Harriet Evans grew up in Chiswick. She worked in publishing before becoming an author Her ten bestselling novels include A Place for Us, Going Home and Love Always. Her latest book is The Wildflowers.
1. Who were your literary influences and heroes as you were growing up?
I absolutely loved Enid Blyton, CS Lewis, Lorna Hill’s Ballet School books, Noel Streatfeild. Classic English children’s literature. Anything that created a world you were utterly absorbed in. I love that now, too.
Funnily enough, now I have children of my own I can reread all of these except Enid Blyton, whom I adored but now find a bit ‘thin’.
2. What is your writing routine?
I drop one child off at school and go to the library. I work four days a week at the moment and have to snatch half days here and there depending on if I’m doing pick-up. In the last year we’ve had a childminder who picks the kids up twice a week and that has given me so much more freedom to have a full writing day. If this sounds boring, it is - it takes so much organisation and I’ve had to be quite firm with myself about carving out time to write. It’s depressing to think how many women have been unable to write and abandoned projects because of the pram in the hallway.
I write in the London Library in Piccadilly. It was founded by Tennyson and Carlyle and has over three million books. It is a bit like Hogwarts. It is my favourite place in the whole world. I absolutely love getting lost in the stacks there and finding some title on a shelf about astronomy or the French Revolution or whatever!
3. Your latest book, The Wildflowers, was published recently. Can you tell us a little about that?
Yes! It’s the story of an abandoned wooden holiday house on the Dorset coast which is being valued by estate agents when the novel opens. It’s covered in bindweeds and wildflowers have sprung up around it. When we see inside there’s no furniture and no one’s been there for years. As the estate agents turn on their phones for some light these black and white photos of a family living this perfect life in that house flash up on the walls.
This is the Wildes - a super glamorous family of actors whose holiday home it was for decades and who spent these golden summers on the porch drinking cocktails while their children played… but now no one goes there, there was a terrible tragedy many years ago and they abandoned the house. What happened to split the family in two?
It goes back to the Second World War and takes us through their story, the parents, Tony and Althea Wilde, and their children Ben and Cord. It’s about damaged childhoods, perfect summers, glamorous families, people who seem perfect from the outside. I loved writing it.
4. If you had not become a writer what would you have liked to do?
An actress in musicals: Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma, My Fair Lady… I used to take it super seriously and perform routines in the garden. Alas no one agreed with me!
5. What is on your ‘to read’ list at the moment?
I’m about to read Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, which recently won the Women’s Prize, then the new Pat Barker, The Silence of the Girls, about the Trojan War, and Penny Vincenzi’s last novel. I edited her when I was still working in publishing and she was my heroine. She died in February and I miss her very much - I hear A Question of Trust is absolutely wonderful.
I have just finished the last Helen Dunmore novel, Birdcage Walk, which is brilliant.
6. Do you have a message for your many readers in Suffolk libraries?
Yes! Thank you very very much for taking out my books and for using libraries. If you cut me open (please don’t) you’d find libraries running through me. I spent every spare moment in one as a child and now write in one. If we don’t use them and tell everyone to we will be sad when they’re not there any more.
Also, I am on my own all day and love chatting to readers - invite me to Suffolk or please contact me on my Facebook page. There’s quite a lot of chat about Marks and Spencer and what books we’ve liked recently - if that’s your bag, please come and say hi…
7. Can you tell us one thing your readers may not know about you?
Again yes! Um… I sat on David Niven’s lap when i was a baby. My dad was also an editor and in the 70s, he published David Niven’s brilliant memoirs The Moon’s a Balloon and Bring on the Empty Horses. He had a car accident when I was tiny and was very ill for ages. When he was finally home David Niven came to visit him. He arrived in our street in a chauffeur-driven Bentley. He was apparently the loveliest man.
Also, in a more East Anglian connection way, Delia Smith came to our house. I should say I remember neither of these events, I sort of vaguely remember Delia but might just be thinking of the cover of Delia’s Book of Cakes…