Thursday, 27 February 2014

Publication day interview with author Lucy Dillon



British author Lucy Dillon has five fiction novels to her name so far, including Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2010. Her new novel, A Hundred Pieces of Me, tells the story of Gina Bellamy, who after her divorce has to start over in a small apartment and decides to purge her belongings to just one hundred items important to her. I loved this inspiring novel and you can find my full review here. In this interview Lucy talks about her new novel, tackling the sensitive subject of breast cancer and inspiring women. 


Where did you get the idea for the book, Gina purging her possessions to just a hundred things important to her?

I'm a terrible clutterer. In an effort to get a grip on my hoarding habits, I read an American self-help book about a man who'd decided to reduce his stuff to a hundred things for spiritual reasons. Being a man, he approached it very practically but quickly developed a sneaky way of getting round his own rules - bundling all socks, underpants, vests, etc, in as 'underwear' and discounting anything his family used, like the piano or the car.

It made me think about what items were genuinely important to me, underwear aside, and what I was only hanging onto because it had been expensive or because I'd had it a long time. Then last year I packed up my house to get ready for building work, and found myself in the same place as Gina, with my life in boxes and a strange instinct to put back only the most vital possessions into my newly tidy space! 



If put in the same position what would you hold on to for dear life?

Anything irreplaceable like old photo albums, or family heirlooms. I'm terrible at recycling books, and I stash letters and postcards from friends in cookery books rather than throwing them out. But one thing writing A Hundred Pieces of Me made me realise is that what's important is having experiences, and enjoying them in your heart.

It's so easy with digital cameras and iPhones to get so caught up in taking photos of moments to post on Facebook that you miss being in them. I made a resolution this year to amass less and feel more!

What was the biggest challenge for you when tackling the sensitive subject of breast cancer?

It's such a wide-ranging, complex topic that no amount of research ever feels enough. When you're writing about a disease that, sadly, many readers will be extremely knowledgeable about from personal experience, there's a big responsibility to get the details right, and reflect not just the facts but the emotional impact and the aftermath and the effects on those around the patient. And everyone responds differently, so I had to concentrate hard to make Gina's experience her own.

And though it's a major element of Gina's journey through the book, A Hundred Pieces of Me isn't a novel about breast cancer; no one I spoke to wanted their cancer to define them, so Gina comes out of it a slightly changed person, but it's definitely not the end of her story.


Gina's friendship with greyhound Buzz was heartwarming to read, are you a dog person yourself?

Yes! Although I never realised I was until I rehomed a basset hound about five years ago, and she woke up the dormant dog person within. I love sharing my life with hounds; they bring real warmth and affection to a house, as well as a lot of hair and mud.


Despite all the trials in her life Gina's strong personality is an inspiration to readers, which women have inspired you?

My mother's a constant source of inspiration to me; she's juggled a career, a family, a house, and voluntary work, coped with serious illness with grace and humour, and is enjoying a happy retirement with a man she's lived her whole life alongside.

I'm very admiring of women who perform on world stages, but there's something quietly heroic about women holding families and lives and communities together that should be celebrated. When things are tough, I find remembering what my mother and grandmother have had to deal with much more of a kick up the behind than trying to aim for world peace or a solution to the Syrian crisis. 


What are some female authors or women's fiction novels you enjoy reading yourself?

I love Kate Atkinson's writing and her elegance with language and structure, and I'm a long term fan of Laurie Graham's novels, both her early modern ones, and her current strand of more historical writing.



Do you have any advice for those who aspire to become a published author?

Read as much as you can, and then write as much as you can. Don't worry about making things perfect, just focus on finding your own rhythm and style; writing's a bit like marathon running, in that you've got to get the miles under your belt first. And reading aloud is also the quickest fix for dodgy dialogue. 



Can you tell us what your next writing project is?

I'm about to start the next novel set in Longhampton, around the small hotel on the outskirts of town. There will be a dog it in, but as yet, I'm still at the 'sitting in a cafe with a notebook and four coffees' stage!

Lucy Dillon's A Hundred Pieces of Me is published today (27th February 2014) by Hodder & Stoughton.

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