Friday, January 6, 2012

Interview with Judy Astley

I'm delighted to welcome bestselling author Judy Astley to the blog today. Judy says that she can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to write, but at the staid and traditional girls’ school she attended, fiction was not encouraged. ‘It was feared that all we wild 1960s teenagers would go to The Bad without firm control over our imaginations.’ I’m happy to tell you that she didn’t listen to this advice, and continued to indulge her imagination, to the good of us all. 

So, Judy, I know you are a devoted member of the RNA, can you tell us how you first heard of the organisation, and in what way it has benefited you?

It was Katie Fforde who told me about the RNA when we were doing a bookshop talk together in Guildford, several years ago (and talked so long in the restaurant beforehand that we were almost late, running in all puffed and pink at the last minute). She said I should join as the parties were great – a clincher for me! I’ve met so many terrific people and great friends through the RNA and I love how supportive it is to everyone.

The parties certainly are great, but of course writers have to work hard too. Can you work anywhere or do you have a favourite place to hide away and write? 
I work best on my Apple iMac which is on a glass desk in our bedroom on the top floor, overlooking the Thames. That’s the ‘default’ place, just me with my cat Veronica sprawled across my lap. I do have a little Mac laptop as well which I use on my downstairs desk or if I’m away but the big Mac is where I feel most workmanlike. The river is very calming when I’m having a panic about whether I can ever write another line that makes sense and the cat and those writer-essential fingerless gloves keep me warm in winter.

Do you do much planning when starting a new novel? Would you call yourself a plotter or a pantster?
I wish I could say I’m a plotter and I expect my editor does too. I’m sure it would make life so much easier if I had the whole book worked out before the start but I just can’t. I start with a loose idea, a theme, maybe something that’s made me cross. I get a first chapter down and let it run from there, though I usually have an ending and several key events in mind. It does mean I waste a lot of time dithering and worrying about where to go next but somehow it gets there. The upside is getting those wonderful moments where you sit up in the middle of the night and it comes to you: “Ah – so that needy friend, she’s the ex-lover’s wife!”

Where to you find inspiration for your characters?
My main men are loosely based on people I fancy a bit. I like louche, arty/musician sorts, a bit Keith Richards, Serge Gainsbourg, James May kind of thing. Absolutely NOT George Clooney. And I’ll see people around and think, ooh, I like that look, or how someone speaks. In my new book, THE LOOK OF LOVE, I have an older woman who was entirely based on a woman I saw dining with her family at the Manoir Au Quatr’ Saisons. She was probably over 80, incredibly stylishly dressed and I suddenly ‘got’ what Statement Jewellery meant.

Can you tell us a little about your next book?
This new one, THE LOOK OF LOVE, is a good-fun one about Bella who, having suddenly lost three quarters of her income (plus her ex-husband wants to cash in his half of the home), rents out her house as a location for a clothes makeover show and ends up as one of the participants. There are actually three romances in it as Bella, her mother and daughter all have relationships under way. In fact, in a bid to give older women a better-than-usual deal with fiction sex, the mother gets a bedroom scene with her lover in the Ritz hotel, complete with champagne and cake. Bliss.

That sounds good. Three cheers for the older woman. And now to some lighter questions. What was your favourite book as a child? 
Anne of Green Gables. That and Anne of Avonlea. Both copies in our house had been my mother’s when she was young. I adored Anne and identified with her as my mother used to complain that I never stopped talking. I loved the constant trouble she was in, the wild imagination, the insecurity about how she looked (which I had too). It wasn’t till I was in my thirties that I discovered there were loads more books in the series and I read every fabulous one during a bout of flu.

Which were the first three ebooks you downloaded?
The first to the iPad was Jill Mansell’s ‘To the Moon and Back’, then Kate Long’s ‘Mothers and Daughters’ and Graham Greene’s ‘The End of the Affair’. I’ve got a good fortnight’s holiday’s-worth stacked up ready to read but I still actually prefer ‘proper’ books.

If you could choose to be something other than a writer, what would it be?
Tricky one this. Apart from being an idle, monied lady of pleasure I can’t think of a job I’d rather do. But – and this might sound weird - I do quite fancy running a stylish undertaking business. The 60s generation are starting to die off and I think they’d definitely go for a more sort-of Conran style operation than the grim, beige Dickensian high-street premises that exist. I should get in quick before Mary Portas gets in on the act, though I’d prefer not to be too hands-on.

Have you trained your husband to cook for you while you write?
As a life-long feminist I’m a bit shocked at this question! This is 2012, right? Jon and I both cook, both shop, both deal with laundry. Having said that we do accommodate each other’s work deadlines. If he’s mastering a difficult album (he has a music studio in the house) I’ll do supper and likewise, if I’m on a roll with the book he’ll do it. All I really ask when I’m cooking is that he doesn’t talk to me during The Archers.

What is the most you’ve written in a week and how did you get through it?
Well – I’m a terrible procrastinator (based on the fact that I’m forever sure I can never write another publishable sentence) so I take the deadline right to the edge and end up whizzing frantically through the last couple of chapters. So probably the most I’ve written in a week was 15,000 words a couple of books ago, with the final 6,000 crammed into the last day. Bizarrely, those last 6,000 flowed incredibly fluently, needed no changes at all and I’m still pretty pleased with them. All the same, it’s not a work-method I recommend.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, Judy. To find out more do visit her website at 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are conducted by Freda Lightfoot and Kate Jackson. If you would like an interview, please contact me


Catherine Miller said...

Looking forward to reading The Look of Love, Judy. Really do need to get myself some fingerless gloves and sign up for one of your funeral plans.

Chris Stovell said...

What a lovely, cheerful, inspirational interview for the New Year!

Jan Jones said...

Lovely interview, Judy - and as you know I adored The Look of Love.

And from one procrastinator to another... 6000 words??? In a day???

I feel faint.

Norma Murray said...

Judy, it's an inspiration to know even talented and established authors like you get that 'can I ever wite another line that makes sense' moment. And I agree your latest is good fun, great for those post Christmas blues.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thanks for the great interview.

I can't wait to read, The Look of Love.

Liz Harris said...

Really good interview, Judy and Freda. I enjoyed it.

'The Look of Love' sounds great fun - I can't wait to read it.

Liz X

Anna Jacobs said...

The Look of Love sounds great, Judy. I've put it on my TBR pile for my new Kindle. I love books with older heroines in them. There aren't nearly enough around.

Judy Astley said...

How sweet of you all to say such lovely things! Thank you. And huge thanks to Freda (and also Liz for the Christmas tree blogs) for organising all this. Happy New Year to you all and Happy Writing xxx

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Nice Romantic Interview Ideas about the romance and dating.Thank for sharing.

Beth Elliott said...

What a fun interview - and it's interesting to know that even with so many successful books written, you can still be stuck for ideas and words - but you always manage to get it right by the deadline. thank you, Judy -and Freda - for such a pleasant chat.


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