The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is your second novel following your bestselling debut The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Bookclub. How similar or different was the inspiration behind this book?
The inspiration is similar in that this is also a story about friendship between women – but in this case all the women are strangers at the start of the novel, whereas in Fairvale
some of them knew each other. There’s also quite a different inspiration when it comes to the context of that friendship. In Shelly Bay
it’s swimming, rather than a book club. I wanted to explore the role that a challenging physical activity can play in the forming of friendships – what we learn about ourselves and each other in the process of learning something new, testing ourselves, testing others. I’ve formed a very close friendship that way, and that’s what partially inspired this story.
There are two types of writers: plotters, who plan out their novels, and pantsers, who “fly by the seat of their pants”. Which type of writer are you? Did your writing process change at all between your novels?
I plan, rather than plot. Because I have a full-time job and I write on either side of that – often on public transport, in 20-minute bursts – I need to have some direction for each writing session. The reason why I don’t plot is because I like there to be room for the story to change, and for the characters to tell me what’s going on. So I head in a certain direction but if the story changes course while I’m writing I’ll spend the next writing session changing the plan to reflect that. No amount of planning, however, ever tells me how the story will turn out – it always changes!
At the heart of your novel Is the strong friendship that develops between four women. Was this group of main characters inspired by real people?
The first character we meet, Theresa, was very loosely inspired by someone I knew when I was a child. But Theresa is not that person, and none of the other characters is based on anyone I’ve met or know.
Your novel is based in the early 1980s. Was there any particular reason you chose to have a period setting? Why the 1980s?
ended in the middle of 1981 and I decided to flow on with the timeline, starting Shelly Bay
in late 1982. The stories have nothing to do with each other but I liked the idea of them sitting adjacent to each other.
We were thrilled to have published both your novels in audiobook. Are you a fan of audio yourself? What do you think audio brought to your novel?
And I am thrilled that you have published them both! I do love audio. The first storytelling was oral – and aural – so it’s a form that we all respond to. I loved being read to as a child (and still enjoy it when it happens, at an event), and an audio recording of a novel gives the reader a chance to have that experience of being read to – it’s engaging and comforting, too. There’s an element of having the work done for you so that you can let your imagination fly.