1. Why writing about love? What made you write about it?
I don’t think anyone writes only about love – it has to be part of a bigger picture if it’s to mean anything at all. But having said that, the question of who we love, how we love them, and whether the person we love will love us back, is a huge one: it speaks volumes to our identity, our personal values, our sense of self-worth. I was single until I was over forty, and one of the great social comforts about being half of a couple is that these days I don’t have to explain myself anything like as much as I used to. When I was single, I’d walk into a situation and it would be up to me to introduce myself and explain who I am from the roots up. Now that I come with a partner, people immediately have clues about me. “Oh – so that’s the person she’s chosen and who has chosen her. This is how they talk to each other, that’s the body language they use.” They don’t have to like what they see – although obviously I prefer it if they do! – but they see a whole lot more than they did before, just because I’m with the person I fell in love with who fell in love with me.
In The Little Women Letters, I write about four young women in their twenties – three sisters and a family friend – who deal with a variety of issues during the course of the book. They have careers, they have relationships with their family and with each other, they make jokes, they cook meals, they buy shoes. And, yes, like most young women, they think about love, wonder about love, and fall in love. As Marmee commented in Little Women, “What can you expect when I have four gay girls in the house and a dashing young neighbor over the way?”
2. Is there a romance author, living or dead, who inspires you particularly?
Not strictly a romance author, but Louisa May Alcott has been a huge part of my life ever since I first read Little Women when I was a child. In the book, she takes the four very different March sisters from awkward adolescent girls to confident young women – in the case of Beth, she takes her to a peaceful death – and does so with amazing skill at whatever age she is portraying. As I mentioned above, the sisters don’t only fall in love – they face challenges, joys, sorrows, and even bereavement along the way. But their love stories, when they come, are beautifully written. We know very little of Louisa May Alcott’s love life – she never married and there seems to be no lasting record of any serious love affair. But anyone who has read how Laurie falls for Amy, or Jo for Professor Bhaer, can see that she did fall in love at least once. You can’t write about it the way she does unless you’ve been there.
3. Please tell us about your last book and, if you can, your future projects.
It’s called The Little Women Letters (published by Michael Joseph), and it’s about three sisters living in modern London who are the descendants of Jo March – one of them finds a cache of letters that Jo had written to her sisters, so it’s partly the story of the modern girls and partly a new look at some of the events in Little Women. It was a very great deal of fun to write, because it gave me the license to spend a sizeable portion of my day reading and thinking about Little Women and I have to say that a working day doesn’t get much nicer than that.
It’s also given me the chance to meet some extraordinarily nice people and go to some fascinating places. If anyone is ever in Boston, I’d urge them to take a side trip to Concord, a charming little town a short train ride away from the city, to visit the Louisa May Alcott Orchard House Museum. This is the house where Louisa lived while she was writing Little Women and which she used as a model for the house in the book – it’s now a museum dedicated both to the book and to the Alcott family, and is a wonderful, quite magical place.
As for future projects, I’m working on a new book but find that if I talk about it, I don’t write it, so will, as they say in America, plead the Fifth Amendment on this one!
4. How was your writing journey? Was it difficult to find an agent and get published?
I’ve been writing all my adult life, both as a journalist and as a novelist, but my journey in terms of having books published has been complicated by the fact that when I was 28 I moved from London to Los Angeles, so am still not entirely sure whether I’m a British author or an American. When I started writing novels in my early thirties, I was still quite British and had a wonderful English agent, but over the years I found my writing becoming more American so she and I agreed, very amicably, to separate.
The problem with being an American author, however, is that I live in Los Angeles and the American publishing world, which is very firmly placed in New York, just doesn’t know what to make of anyone who lives West of the Rockies, let alone a transplanted Brit! For a long time I was in a strange sort of limbo, with no one quite knowing what to do with me. I did have one agent who lived in Los Angeles whom I would meet for “business” lunches where we would discuss her love life in some depth, and at the end of which I would ask, “Sooo … any news on selling the book?” At which she would look embarrassed and shake her head, which I, like any author, would take to mean hoots of horror and my manuscript tossed disgustedly across offices at publishing houses large and small … until one day I happened to ask her exactly how many publishers she had sent the manuscript to, and she revealed the cause of her embarrassment by confessing that she … sort of … hadn’t got around to sending it to … well … anyone, really. We did not part friends.
So I decided to go back to a British agent. There’s less of a British/American literary divide now than there was twenty years ago, and these days some British agents are actually more sympathetic to Los Angeles themes than New Yorkers are. I asked around various literary contacts in London and someone suggested I send some of my writings to one of the big agents at Curtis Brown, which I did – not very optimistically, because I was sure the agent would be snowed under with submissions, but ready at that point to try anything. I waited for what felt like an eternity and then on the morning of Friday the 13th of February (yes, quite) I opened my e-mail to read, glumly and just as I had expected, that that particular agent already had a full client list … but then I read on and she added that she was passing me over to her younger colleague, Felicity Blunt, who had also read my work and was interested in me. And that’s when the sun began to shine because Felicity is flat-out fabulous.
That was a long answer to a short question, wasn’t it? I guess the moral is, never to give up …
5. What’s your opinion about this e-book revolution? Would you consider going the indie route?
People will always want to hear the news and they’ll always want to be told stories. In Louisa May Alcott’s day, the stories came in big books bound with leather; today most of the books are small and paperback; and I know what a great number of people who like to read found in their Christmas stockings this year because since late December my paperback sales have fallen a little and the kindle sales have soared. I don’t have a kindle yet because I’m hopelessly impractical and am always the last to learn how to do anything new. But one day I’ll set aside some time to learn how to do it, if only because I’m starting to feel guilty about all the poor forests we’re cutting down. Although I can’t imagine living without books entirely …
Self-publishing? I’m certainly not against it, although I’ve never done it myself because, as I said, I am impossibly impractical and would really not be sure how to go about it. I also don’t have such rock solid confidence in my own work that I would think that a book of mine must be published if a number of professional publishers had declined to take it on. But life changes, the world changes, and I do know some excellent writers who have gone that route, so who can say what the future holds?
6. Nowadays many publishers expect authors to use social media a lot to promote their books. Many authors, on the other hand, would prefer to write only, without being distracted by digital trivialities. What are your thoughts?
Really? You know authors who would rather write than do almost anything else in the world that they could possibly think of doing, short of murdering babies? Who are these authors and where do they live? … There’s always some publicity around the publication of a book, and it’s always a slightly schizophrenic time, with half the brain remembering back to the old book that we actually finished writing some months ago, and the other half busy trying to create the new. Social media takes a lot less time than travelling around on a book tour and reaches more people these days, too. I have a web site and a Facebook page although I’m probably not as efficient at keeping them up-to-date as I could be. And I just love doing interviews like this. Recounting my life story and voicing my opinions while telling myself I’m working – what’s not to adore?
Info about the author:
Gabrielle Donnelly was born in London and has known that she wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. She read, wrote, and daydreamed her way through grammar school in North London and to a Bachelor of Arts degree from London University; when she was 22, she got her first job as a reporter in the London office of the DC Thompson newspaper The Weekly News; she has made her living as a journalist ever since.
In 1980, realizing that she had lived for all of her life in London and deciding that she should probably at least briefly experience living somewhere else before it was too late, she moved to Los Angeles for a six-month-long working vacation. She has never returned. She writes about show business for a variety of British magazines and newspapers, and, as a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, votes every year for the Golden Globe Awards.
The Little Women Letters is Gabrielle’s fifth novel. Previously, Holy Mother, Faulty Ground, and All Done With Mirrors were printed in Britain by Victor Gollancz; The Girl In The Photograph was printed in America by Penguin Putnam. The Little Women Letters is the first to be published in both countries, and she says it is the one she has had by far the most fun writing.
A committed singleton throughout her twenties and thirties, she surprised herself and everyone else at over forty by falling madly in love with and marrying Los Angeles-born computer specialist Owen Bjornstad. They live in Los Angeles in a spectacularly untidy house a couple of miles from the ocean, and make each other laugh a very great deal.
Gabrielle is a Corporator of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House Museum in Concord, Massachusetts.
To buy her latest book, please click on the cover below:
1. Why writing about love? What made you write about it?