Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
I love to feature interviews with women who inspire, and also to highlight books that are relevant to our demograhic that I think you will enjoy. Today Penny Batchelor, author of My Perfect Sister talks about the inspiration behind her book, her motivation to start writing, and the role her own disability had to play.
Tell us a little about yourself
I live in Warwickshire with my husband Chris. As well as a writer I’m a keen traveller, knitter and a voracious reader! I’m in my mid 40s and it has been a lifelong ambition to become a novelist.
When did you start to write?
I’ve been writing ever since I learned how to do so. Last year my parents moved house and brought me a box of my old infant schoolwork they’d found in a box in the attic. One piece said that I liked fish and chips and wanted to be a writer – both are still true today! I spent a lot of time in hospital as a child and also at home recovering from fractures caused by my disability, which is Osteogenesis Imperfecta, more commonly known as Brittle Bones. There’s not much to do when you’re stuck in bed all day and I think that my love of books, writing and the world of my imagination began then.
What have been the challenges for you?
I have lots of ideas and plots in my head and a big challenge for me was knuckling down and sticking to one of them through the long haul. The six months Writing a Novel course I took with Faber Academy really helped me with that. I also struggled with self-doubt. Meeting the crime author Emma Flint at a book talk really helped. She said that when she got to her 40s she realised she wanted to give writing a serious go and if she didn’t get anywhere she was old enough to take it on the chin. I decided to take a leaf out of her book and see finishing a novel as a bucket list challenge in itself, with anything above that being the cherry on the top of the cake. Of course though, like every writer, I was hungry to be published!
What did you do prior to this?
I started my working career as a TV researcher at the BBC and then moved into the nascent online side where I worked my way up to be a content producer. Next I became a Website Editor for various educational institutions before going freelance as a proofreader/editor/journalist
When was your first book published?
May 14th 2020 by RedDoor Press
My Perfect Sister
What was the inspiration behind your latest book?
Do you know, I’ve worked on it for so long that I can’t actually remember the first initial spark of an idea! I do remember, however, that I wanted to write a heroine who didn’t fit into society’s feminine norms and who grows up emotionally through the story. Annie was five when her 16 year-old sister Gemma went missing and instead of mourning her she feels resentful that her childhood was overshadowed by her parents’ grief for the sister she can barely remember. I also wanted to include cliff-hangers and a few red herrings!
What can you share with us about the plot – without spoiling the ending!
My Perfect Sister is a domestic noir thriller set in Yorkshire, the county where I was born and bred. When Annie is 30 circumstances conspire to bring her home to the mother she hasn’t seen for 14 years. Long-held secrets surrounding her sister Gemma’s disappearance in 1989 remain buried there – but will Annie care enough to stick around and find out? A faded photograph in Gemma’s untouched old bedroom might hold a key to the past, but is it safer for Annie to be kept in the dark?
I hope that whets readers’ appetites!
Who are the key characters – and how do you hope readers over 50 will relate to them?
Many mothers over 50 will have children like Annie who are grown-up but yet to find their place in the world in terms of career, partner and the housing ladder. The mother/daughter relationship is key to the plot. There’s also an exploration of mental health and how society’s view of it has changed over the decades. Annie’s best friend Priti provides some light relief and Elaine, Annie’s mother Diana’s closest friend, doesn’t have children herself but was an important figure in Annie’s childhood. I hope readers over 50 will relate to the great friendship she and Diana have maintained over the years.
What do like the most about the character/s you have created?
I like following Annie’s story and seeing how she changes, grows up rather, throughout the plot. Her relationship with her mother is fascinating. Most mothers and daughters can identify with the change from a parent/child relationship to one of two equal adults. I also really like the character of Priti – she’s the sort of friend we’d all like to have rooting for us.
Are there any key issues you wanted to draw attention to?
Mental health; alcoholism; the difficulty for millennials to get well-paid jobs and a home of their own; how your childhood can affect your adulthood; the importance of friendship; the effects of cancer treatment; the novel certainly packs a lot in! Also, I was born with physical disability and rarely see anyone like me reflected in fiction as a friend, lover, colleague, family member, neighbour or the like. Where disability is represented in the media it tends to be misery memoirs or triumph over tragedy stories, neither of which represent ordinary day-to-day life with a disability. Therefore I decided to include disabled characters in my own writing. In My Perfect Sister it’s Ian the solicitor. It’s a small start but I have big plans for future novels.
What do want readers to take away having the read the book?
I hope they’ll enjoy a cracking great read and take some time out from all the worrying things going on in the world. Not wanting to give the plot away but My Perfect Sister touches on the importance of friendship bonds.
What’s next for you – will there be a sequel with the same characters?
No, I’m currently working on another domestic noir thriller with different characters. I’ll post details on my website www.pennybatchelor.co.uk when I’m near the end.
What 3 tips would you offer women looking to write their first book?
- You can’t be a writer if you don’t write anything. Shopping lists don’t count.
- If you’re having a writer’s block day then go back and edit what you’ve already written. Hopefully this will spark some more ideas in your brain. Or you could spend some time doing research but beware of research turning into procrastination.
- Read widely so you know the market in your chosen genre. Writing a book for the love of it is great but if you want to have a chance to get it published you’ve got to know your fellow authors and what differentiates your work from theirs.