The Chain is a series of one-to-one conversations between authors discussing the business of writing.


Here Cathy Kelly and Fanny Blake talk about their latest novels, the pleasures and perils of writing and what inspires them.

Fanny started the conversation


Let’s start by talking about The House on Willow Street. Can you tell me what inspired the novel? 


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I started with several lovely ideas which fell entirely apart as the story progressed – which does answer the next question about plotting. Plot matters, darn it. So with Willow Street, I started with two sisters – Tess and Suki – who were estranged from each other, and with a village post-mistress, Danae, who was very wise and full of good advice for everyone else but was distant about her own life. As it happened, neither of these ideas quite worked out. While I had a ball making Suki wildly naughty and bitchy, there was a warmer person waiting to come out and suddenly, she wasn’t estranged from Tess at all. And Danae, because of her past, couldn’t be quite so outgoing. So it all changed.

What started off your new one, Women of a Dangerous Age





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I wanted to write about women who had reached that point in their lives when you stop to ask yourself: Is this it? Is it too late for me to change? After that, the characters of Lou and Ali walked onto the stage. Lou’s children have flown the nest and she has just extricated herself from her marriage, when the two women meet. Ali has been a serial mistress since the love of her life left her, but realises that after all she wants commitment. Despite some major setbacks, their friendship enables them to move forward.


You were originally a journalist. What prompted you to start writing fiction?




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cathy kelly


Cathy Kelly

c Barry McCall 2012

women of a dangerous agethe house on willow street

The House on Willow Street

by Cathy Kelly

is published by HarperCollins.

This title ia also available in unabridged Audio.


Women of a Dangerous Age

by Fanny Blake

is published by Blue Door.

Fanny Blake is also the books editor of Woman & Home.

fanny blake


Oooooh, brilliant question, Fanny. I should point out, dear reader, that Fanny and I are friends – she
is a total darling. One of those lovely wise, kind people, but I digress. I always wanted to write, really. I simply had no idea when I was a teenager that such a thing could be a job other than the obvious world of journalism. So writing was always a part of me – if that doesn’t sound mad. I lived very much in my head and people who do that, just have to write! Otherwise you talk to yourself too much and people avoid you. Writing fiction was a wonderful release into what my heart wanted to do.


What got you started?



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I wrote bits and pieces when I was a kid – I remember labouring over a story about a Canadian goose that went on for pages and pages of an exercise book and I started a short-lived newspaper in the garden shed. But then, working as a publisher for many years, I thought writing was what other people did. I became a journalist by chance more than anything, and to my surprise discovered that I loved writing. Writing features led to various non-fiction books but it was being a ghost that finally gave me the confidence to write my own novel. By then I had plenty of ideas that I thought might work and that I wanted to write about, so I decided to try.






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How did you fit it in with a very busy work life?



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I work from home so my time is my own. My other work can mostly be done in shortish bursts, so I usually fit them round the novel. I always intend to write my own stuff in the mornings, and do other work in the afternoons but, thanks to deadlines and my world-class ability to distract myself, it doesn’t always work out quite like that.





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After years as a books’ editor of Woman & Home, was it hard to decide to write your own novel?




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The decision to write What Women Want wasn’t hard – I was dying to get going – but it’s quite a reality check to have twenty or so novels arriving through your letter-box each week for review. Let’s just say, I was very aware of the competition and how very good it can be.





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And now that you are a novelist, do you look at the books you’re sent in a different way?




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I don’t think so, although, I certainly understand the process better than I did and if anything
admire even more the skills of novelists who write apparently effortless and imaginative prose.


I’m curious as to whether you plot your novels carefully before you write, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?





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See above. I love that phrase: fly by the seat of your pants! Yes, that’s me. I do think that enormously careful and minute plotting means you lose the spontaneity of the book.


What about you?


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I do a bit of both. I like knowing how the novel’s going to start, who the characters are and where they’ll end up by the end [of the novel]. But I’ve no real idea of exactly how I’m going to get them there. I usually have a few key scenes in my head but I never know exactly when they’ll come in. I agree about the danger of losing the spontaneity of the book.




What do you find the most difficult part of writing a novel? And how do you get through it?





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Mid-way through is very hard when you question the wisdom of the whole thing and curse because you can’t do another one and you have to keep going and you mutter to yourself that you are an idiot. I do that EVERY time.


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I completely agree. After the first 40,000 or so words, I’m convinced it’s all going wrong and anyway a monkey could write it better. That’s when I feel like deleting the whole lot and starting again. I’m lucky in having a friend, who conveniently doubles as a bestselling novelist and understands exactly what we’re talking about. She and I speak almost every day and encourage or bully one another through those ghastly moments of self-doubt.




Do you have a special place or a routine that you need to write? Or can you grab your laptop and write anywhere?





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As a former newspaper journalist, I used to be able to write anywhere. In hotels, in airports, you name
it, but it’s harder now. I find it harder to block noise
out and I now write in a study upstairs in my house where I don’t do any emails relating to work or any phone calls: it’s my writing room. It’s very girlie with flowery boxes – I LOVE boxes and then forget what’s in them – and a green gingham board at my desk where I have photos of my family, and some golden Christmas decoration butterflies I liked the look of and drawings the children have done. I light candles, turn on the salt lamp (super cool, a big rock that turns pink) my darling friend, Emma, gave me, and write. And then get up and have tea and go back and write for a bit, and then more tea and petting of the dogs... you get the picture?


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I certainly do! I’m incredibly easily distracted. So I write in a tiny room that’s just off the kitchen (too close to the biscuit tin and the fridge), which has nothing else to do in it. I try to keep it tidy, but all the books that come in for review are piled up everywhere, and my filing skills leave a lot to be desired. There are times when I hate this room... but I love it too because it’s where an incredibly important part of my life happens.





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