Sunday, 7 June 2015

Author Interview: Teresa Driscoll

Today it's my pleasure to welcome to the blog author Teresa Driscoll whose debut novel Recipes for Melissa was published on Friday.

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest novel Recipes for Melissa?
Recipes for Melissa is the story of a journal written secretly by a mother as a belated goodbye to her daughter. It is told across two timelines – Eleanor, the mother, writing the journal in the final weeks of her life and Melissa reading it as an adult.

I wanted to write a story which shines a light on love and loss but one which is ultimately uplifting. To achieve that I used the journal to reconnect the mother and daughter across time.

How important do you think the journal is in helping Melissa make her way in the world?
Melissa is clearly damaged by losing her mother as a child and is unsure about love and happy ever afters. The journal is, at first, incredibly difficult for her. But slowly it unlocks good as well as difficult memories and that is key. That’s when things really begin to change for her. It is as if she has her mother whispering in her ear. So – the journal is life-changing for Melissa. But I can’t say much more without spoiling things!

How did you decide on what recipes to include in the journal and how crucial were they to the overall storyline?
The recipes are all firm favourites that I’ve tweaked and tested many times. They’re classic family favourites but I wrote them up in Eleanor’s voice in the novel, adding lots of fictional anecdotes.  This evolved during the editing process so that the recipes became more and more integral to the story.

Did you find it challenging writing the journal from the point of view of someone who had passed away?
Yes – it was certainly a challenge; but I think the heart has many doors and, as writers, we have to be brave and open all of them.  Eleanor’s character came to me very strongly and from the very beginning I loved her “voice” which helped with the writing. She had a very loving mission in writing the journal and so it felt as if my job as the author was to see her through this story. To help her achieve for her daughter what she wanted. That felt very satisfying.

Did you write the journal entries first or the main storyline?
I wrote the novel in the sequence you read it – switching from timeline to timeline and voice to voice. I became so passionate about the whole premise for this novel that I followed Stephen King’s advice – to write quickly so as not to lose that passion. I wrote the first draft in around four months which is very fast for me. It meant there was a lot of editing to do later– but I needed to get this story down. It seemed almost to take on a life of its own.

Describe Melissa in 3 words.
Hurt. Confused. Loved.

Did you want readers to be shocked by the secrets revealed or would they understand what happens?
I expected the reader to be shaken initially but then hopefully to feel compassion for all the decisions made in difficult circumstances.

What can we expect from you next?  
My next novel THE SEARCH is about two very different women who strike up an unusual friendship as they search for missing children.

How did your writing journey start? 
I’ve been incredibly  lucky and have earned my living from words all my life – first as a newspaper reporter, then as a TV journalist and presenter, including 15 years fronting a BBC regional TV news programme in Devon.  After telly, I worked as a columnist and short story writer. Alongside the journalism, it took me ten years to get a book deal – with lots of near misses along the way.

What is the best writing advice you have ever received? 
Do it for the love of it and just keep going.

Do you set yourself a writing target?
Not usually but when writing this novel, I followed Stephen King’s advice to try to write 2,000 words a day. I found it hard and pulled back to 1,000 words daily for a spell. But the idea of writing in forward gear rather than editing as I went along was a good new way to work.

If you could write in a collaboration with another author, who would  you like to write with? 
Goodness – I have never considered a collaboration and I’m not at all sure I would know how to make that work. There are so many writers I admire hugely but I find writing a very personal process so I think I’m probably designed to work solo.

Did you treat yourself to anything nice for publishing your book? 
This is my first book and I haven’t bought myself anything yet. But there are a few bottles of champagne lined up to celebrate!

Finally where would your perfect writing retreat be? 
Anywhere with a sea view. I found a beautiful cottage in Cornwall for a family holiday last year. It had a gorgeous view of the sea from a conservatory and I kept saying over and over how much I would like to make it my writing room. Bliss.

Is it ever too late for the gift of goodbye? 

As I write now, you are eight years old – asleep in the bed next door in princess pyjamas, with a fairy costume discarded on the floor.

Twenty-Five. The age I had you. The age our story began. And the age, I hope, that will see you truly ready for the things that I need to say to you… 

Melissa Dance was eight years old when her mother died. They never got to say goodbye. 

Seventeen years later, Melissa is handed a journal. As she smooths open the pages and begins to read her mother’s words, she is instantly transported back to her childhood.  

But returning to her past is painful and memories of her mother’s beautiful face are a cruel reminder to Melissa that she’ll never see her again.  

As Melissa slowly makes her way through the precious book, reading the snippets of advice and cooking the dishes from the recipes she is also shocked to learn of her mother’s secrets – secrets that if shared, could change Melissa’s world forever. 

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