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Erica James - Author
With an insatiable appetite for other people's business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother's compulsion.
The author of many bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and her recent Sunday Times top ten bestseller, Promises, Promises. Erica now divides her time between Cheshire and Lake Como in Italy, where she strikes up conversation with unsuspecting Italians.
Who’s your favourite author? My favourite author is currently Anne Tyler. I love the way she writes about the complexities of family life and relationships. Her writing is always penetrating and incisive and pared right back to the essentials. In my opinion, she’s a classic example of less being more.
What’s the first book you remember reading? The first book I remember reading was a library book and I was probably about four years old. I have a vague memory that the story was about a mouse. Funnily enough, it’s not the words I remember, but the pictures, especially those of the mouse trekking through the snow in the night beneath a starry, moonlit sky to reach whatever destination he was heading for.
Where do you live? And why? I live in Cheshire in a small rural hamlet. Moreover, I actually live in a converted barn which I used as the setting for my novel A Sense of Belonging. It’s purely by coincidence that I’ve ended up living here, and it certainly felt a little surreal in the first few weeks of moving in – every time I opened my front door, I kept expecting to bump into my characters.
Typewriter, Word Processor, or pen? I use a computer to write my novels and because I can touch type, I find this by far the easiest way to go about things. My only problem is that if there’s a problem with the computer then I’m stuck. I haven’t a clue how it works and doubt I ever will. In my defence(and it’s a pretty poor defence, I admit), I’ve managed all these years to drive a car without knowing what goes on under the bonnet so I’m happy to apply the same logic.
Name your favourite literary hero and villain Without doubt, my favourite literary hero is Reggie Perrin from David Nobbs’ novels. I love the wit of the man, and his quiet desperation to beat the system. The man is a legend!
Would it be very crass of me to say that my favourite literary villain is of my own creation? If it’s allowed, I’d like to name and shame Dominic McKendrick from Love and Devotion. He’s the archetypal misunderstood man! Where were you born and raised? I was born in Surrey but grew up on Hayling Island in Hampshire after moving there at the age of four. As a teenager I lived in a flat directly opposite the beach and next to a funfair. During the summer months I would go to sleep to the sound of music blaring and the smell of fish and chips wafting through the window. Growing up by the sea has left its mark on me – a holiday isn’t a holiday unless I’m a stone’s throw from the water.
Did you enjoy school? What is your most vivid memory of your school years? School for me was a secondary modern that morphed into a comprehensive. I did CSEs (I wasn’t smart enough to do O levels) and whilst I was content enough at school, puttering along in my happy ignorance, I’m appalled now when I think just how little I actually learned. The teachers’ expectations for us were non-existent, so surprise, surprise, few of us did well.
My most vivid memory of school was when I was at primary school. I was about six years old and together with a girl I didn’t really know that well, we took it upon ourselves to flood the outside toilets by stuffing yards and yards of slippery toilet paper down the pan and then yanking on the chain until the water level rose and cascaded over the seat and down onto the ground. We’d successfully flooded three cubicles when another girl – the horrible sneak! – went and fetched a teacher. I should imagine the teacher is no longer with us, but the ‘horrible sneak’ became my best friend, and still is to this day.
Name your top 5 pieces of music. I have an eclectic taste in music but if forced to choose my top five pieces of music they would be as follows: R.E.M.’s Find The River. Nanci Griffith’s Waiting For Love. Kathleen Ferrier singing What is Life? from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Michael Nyman’s Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds. Judy Garland singing It’s Yourself.
Who do you most admire and why? The people I admire most are my sons, Edward and Samuel. And why? For putting up with me!
What jobs did you have before you started writing? Compared to most other writers, my CV is extraordinarily dull and reads something like this: Aged 13 chalet maid in a holiday camp. Aged 14 - 16 ice cream and burger vendor in a beach kiosk. Aged 18 secretarial work in an Oxford college. Aged 19 - 24 a series of secretarial jobs ranging from a mining explosives company to a firm of estate agents. Aged 24 - 35 mother and general bossy-boots. Aged 36 - ta-daar! - published author.
If your house was burning down what would you save? If my house was burning down and I could save only one thing (assuming the obvious, that no one needed rescuing), it would be the manuscript of the current book I was working on. The thought of all that hard work going up in smoke would be too awful.
Tell us about your best or worst holiday experience. My best holiday experience is a recurring one and does wonders to bolster up my ego. People often mistake me for either my sons’ sister, or a girlfriend of theirs. We’ve been on several holidays recently when hotel staff or other guests have asked what the relationship is between the three of us. If it wasn’t so embarrassing for my sons (aged 18 and 20), I’d say we were a nice little ménage a trois!
What do you do when you are not writing? How do you relax? What are your hobbies? When I’m not writing I relax by reading (I try to read a book a week), going to the gym (in an effort to stave off the dreaded writer’s bum!), gardening and travelling. Ever since I was 16 years old and travelled to Paris on my own to stay with a friend, I’ve had the travel bug. I love going somewhere new, but am equally happy to return to a favourite place, such as Corfu or Venice. But I’m afraid I’m not one of those adventurous types who enjoy roughing it – a trekking holiday across the Sahara wouldn’t be for me! What single thing might people be surprised to learn about you? I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that I’m such a big fan of the band R.E.M. I travelled all the way to New York to see them last year. It was a very extravagant and impulsive thing to do, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to get on a plane as I was that day, but it was worth every penny.