Erica James is the author of several bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight, which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award and the recent Sunday Times top ten bestseller, The Dandelion Years.
Erica’s latest book, published this month, is Coming Home to Island House.
1. Who were your literary influences when you were growing up?
I didn’t read the classics as a child or teenager; in fact, I wouldn’t have known what a ‘classic’ was, having not been introduced to them at any point.
My reading selection was based on what I picked off the shelf in my local library, and that was probably a choice made by how appealing the cover looked. My favourites as a young child were, of course, Enid Blyton, and then Agatha Christie.
2. In your new book Coming Home to Island House, how did the character of Romily Temple develop?
My first ‘glimpse’ of Romily was of her sitting in a bay window of a house writing and observing the goings-on in the village. But then I realised that I was imagining her as a much older woman, so I decided to make her a lot younger and suddenly a very different story began to unfold inside my head.
3. You have set several of your books here. What is it about Suffolk that inspires you?
I moved to Suffolk just over three years ago and have now written three novels set here. I always like to write about places with which I feel an emotional connection and East Anglia certainly seems to make my heart sing these days. There’s something very soothing about the wide open skies and the landscape, which isn’t anywhere near as flat as people who don’t know the area make it out to be.
Somebody once asked me why I hadn’t set a book in a particular town where I had once lived many years ago and I didn’t have the heart to say it was because I’d never liked that place, so therefore had no wish to spend a year of living in it again (in my head) while writing a book set there!
4. Your books are often described as ‘feel-good’. What are the key ingredients for writing a book that sends your readers away feeling happier?
Goodness, that’s a tricky one, other than to say that I do love a happy ending. To be perfectly honest, I never sit down at the start of writing a new novel and think, “well then, how am I going to make this a ‘feel-good read?’”, I simply let the story evolve as the characters interact with each other.
Obviously I know that the pace of the story has to be maintained to keep the reader’s interest (and my own!), and that there have to be highs and lows, but really it all comes down to an instinct I’ve developed after writing for so many years, I know when it feels right. I also know when it feels wrong!
5. Do you have a message for your many readers in Suffolk Libraries?
Thank you so much for reading my books, especially those readers who have been with me since the very first one - A Breath of Fresh Air - was published more than 20 years ago.
6. If you could have written any other book by another author, what would it be?
Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler is one of my all-time favourite novels. I love the apparent simplicity of the way the story is told - which means there was absolutely nothing simple about its creation!
7. Can you tell us one thing about yourself that your readers may not know?
For those readers who don’t follow me on social media, it will come as a surprise to know that I’m such a petrol-head, in particular my fanatical love of Formula 1.
Another surprise for my readers, when they meet me, is that I’m much smaller than they imagined - for some reason they expect me to be a lot taller.
8. What would be your perfect day?
One of those very early spring days when it’s warm enough to sit with a mug of tea in the garden for the first time in the year and enjoy the sight of all the plants coming to life.