We catch up with Caro Fraser as she spills the beans on her childhood reading habits, how she first got into writing and how it fitted into her already hectic schedule of being a lawyer and mother.
Your father is the novelist George MacDonald Fraser, did you feel that this put pressure on you as a writer or did he encourage you with your writing?
The fact that my father has always written professionally has been a form of encouragement in itself. I grew up thinking that writing was a very natural and necessary thing to do. I remember as a very small girl waking up in the night and hearing the sound of my father's typewriter downstairs - he worked as a journalist and used to come home after the night shift and write – and it always seemed very comforting, and important. Books and writing were very much part of everyday life. He wasn't in the least surprised when I started to write novels, as he had always known it was what I wanted to do – but then, we're both very matter-of-fact about our work. As for pressure, we write about such very different things that I've never felt I was being compared to him, or that I had to measure up to him. I couldn't, anyway.
As a child you were surrounded by books, do you have any memories of some of the first books you read?
Apart from the usual children's classics, I think the book that first made a really resounding impression on me was Thackeray's The Rose and The Ring, which I was given as very little girl. Thackeray has a very droll, dry, grown-up sense of humour, and an elegant style of writing, both of which I enjoyed. Strangely, I used to read a lot of schoolboy fiction - Eric, by Dean Farrar, the Jeremy stories by Hugh Walpole, Stalky & Co by Kipling, and William, of course. I think I found boys more complex and interesting creatures than girls, but that may have been the fault of the way girls were represented in fiction in those days. Perhaps that's why I enjoy writing so much from the masculine point of view, because the male mind fascinates me.
There was a lot of American fiction around the house when I was a child as well, which I read at a fairly early age - Scott Fitzgerald, Schulberg, Perleman. That was very influential, as was the New Yorker magazine, which my parents read. I discovered Updike around the age of thirteen, and that was a great revelation to me.
At what age did you first begin to write?
As early as I can remember. My parents gave me a big, battered old typewriter when I was quite small, so I learned to type very quickly. I think it helped, being able to view my work objectively on the printed page, and to get ideas down quickly. I suppose, looking back, that I took a very pragmatic, professional approach to writing, even as a child, perhaps because my parents were both journalists. I wrote all kinds of things - stories, poems romantic short stories when I was a teenager. I sent these off regularly to Jackie magazine, but they very wisely rejected them.
Your first novel was published when you were in your early forties, did you feel that it was easier to write having more life experience?
Yes. The kind of novels I write deal with human emotions and the way people interact, which demands a great deal of observation and personal experience. I don't think I could have been a writer in my twenties. Also, having a backdrop against which to set my characters and plots - in my case, the legal profession - has been very important.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to begin writing professionally?
Have a sound idea of where your story is going, write every day, be disciplined, and above all, finish. The first page, even the first chapter - they're the easy bits.
How did you juggle your successful career as a lawyer and raising your four children?
Well, I didn't really. After my first child was born, I had wonderful employers who let me work on a flexible basis - I wish more employers did this. My second child was born only fifteen months later, and then I gave up work, so I have to confess there wasn't a lot of juggling involved. I didn't start writing until after my third child was born, and I couldn't have done that without the help of a nanny. Once the children were all at full-time school, I didn't need help.
Did you find it difficult working in such a male dominated profession?
I personally didn't, no. The law isn't as male-dominated now as it used to be – I think the split is fairly even between men and women - but I suspect that a lot of women come under immense pressures because it's such a work-driven, macho culture, especially in the high-flying City firms. I was always fairly relaxed and un-ambitious I have to confess, so I rather enjoyed my time in the City. Besides, I like working with men. They're good fun, as long as you don't take them too seriously. Think little boy, but with added ego, ambition and insecurity.
Did you find it difficult to fit writing into what must have been an already busy life?
Strangely enough, having a very busy life helps. With four children, my life has to be quite rigidly structured, so writing is something that I fit in when I'm not putting on the washing, or going round the supermarket, or picking up the children. If I had a great, empty expanse of day in which to work, I suspect I wouldn't get a great deal done. That tight little window of discipline, from about ten till three, is very useful.
As well as writing stand-alone novels, your Caper Court series is critically acclaimed. Do you find it easier to write the stand-alone novels or for the series?
The advantage of the Caper Court series is that every time I come to write one, I know most of the characters, and the way they're likely to behave, so no one's going to surprise me. With a stand-alone novel, the characters are all new, and you have to get to know them. Quite often, just when you think the novel is going along nicely in a certain direction, one of the characters will say or do something to alter it. That can be surprising, and interesting, but hard work. The advantage with the stand-alones, however, is that you don't have to keep referring back to previous books, as I do with the Caper Court series, to remind myself who was born when and whether they lived in Kensington or Chelsea. I write the stand-alones to give myself a break from the Caper Court characters, and because the plot opportunities are less restricted.
Do you know what is going to happen in the series before you write it or does it evolve as it goes along?
If you mean the Caper Court books, I never intended to write a series. The Pupil was my first novel, and, in so far as I ever thought about it, a one-off. But I was intrigued by this Leo character whom I’d introduced, and I wanted to see what he would do next. And so it has gone on. I've written six in the series, and I'm still curious to see what's going to happen to Leo in the next book. No doubt he'll come to a sorry end one day.
The Caper Court novels follow the romantic and personal entanglements of Leo Davies QC, is he based on someone you previously worked with as a lawyer?
I can think of several barristers who'd probably love to think that Leo was based on them, but he bears no resemblance to persons living or dead - well, not by way of character. His sex life is too improbable. He does, however, bear a physical resemblance to a rather nice QC who helps me out occasionally with legal detail, and who shall remain nameless.
What have you enjoyed reading recently?
I have to confess that writing, as well as the full-time mother thing, tends to get in the way of reading. So I go for things that I can start, then pick up again after a few days’ absence. I'm presently reading Tragically, I was An Only Twin, the complete Peter Cook. That's for bedtime. During the day, when I have an idle moment, I'm re-reading The Kenneth Williams Diaries - largely as an antidote to Alan Clarke's The Last Diaries. A couple of months ago I finished a most peculiar and enjoyable little book, entitled Charles Hawtrey 1914-1988, The Man Who Was Private Widdle, by Roger Lewis. I think I can detect a pattern here.