, Marrying the Mistress and Daughters in Law. Here's what happened when she dropped by for a chat about books, favourite places and her much-anticipated twentieth novel City of Friends.
What have you been watching, reading or listening to lately?
I’ve been reading Tess Hadley’s The Past and Lermontov’s A Hero For Our Time, listening (and watching sometimes) The Proms, and watching the brilliant return of Cold Feet. I also, unfashionably, am not particularly turned on by Aidan Turner, but I think the girls in Poldark are wonderful.
Is there a book that makes you cry?
the last book that had me really blubbing was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin but I have an uncomfortable feeling that I could re-read it dry-eyed now. . .
Which book have you reread the most?
Persuasion by Jane Austen.
Is there a book you wish you’d written?
I never feel like that. When there’s a book I revere and love, I am just thankful it is there to read. But I don’t think I ever wish I’d written anything that someone else has managed to write so much better than I ever could.
What makes you happy?
If my children and grandchildren are (more or less) happy themselves. . .
Which book do you most often recommend to friends?
It depends entirely on who I am recommending to, and what I have just read. at the moment, I am sending a (male) friend who is discovering Germany, Simon Winder’s Germania, and have given a girlfriend Lauren Goff’s Fates and Furies to take on holiday.
Where in the world do you find yourself returning to and why?
There’s a place in the south of France that I go every summer, because a very generous friend who has a flat there, invites me. It is a very pretty place, on a bay, backed by hills, and it now has a delicious familiarity for me, as well as an abiding charm.
Is there a place that has inspired your work?
It’s changed. Long ago, it was the western English provinces. Now, and for the last twenty years or so, it’s been London. That is, as far as any place has been inspirational. But my abiding inspiration is other people.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise your readers.
I am acutely myopic – minus 8 in one eye and minus 7 and a half in the other. God bless contact lenses.
What was your greatest piece of luck?
Discovering writing as a profession, and becoming a published writer when I did.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ve been given excellent advice all my life – I must have the kind of face that indicates I need help. . . but a) you have to be at the absolutely right moment to take it and b) it has to come from someone you admire and respect. The most abiding advice, I suppose, is that we ourselves are the only person we are ever stuck with till our last breath, so we might as well make ourselves into someone we can bear to live with.
Who would be in your dream book club?
A smallish circle of readers who were mad about fiction, widely and interestingly well-read, and hadn’t a shred of needing to show off, or score off other people, about them.
Do you have a favourite literary character?
Not just the one! I have about fifty, all for different reasons – fifty people that is. But when it comes to animals, I have a great affection for Mrs Tiggywinkle and a lot of sympathy for Mrs Tittlemouse.
Tell us about your protagonist and how you came to write them.
There are four protagonists in City of Friends, four women, Stacey, Beth, Melissa and Gaby, who met reading economics together at university, and have all, in various ways, ended up in the world of money and business.
Their personal lives are completely different from each other, which was deliberate on my part, as I wanted to show women at work in what is often seen as a traditionally male world, and also how different women deal with different home life issues – having a family, having a dependent parent, being gay, being a single parent. So, by having four of them, I could cover a lot of modern situations that require women to cope with professionalism as well as the huge demands of home life as well.
Listen to an audio extract from City of Friends: