Joanna Trollope: You Ask The Questions

Do you consider yourself to be the modern Jane Austen? Why are you obsessed with the clergy? And do you enjoy shocking your readers?

Joanna Trollope, 61, was born in Gloucestershire. A fifth-generation niece of Anthony Trollope, she read English at Oxford University, working in the Foreign Office and then as a teacher before becoming a full-time author. She wrote historical novels under a pseudonym until the publication of her first contemporary novel,
The Choir, in 1987. She has written 12 contemporary novels, of which four -
The Rector's Wife,
A Village Affair,
The Choir and
Other People's Children - have been adapted for television. Her UK paperback sales total more than 6 million. Twice married, she has two daughters, and now lives alone with her dog near Cirencester, and in London.

Joanna Trollope, 61, was born in Gloucestershire. A fifth-generation niece of Anthony Trollope, she read English at Oxford University, working in the Foreign Office and then as a teacher before becoming a full-time author. She wrote historical novels under a pseudonym until the publication of her first contemporary novel, The Choir, in 1987. She has written 12 contemporary novels, of which four - The Rector's Wife, A Village Affair, The Choir and Other People's Children - have been adapted for television. Her UK paperback sales total more than 6 million. Twice married, she has two daughters, and now lives alone with her dog near Cirencester, and in London.

How does living with a Labrador compare to living with a man?
Francesca Trower, Braintree

Duller, but with much less potential for tension or disappointment. My dog, Max, will be 12 this year. He is a rescue dog so he had his name when I got him.

What's your biggest extravagance?
Ben Canning, Tonbridge

Living in two places.

Who would make the best hero for a novel: Blair, Brown or Bush?
Harriet Kenning, by e-mail

Tony Blair, possibly, because of his apparent - and growing - capacity for self-deception. From a novelist's point of view, this makes for a very interesting hero because the dramatic tension is heightened by the reader knowing more than the main character does - always a good device. And he is tall and personable, if not traditionally in the romantic hero mould. But then none of those three are, are they?

Apart from an obsession with clergymen, what have you inherited from Anthony Trollope?
Kirsty Boyce, by e-mail

Would you say that two novels of mine out of 13 being set in the church qualified as an obsession? Anthony Trollope wrote 47, and only six of those are clerical... Labels like these, inaccurate labels, are as annoying as they are lazy. I'm not a direct descendent of his, although I'm from the same family, but another branch of it. I admire him hugely, and take several things he said about writing very much to heart, especially his description of his own kind of fiction, which he said were chronicles of "those little daily lacerations upon the spirit". He had an essential benevolence, which I think you can see in all the greatest novelists.

Some compare you to Jane Austen. Others suggest that you write middlebrow fiction masquerading as something more serious. How would you define your writing?
Liam Holland, Ipswich

Well, they shouldn't. The comparison to Jane Austen makes me fidget. There is a huge gulf between being great and being good. I know exactly which category I fall into and which she falls into. They are not the same. On a good day, I might be good. I think of my writing as contemporary accessible fiction and it really isn't for me to add the qualifying adjectives. The word "masquerading" tells me more about the person using it than about the quality of my writing.

What was the first novel you ever wrote? What was it about? And has anyone else read it?
Cathy Gibson, London

I wrote my first novel when I was 14. It was about me, of course, but about the person I wished I was rather than the one I really was. Nobody has ever seen it and nobody will until I'm safely dead and the children can fall about with all the mirth they like. It's quite interesting that I haven't thrown it away, isn't it? But I suppose it's rather like Desert Island Discs - you have to admit you loved Rosemary Clooney when you were 13 in the course of truthfulness...

Margaret Atwood has announced that henceforth she will do book signings from the comfort of her home, thanks to the wonders of modern technology. Does this system appeal to you?
Patricia Charles, Haywards Heath

Margaret Atwood is a) an icon, and b) has been signing publicly for decades. If she would prefer to conserve her magnificent energies for writing more books, we shall all benefit. I shall go on touring for the moment because I like it and I like meeting readers, and as I write about relationships, relationships are what turn me on, even three-minute ones in a signing queue.

Do you have shares in Aga? Do you object to your novels being called "Aga sagas"?
Debbie Jones, Nottingham

Shares in Aga? Absolutely not. I must admit that I am fairly tired of such an inaccurate and patronising tag.

Are you a domestic goddess?
Verity Thompson, Edinburgh

Alas, no. I'm an unremarkable cook, but if I'm wound up about anything, polishing the taps soothes me. I quite like the business of keeping house, the orderliness of domestic routine. When there are huge areas of my life I can't control, for either emotional or professional reasons, I derive comfort from domestic control, from the areas I can have some effect on. I like being at home. I wish I spent my time lusciously making chocolate cake, but I don't. It's no good pretending. I make birthday cakes for the family, but not in that glamorous way. The last cake I made, I managed to drop, comprehensively, on the kitchen floor. The dog thought all his birthdays had come at once.

Have you gone off the Church of England?
Paula Sands, Leeds

Yes, despite a great admiration for the Archbishop of Canterbury. I read somewhere that increasing scepticism is a feature of getting older. I wonder... The odd part is how comfortable mild spiritual scepticism feels, as if one didn't have to struggle to be or believe something that wasn't natural to one any more. But humans keep changing, so who knows...

You have defended both the stepmother and the mistress in your books. Do you enjoy shocking your readers?
James Potts, London

I don't set out to shock. I set out to present a fresh view on various old assumptions. You know - don't automatically write off stepmothers and mistresses. The thing is, it's very easy to get set in a traditional way of thinking about certain categories of behaviour or people. What I'm trying to do is make people think round an accepted situation in a new and possibly more tolerant and forgiving way. I'm trying to get the readers to think themselves into other people's situations, even traditionally unacceptable situations. Rather than challenging, I'm just hoping to encourage and possibly enlighten. But it's not a question of telling people to do anything. It's just suggesting that they might think in a different way.

Did researching your latest novel Brother & Sister, which tells the story of adopted siblings, change your views on adoption?
Brenda Clarke, Southampton

It didn't change them: it enlarged them. It made me realise how many people are affected - not just the adoptees, but the birth mothers, the adoptive parents, partners, children, friends, work colleagues - and how deeply they are affected. An American expert on adoption thinks that "the abandoned child lives within the adopted adult all his or her life". At the end of my research, I was inclined to agree.

'Brother & Sister' is published this week in paperback by Black Swan (£6.99)

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