No-one thought Bertie Simmonds could speak. So, when he is heard singing an Easter hymn, this is not so much the miracle some think as a bolt drawn back, releasing long-repressed emotions with potentially devastating consequences… A decade later, Bertie marries Anstace, a woman old enough to be his mother, and another layer of mystery starts to peel away. Beginning in a village in Kent and set between the two World Wars, That They Might Lovely Be stretches from the hell of Flanders, to the liberating beauty of the Breton coast, recounting a love affair which embraces the living and the dead.
If you could write another genre of book what would it be and why?
I am currently working on a trilogy for young adults. The first novel, ‘Unremembered’ is just receiving its final polish whilst its sequel is half-finished. The books feature teenage protagonists and are set about seventy years into the future. I want to invite the rising generation to ask important questions about the way we live and the priorities which dominate our lives – while telling an exciting tale.
If you could co-write with any author who would it be and why?
The two contemporary authors whom I most admire are Patrick Gale and Anna Hope. Gale throws light on human sexuality in an under-stated way; he understands the power it exerts but also recognises the constraints which we need to apply to it. Hope writes exquisitely and I’d love to learn something of her craft from her. She describes her characters’ emotional landscape with poetic sensitivity.
Which Hero was your favourite to write about?
I fell in love with Hubert Simmonds whilst writing about him. He represented for me something transcendent whilst maintaining his humanity and vulnerability.
Which Villain was your favourite to write about?
I loathed the smug viciousness of Ada Perch. That sort of nastiness is far more prevalent and damaging than the wicked, predatory behaviour of Jessop.
What inspired you to become an author?
I have a restless compulsion to be creative. I need to make things and I aspire to make things which are beautiful. Words are my chosen medium (although I garden and paint too) and, whilst I dabble with poetry-writing, the challenge of conceiving and executing a novel was something I could not push aside.
What is your favourite novel that you have written?
Although I have two completed novels in manuscript form, In the Heart of the Labyrinth and Trinity, and Unremembered(for young adults) recently completed, That They Might Lovely Be is my only work, so far, to be published. This phase – seeing it in print and knowing that many, many people will read it – inevitably pushes this novel up the scale. It is my favourite because it has passed through all the stages of gestation to birth.
What is your favourite novel you have read?
This is an impossible question to answer as I have different favourites for different phases of my life. That’s as it should be because a great novel will reshape the way you look at life and move you on. John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany is a pretty strong contender for favourite novel of all time. It is profound and incredibly funny at times. The spiritual significance behind the human drama is haunting.
If you could write a fan-fiction on anyone else’s work what would it be?
Currently, my favourite writer is Anna Hope with Wake and The Ballroom. I love the way she uses history and digs right into the heart of her complex characters. Her writing is exquisite. She has the ability to move me emotionally.
If you could choose one actor to play the role of one of you characters who would it be and why?
I think Anna Maxwell Martin could deliver a powerful portrayal of Anstace Catchpool from That They Might Lovely Be. She suggests a strength and a seriousness sitting beneath an apparent fragility: a useful combination for a Quaker heroine.
If you could choose one person to read on an audible book who would it be and why?
Although Anstace Catchpool (a woman) is the main agent for good in the novel, That They Might Lovely Be is a book about men, who they are and the choices they make. Ben Miles impressed me hugely in the stage production of Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I think he would make a good reader. But I am pretty good at this sort of thing myself!