Veronica Henry's novels are English through and through, but her early childhood was peripatetic, and she spent several years in the States becoming an all-American kid. So being sent back to England to continue her education at a strict girl's boarding school in Bath was a culture shock.
After leaving Bristol University, where she spent more time running a post-punk nightclub and hanging out with her future than studying Latin, she worked on The Archers, where her duties ranged from supervising the recording of new sound effects to giving guided tours of Borsetshire.
From there she went to Central Television to become a script editor for Crossroads. She subsequently turned her hand to scriptwriting, penning scenes for many popular soap operas and dramas including The Archers, Heartbeat, Boon, Family Affairs and Doctors, as well as the cult-classic Jupiter Moon.
Veronica had always wanted to write fiction and in 2000 Penguin signed her up for a two-book deal with her first novel Honeycote published in 2002. Her last novel, An Eligible Bachelor, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Association FosterGrant Reading Glasses Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2006. She has recently returned to scriptwriting and is currently working on episodes of the hugely popular BBC1 hospital drama, Holby City.
A recent house move from the centre of Birmingham to a village in North Devon provided the inspiration for new novel Love on the Rocks:
"Several years ago I was struggling to finish my second novel, when a friend suggested I spent a week at her flat in North Devon. With nothing to stare at but acres of golden sand and miles of shimmering sea, I found my fingers flying across the keyboard and the novel finished. Exhilarated by this miraculous unblocking, I shook out every piggy bank, schmoozed my bank manager and put a deposit down on a seaside retreat of my own. For the next two years I escaped there whenever I could, and never failed to find the view inspiring. The only flaw in my plan was that my family soon cottoned on and followed me - it was no longer a retreat - but a commune for friends, family and hangers-on. I had to accept that I had to share my idyll - to the extent that two years ago we sold our home and moved to Devon full-time. In the meantime, the glorious setting proved to be further inspiration. Everyone who came to stay seemed to dream of escaping 'real life' to live by the sea. Gradually my fifth novel began to take shape - what really would happen, to someone who chucked in their job and tried to turn their fantasy into a reality? What obstacles might stand in their way? My imagination ran riot, and the fictional seaside village of Mariscombe emerged as the next property hot-spot."
Veronica lives with her husband and three sons in a village in North Devon. She is currently working on her sixth novel.
You began your career as a script writer. Which do you prefer: writing novels or scripts?
Script writing for television is filled with constraints. There are so many rules and regulations to abide by - budget, time-frame, continuity, house-style, set and location restrictions, logistical considerations - that the story is almost secondary! I became increasingly frustrated because the stories I wanted to tell just didn't fit the television format, so I decided to try my hand at novel writing in the hopes of having free rein.
Of course, having no restrictions at all is equally inhibiting, but at last I was able to run riot with descriptions and do exactly what I wanted with my characters, without a producer/director/script editor voicing their objections.
With five novels under my belt and a sixth on the way I have now returned to occasional script writing with a different attitude - I actually enjoy the challenge and it is a fantastic discipline. And I know that the craft of telling a story within sixty minutes has helped me with plotting my novels.
How did you feel when you found out you were going to be published?
I can remember the day vividly. I took a chauffeur driven limo to London because I was so afraid the train would do its usual thing and stop for a leisurely rest en route to Euston. My agent had warned me to wear trousers, as she had to whisk me across town on the back of a huge Honda motorbike in order to beat the traffic. It was surreal! Made even more so because by the end of the day I had a book deal with Penguin.
It's very strange when your dream comes true, because where do you go from there? The day Penguin signed me up, I achieved my lifetime's ambition, which doesn't happen to everyone. I was thrilled, but also keenly aware that I had to come up with the goods. Over half a million words later, I guess I have!
How do you usually go about writing your books?
I have two or three central themes and relationships before I start, based around a particular setting which I have researched while finishing the previous book. I usually know where everyone is going to end up. What I don't know is quite how they get there, and who they will meet along the way. I start at the beginning and work my way through the book strictly chronologically - I used to dart around and sneak ahead to the juicy bits, but now I just make notes and force myself to wait until I get there. Though sometimes if I am getting bogged down I will treat myself to a section I have been looking forward to, just to write myself out of my block. If I find myself really stuck, a walk or a sleep or a flip through a trashy magazine usually helps my subconscious to sort out the problem. Very often I will come up with a solution when I am drifting off at night.
Are the characters based on real people?
No! I hate it when people assume that. You can't just drop people you know into your fictional world. They don't fit. Characters have to mature and develop; as you write you get to know them, their likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies, just as you get to know people in real life. If people think they recognise themselves, they are either being vain or paranoid!
Your new book, Love on the Rocks, is set by the seaside. What made you move from your Cotswold setting?
Everyone needs a holiday! And although I love the rural idylls of Honeycote, Eversleigh and Upper Faviell, I felt it was time for a change and some sea air!
Can you give us a taster of what we can look forward to in the next novel?
The book follows the trials and tribulations of Lisa Jones and her boyfriend George, who have both thrown away their careers to pursue a dream that many people share: running a hotel by the sea. Their relationship soon becomes strained as they realise they have very different priorities. Added pressure is put on by Bruno Thorne, proprietor of the nearby Mariscombe Hotel, who doesn't appreciate the competition they have brought to the town he seems to think he owns.
As well as these central characters, we meet the unruly staff from the Mariscombe Hotel. There's Frank, head chef and surfing dude, who brings the shy and self-conscious Hannah out of her shell. Then there is the conniving manageress, Caragh Flynn - for those of you who have read An Eligible Bachelor, she is Johnny Flynn's younger sister, so she is bound to be up to no good. And of course there is chambermaid Molly, a teenage mum who is struggling to bring up her baby in secret, terrified that someone might discover his real identity. You definitely don't come to Mariscombe for a quiet life!
What books are on your bedside table?
Smashed: Growing Up A Drunk Girl, by Koren, a fascinating portrayal of teenage binge drinking which should be prescribed reading for anyone about to go off to uni. I've just finished A Short History Of Tractors in Ukrainian - like everyone these days I am in a book club, and it's next month's read. I loved it - it's hilarious, warm, witty and subtly didactic. And I'm browsing through the Moro Ccookbook, because I'm planning a Moroccan themed birthday dinner for a friend.
Which literary character would you most like to meet?
I'd love to go ice-skating in New York with Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. I'd have to drop a few years, though - I'm too old for him now, and I wouldn't want to traumatise him any more than he already is!
What's your dream holiday destination?
Short-term, I'd love a long weekend in Barcelona with my husband. Long-term, my brother has just moved to Adelaide, so I am planning a round the world trip with my family, stopping off to see friends in California on the way. Better start saving now!
How do you spend your free time?
This question has made me realise I don't really have any. I would love to go riding again. I used to have my own horse, but I haven't been in the saddle since before I had my youngest son, who is now three. I'm going to phone the local stables right now.
We put 16 delving questions to Veronica Henry, successful scriptwriter for popular TV and radio programmes like Heartbeat and The Archers, and bestselling author of Honeycote and Making Hay. See how she fared...
Who or what always puts a smile on your face?
Watching my one-year-old son playing with his big brothers [7 and 13].
What are you reading at the moment?
The Crimson Petal and the White.
Which author do you most admire?
Deborah Moggach. She always comes up with ingenious and original plots, and she writes with both depth and sparkle.
What’s your earliest memory?
Falling down the stairs and sobbing because I broke my digestive biscuit.
What is your greatest fear?
Inner city driving. I have never understood how to swap lanes at speed or manoeuvre roundabouts. Worrying, really.
How would you like to be remembered?
For being good fun.
Have you even done something you’ve really regretted?
No. Mistakes make us who we are. I also believe you shouldn't regret what you have done, but what you haven't.
How do you spoil yourself?
Sharing expensive wine - preferably white burgundy - with someone when I should be doing something else.
What’s your favourite word?
Meretricious. It's a novel in itself.
Who do you turn to in a crisis?
My poor, darling husband, who has the broadest shoulders in the world.
What makes you angry?
People who are uneccessarily rude to shop assistants and waitresses.
Have you ever had any other jobs apart from writing?
Script editor. Also waitress and shop assistant [see above].
Are you in love?
Do you believe in monogamy?
For myself. But not for the characters in my books, otherwise I would have nothing to write about!
What are you proudest of?
My three boys. And their daddy!
Where do you write?
I am at my most productive in our beach house in North Devon, which overlooks three miles of golden sand and has an awesome, inspiring view.