Fiona Walker has a reputation as the voice of young, media-aware women. Dubbed ‘The Jilly Cooper of the Cosmo Generation’, she trained in theatre arts and worked briefly in advertising before becoming a bestselling novelist in her twenties, injecting her wicked sense of humour into the intrepid heroines of her books. Fiona’s large, colourful casts and addictive plots have won her an army of loyal fans, many of whom read the books again and again. To date, her novels have sold over a million copies worldwide.
NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write?
As a pony-mad child growing up in the ‘seventies, I read every pony book I could get my hands on, exhausting the local library’s supply of Pullein-Thomsons, after which I started writing my own. My mother still has boxes of exercise books lavishly decorated with illustrations and featuring opening chapters in which my heroine’s parents both died in a tragic car crash before she was sent to live with a maiden aunt who had a stable yard full of ponies. I rarely got beyond chapter one in those days, but the writing bug was well and truly established and never left me.
NAW- Tell us about your book ‘The Country Escape.’ What is it about? How long did it take for you to complete the book?
The Country Escape is a romantic romp in which feathers are ruffled when a dotcom billionaire buys a historic Herefordshire estate and sets about trying to evict an animal sanctuary that’s based on one of its farms. That sanctuary is run by Kat Mason, who refuses to take the threat lying down, especially when a practised charmer is sent in to seduce her away from it. It took me just under a year to write.
NAW- Tell us about your other works?
I’ve written fifteen novels, starting with French Relations over twenty years ago. They are all big, fun slices of romantic escapism with fast-twisting plots a big cast of loveable characters. I relish the big scene – weddings, parties, sporting events – and am never happier than when I’ve introduced all the characters so that the reader feels they know them really well, and then I can get them all on the page together to behave badly and cause mayhem. That’s my trademark, along with a gloriously happy ending.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey. How did your first book get published? Did you face any struggles? And has success changed anything?
I was twenty-two when I wrote French Relations, and it was intended to be no more than occupational therapy because I hated my job and took advantage of a break from it to do something self-indulgent before finding another career path. Instead, I ended up with a full-length manuscript, a brilliant agent who spotted it on her ‘slush pile’, then within weeks a publisher and a three book deal. It seemed so simple then; it was only afterwards that I realized that mine was a very rare good luck story. Looking back, I can see I was also very well protected by the team around me. The publishing industry is a much tougher one now, and I’ve struggled with its more ruthless elements over the years, but I still love writing more than anything and count myself incredibly privileged to do what I do.
NAW- How do you deal with the celebrity status that comes with being a writer? It must be better than an actor because your face isn’t part of the limelight but have overzealous fans ever hounded you for autographs?
I certainly don’t see myself as a celebrity – most people I meet have never heard of me, or when they learn I’m an author, they say ‘I’ve always wanted to write a book’ then proceed to tell me the plot in finite detail while I try to politely edge my way to the drinks table. It’s true that I occasionally get asked to make a speech or give out an award, along with constant requests for signed books for charity auctions (I am down to just a few copies of my early books, along with a mountain of German editions I don’t know what to do with). Just occasionally, I do meet somebody who recognises me and has read my work, and that is incredibly gratifying – it feels like meeting an old friend.
NAW- If not a writer, what would you have been?
I wanted to be an actress, but I was pretty hopeless, and far too tall – I towered over most of my leading men, and was reduced to playing mad old women at college, which rather limited my work chances upon graduating, given I was still only twenty. I also wanted to be a vet, and had I taken a more scientific route, I think I’d have really enjoyed (and it would certainly have saved the family a lot of money given we seem to collect accident-prone dogs and horses).
NAW- What drew you to writing?
I’m a prolific reader – as are most authors I know – and writing seemed a natural progression from that, particularly when I couldn’t find something that quite hit the spot to read. That’s why I started French Relations; in the same way that I started writing pony books when I ran out of things to read, so I started writing romantic comedy. It’s a wonderfully indulgent profession, in which you can literally ride off your imagination, but it also requires a huge amount of self discipline and organisation, and there’s an obsessive compulsive in me that loves nothing more than a plot diagram and lots of lists of notes.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I love animals and the countryside, especially horses, so you’ll often find my out riding or dog walking, and that’s when I work through my book plots in my head. My latest passion is gardening, which makes me feel very middle aged, but I am unashamed in my love of batting about with a trug and a sun hat like something out of a cosy BBC sit com. I also love theatre, and it’s a terrific source of inspiration for writing. Most of all, I adore spending time with family – my daughters are six and seven, which is such an adorable age of make-believe and imagination. It’s sometimes frustrating that I spend such long hours in my own imagination, locked away writing, when these amazing little minds are sparkling away, but when I do get to share time with them, it’s the best feeling in the world.
NAW- Are there any literary influences that you would like to name?
Like most British school children, I grew up with the classics – George Eliot, Jane Austen, the Brontes – and they had a profound influence, along with those pony books I lapped up. As a teenager I devoured Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper, whose books I still adore and who I think is an incredibly clever writer. I love genuinely funny female writers – Sue Townsend and Wendy Perriam have been great influences.
NAW-Please name your five favourite books.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Team by K M Peyon
Riders by Jilly Cooper
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
NAW- What are your upcoming projects?
I’ve just finished writing a book called The Woman Who Fell in Love for a Week, which focuses on one passionate love affair rather than a huge, romping cast of cross-crossing plots, although it has all the elements that I bring to every book I write. As always, I wanted to write a novel that’s funny and sexy with characters that every reader falls in love with, and I certainly lost my heart to them and giggled a lot when I was working on it, so I really hope I’ve managed it. It’s published in 2015.