A Conversation with Harriet Evans, Author of The Love of Her Life
Q. What comment do you hear most often from your readers? How do you respond?
A. I guess it would be that they liked the characters, and my response is “Thanks very much!”
Q. What do you want your readers to take away from The Love of Her Life? And is there a “love of her life” out there for every woman?
A. The Love of Her Life is my favorite of my books, because I wanted to write a book about someone who wasn’t the blond, blue-eyed, homecoming-queen type, who was a bit of a geek but who grew up, had some pretty awful things happen to her, and found out something really important, which is a love of her own life. Be proud of being the geek and it’ll work out okay. I totally think there’s a “love of her life” out there for everyone. I don’t know that you always end up with them, and sometimes you don’t recognize them as that for a while, but they’re definitely there.
Q. You worked in publishing as an editor. Did you ever work in a place as boring as Perry and Co.? What is the worst job you have ever had? Have you ever had a boss like Sue Jordan?
A. Never as boring as Perry and Co., but my first job was at a very old-fashioned magazine in London, and it was completely awful. It was like Dynasty set in an old people’s home—full of very embittered women who’d been there for years and couldn’t understand why they weren’t working at Vogue. Lots of articles about interesting road signs and amusing things cats do, but such a toxic atmosphere. I lasted five months and it nearly finished me off. Luckily, most of my bosses since then have been fantastic, and my last boss was a fantastic woman. I learned loads from her.
Q. You currently reside in London, where you grew up. Did New York ever present itself as a potential home? Or, do you prefer someplace else?
A. I love New York so much! I would absolutely love to live there, and part of The Love of Her Life is totally about me imagining what that would be like! Oh my goodness, it’s my favorite place. I’ve always lived in London, but who knows. . . .
Q. Where did the inspiration for Kate Miller come from? Without getting too personal, are any of the characters in The Love of Her Life based on anyone you know?
A. Kate is the most like me of my heroines—or me when I was younger, although I always see myself as a super-mysterious romantic figure, and the reality is so not true. I think there are bits of people I know in all my characters though, and what’s interesting is how I can have written someone and then, only a few months’ afterward, I realize that subconsciously they’re based on X, or they say something the way Y would in my own real life. It’s like you put lots of information into your brain and you don’t know what’s going to come out.
Q. Can you talk a little about why you decided to get into writing fiction? What is your writing process like? How do you create such strong tension and drama in your work? Your characters’ emotions are so authentic; how do you manage that?
A. I’ve always known I was going to write one day. I worked in publishing and was reading lots of women’s fiction there. Some of it was fantastic, some of it was terrible, and we’d all sit around and say, “I could do better than that!” One day, I realized I was going to have to do something about it. So I did!
I don’t really have a writing process. One day I’ll suddenly think of a “thing” that’s the motif of the book, but then often it won’t end up being in the book at all. For The Love of Her Life it was Berkeley Square in London and the song “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” I realized I wanted to write a big, romantic novel set in London, because New York always has romantic comedies set there, whether it’s Sex and the City or Annie Hall or any number of books, and London doesn’t. So I’ll swirl around thinking about that for a while and then start writing, and then I’ll delete most of what I’ve written, and then write some more. And so it goes. . . . It’s my editor saying, “This isn’t tense or dramatic enough!” and me rewriting it!
Q. You make mention that you are a fan of old films. Which one is your favorite, and why?
A. I have loads. My ideal job if the writing goes up the Swanee would be a film doctor, one of those people who prescribes films depending on your mood. But just to pick a few:
a) Brief Encounter is just the most romantic, sad, lovely, fantastic film. The more I watch it, the more I love it.
b) Roman Holiday—Rome AND Gregory Peck; what’s not to love?
c) Some Like It Hot—the best songs. Curtis and Lemmon, hilarious and sweet.
e) Singin’ in the Rain—possibly my favorite film of all time. I defy you not to love it. Songs! Dancing! Totally subversive! So brilliant.
Q. Tell us about your latest cocktail invention: “The Harrie”—how did you discover it (and how good does it actually taste)?
A. I am telling you, if you make “The Harrie” and your party doesn’t go with a bang, I will be astonished. The combination of gin (heavy hitter) and bubbles (bit of sparkle) is the perfect one. I actually first had it when I was meeting publishers with a view to having my first book, Going Home, published, and one of them, who is a very brilliant woman, made this cocktail, because there’s sloe gin in the book.
I since owe her many happy evenings. . . .
Q. What is next for you? A. Writing the next book, which is set in Rome (hurrah! for Gregory Peck again), and booking a holiday somewhere sunny. And right now, packing for my weekend by the seaside.