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Victoria Routledge InterviewVictoria Routledge Interview

Author of Friends Like These, Kiss Him Goodbye and the forthcoming ...And For Starters, Victoria Routledge's position as a popular fiction writer is already well established. We spoke to Victoria about her writing and where she sees herself in the future.

Fiction-Net: So what you working on at the moment?

Victoria Routledge: I've just finished doing the final proofs of my new book, ...And for Starters and I'm about a fifth of the way into book four. It's about a 70s rock-chick called Rosetta, whose husband Brian managed tours for the big supergroups, and her four sons. They're now grown-up, she's hit 50 and is about to move to Ireland to write her autobiography. Each of the boys is very different - none of them believe that Brian is really their father, for a start - but despite all they have going for them, they're all slightly broken inside in some way. Tanith, the casting director girlfriend of the second brother, starts to put all the pieces of their family together and they're made to realise what it means to be related.

It's actually funnier than it sounds from that summary. Honestly! I wanted to look at the effect that 70's idea of women having a primary responsibility to be themselves, rather than wives or mothers or whatever, ultimately has on the people around them and on themselves in later life. And I've always been fascinated by the little pixie rockstar kids that you see being led through Customs in goatskin outfits. What happens to them when they grow up? How can Marc Bolan's son be penniless? What did Marianne Faithfull's son see hanging round with the Rolling Stones? Did Robert Plant's kids really gambol naked in streams like they do in The Song Remains The Same? It's also a big fat excuse to read rock biographies all day and listen to Led Zeppelin in the name of research.


Fiction-Net: Is there a particular time of day or night when you do most of your writing?

Victoria Routledge: I try to get at least 1750 words done by 5:25pm. Sometimes I can do more in the evening and actually more interesting material seems to come out before I go to bed. Or if I've just got in from a boozy dinner. I like to think I'm good at working in the morning but it's really just wishful thinking. I always scour other writers' 'How I Write' features in the hope of finding someone else as chaotic as me but they all claim to write from 6am, take the dog for a walk at 11am and then revise for the rest of the day or 'brush up on their Latin' or something. Can this be true?

Fiction-Net: In Kiss Him Goodbye, Kate is terrified of moving down to London. As a northerner living in London yourself, how scary is the London scene?

Victoria Routledge: London is a very long way from Cumbria, where I come from. I know lots of people from home who regularly go to America on holiday but have never been to London, on the grounds that it's dangerous, expensive, a bit snotty, full of weirdos and with the same shops as Manchester and Leeds at twice the price. And America isn't? Then again, I know lots of Londoners who've travelled all over the world but never bothered to go to the Lakes or the Peak District, which is just as big a loss for them.

I'd only been twice before I moved here in 1995 and got very excited by the Monopoly board thing - look! there's Big Ben! Look! There's Buckingham Palace! Look! There's a policeman! etc. Very embarrassing for my mates but that old cliché of London just being a series of small towns linked up is true. Once you work out that no one really needs to shop on Oxford Street ever and that plenty of little Italian cafes will do a cappuccino for a lot less than £2.50, you're OK. Like Kate, I felt incredibly lonely and vulnerable at first, just because I didn't know where anything was but I made myself visit two coffee shops a weekend to begin with, learning buses and streets and areas until eventually it all fell into place. But cost of living and general London insanity aside, I do love the feeling of being where things are happening and knowing that if I wanted to get in the car and get a bagel at 3am, I could.

Kiss Him Goodbye by Victoria Routledge - Book Review

Fiction-Net: Friends Like These had a group of main characters whereas Kiss Him Goodbye focuses entirely on Kate. Was it easier being able to devote more attention to one central figure?

Victoria Routledge: It was easier writing about one central character because you don't have to worry about balancing the attention but then I worried that with only one effective viewpoint, the narrative would get a bit too linear. I like the ensemble pieces because you can use the other people and their experiences as a mirror to characteristics. It's not so show-and-tell.

The good thing about having one central character is that you have more control over where the story goes. I tend to get side-tracked into writing five books in one, which can be a bit of a nightmare for my editor.

Fiction-Net: Do you base your characters on 'real' people, ie. friends?

Victoria Routledge: Er, no. Can I make that an official statement? I DO NOT BASE MY CHARACTERS ON FRIENDS. A couple of my boyfriend's mates now refuse to speak in front of me because they're convinced that I use them as templates for characters - which is a bit rich since they haven't actually read anything I've written.

Though obviously you draw on inspiration all round you, basing characters on friends is never a good idea in the long run - not only because it's the quickest way of pruning your address book but also because the characters will only 'do' what your friends would do in the same situation. If you don't think of them as autonomous people, they'll have exactly the same limitations and that obviously affects your plot flexibility. What I tend to do is to take tiny single observations and use them to flesh out a character I've already made up, so the fundamental character is totally fictional but decorated with hundreds of observations of lots of different people, real and imaginary. The trouble is, if you have realistic twenty-something characters in realistic-ish twenty-something situations, friends see one thing they think they did or might have said and assume the whole character is based on them. And the girls always assume they're the bitch, whereas the lads assume they're the gorgeous hero and that you're just working out a secret crush.

Friends Like These by Victoria Routledge - Book Review

Fiction-Net: Kiss Him Goodbye has more humour in it. Was this intentional?

Victoria Routledge: It wasn't intentionally funnier. Maybe there was more situational comedy in it with the publishing setting and more opportunity with the one central character to have those running office gags. Actually, I thought there was a lot more darkness underlying the humour.

Fiction-Net: After Rachel's dog and Dant's cat, can we expect a non-human character to feature in all your books?

Victoria Routledge: Um, you're right! Iona, the agony aunt in ...And for Starters has two Battersea rescue cats. Oh no! I don't even like cute fictional pets! Ratcat was meant to be a sort of familiar for Cressida - the cute family pet gone rabid - and Humpty was meant to be a cunning visual aid for the genuine trust between Rachel and Fin. You knew that when things went horribly wrong that he would be there to protect her. Iona's cats are there to symbolise the stage of her relationship with her boyfriend Angus - they're not married but they have cats together. It's a muddy compromise a lot of my friends have adopted.

Fiction-Net: Do you think you've been influenced by any other writers? Any particular favourites?

Victoria Routledge: I love Marian Keyes - she has a fantastically light and fluid style that's really, really hard to pull off. She's a very underestimated writer. I also love Kate Atkinson and Kate Saunders for those swirling, absorbing family novels and Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins and John Galsworthy for proper train-journey reads.

Georgina Wroe, who writes unpigeonholeable crime/comedy/thrillers often set in Russia, should, by rights, be far more famous. Jeremy Clarkson is very funny too - sorry.

Victoria Routledge

Fiction-Net: Where do you see yourself in ten years? Still on the shelves of WH Smith?

Victoria Routledge: I hope I'll still be writing, preferably in a cottage in Galway! Every book is a real learning process - my long-term aim was always to write stories I wanted to read, so ideally, by the time I'm thirty-five and want to read something a bit more spiritual or serious, I'll have the skills to make it work technically, as well as the maturity to express something more complicated. If I really didn't have anything to say through a book, I wouldn't start it.

I'd like to learn how to write screenplays - I don't think you can assume that because you can write in one format, you can waltz straight into another - and carry on with the feature writing I'm doing at the moment. My ultimate childhood career dream was always to be editor of Smash Hits but that looks like it's gone by the wayside, so I might have to settle for being a columnist in Top Gear.

Fiction-Net: Finally, you've written about two female villains. Have you considered creating a male villain or are other women the real enemy?

Victoria Routledge: I didn't intentionally create female villains - maybe I just know women better. Caroline and Cress really represent the darker side of Rachel and Kate's own personality. They do the things they wish they could do themselves but don't because they're held back by tedious factors like niceness or fear or consideration for others.

The danger of having a male villain is that you send out 'Here's the Love Interest!' signals, which makes me put a book down immediately. Same goes for a gorgeous but bizarrely single male best friend. There aren't any villains at all in ...And for Starters, come to think of it. Everyone in that is their own worst enemy, which is possibly more true to life.

Read more about Victoria Routledge at Fiction-Net.

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