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In Conversation: Rosanna Ley and Annabelle Thorpe (PART 2)

PART 2 – catch up with PART 1 here


I do like to write about relationships, you’re right. Relationships fascinate me. Not just those between a man and a woman but also relationships between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, friendships, whatever. In LAST DANCE, friendship (between Theo and Robbie) was a theme and the power that some mothers can hold over their sons was another. I also enjoyed exploring the relationship between a step-parent and stepdaughter – this can be a complex one. As a stepmother myself whose (grown up) children were also stepchildren, this was something that I had experienced personally. In RETURN TO MANDALAY I enjoyed writing about a grandfather’s relationship with his granddaughter and in THE VILLA I used three generations of women in the same family to focus in on mothers and daughters!

I hadn’t realized that I wrote about people not being quite who they first appear to be until you pointed it out! But lack of communication between people is definitely a favourite theme of mine. Most arguments and misconceptions often seem to be caused by simple lack of communication. In THE SAFFRON TRAIL, Callum had mainly good intentions – although he acted selfishly and made a bad decision in the way that he handled things. In LAST DANCE Grace and Robbie are growing apart, and one of the first things that goes in a relationship like that is good communication. I like writing about people keeping secrets – sometimes they are not as honest as perhaps they should be…

It must be very different for you, Annabelle, writing a novel which involves fictional characters and relationships, after journalism, which deals with facts. May I ask a double pronged question: what do you enjoy about writing novels in contrast to your other journalistic writing and what skills does a journalist need to develop in order to become an accomplished novelist?


It’s funny; although being a journalist might seem like an advantage, it’s actually a bit like playing tennis and then switching to badminton.  The skills aren’t always as transferable as it might seem.  The irony is that I always wanted to be a novelist – I was always writing fiction growing up, so it was the journalism skills I had to develop.  In a way they’re the opposite of what it takes to create a successful novel; journalism relies on brevity, clarity – making a series of points in a fluid way but without any unnecessary fluff or floweriness.

When you move from journalism to writing fiction I think there’s a real sense of release; I felt liberated from the restrictions of having to write to a certain length, and to keep things grounded in reality.  For me, the joy of writing a novel is the ability it gives you to really let your imagination run free.  I think as adults we so rarely get to really use our imagination, we forget what an immensely powerful thing it is.  To create characters, scenarios, places, situations – and be able to shape them in whatever way I like, that’s the greatest pleasure, and it’s the complete opposite to how journalism works.

I’m writing my second book right now, set in Morocco, and I know that all of your books have overseas settings, as well as UK  I wondered whether you could ever imagine setting a book entirely in this country, or are overseas locations an integral part of the writing process for you?


Although I have, as you say, set all my books in foreign locations, they always have a UK setting too and that is usually (but not always) West Dorset where I live. This provides a contrast and often an anchor for the story and helps what I see as the character journey. I can imagine writing a book that is just set in the UK, but it would have to be in a setting which I personally find inspirational in some way. Although the history of a place is very important to me and I love exploring different cultures and identities, the biggest thing for me is usually the landscape. But it wouldn’t always have to be somewhere different. I’m happy to re-visit my favourites.

My favourite country is Italy; there’s something about the landscape there that makes me ache to write… The food is inspirational too; just the scents of Italian cooking drifting out of a kitchen window in some hilltop village… Must be all that garlic and roasted tomatoes and basil, I’m wanting lunch even as I write that and it’s not even 11 a.m… So to write about Sicily in THE VILLA was magical. My new book which I’m writing now is set in the equally stunning island of Sardinia, so I’ve been enjoying all that again this year! In BAY OF SECRETS I wrote about Spain and the island of Fuerteventura where I spend a lot of time; there’s a bleakness about the place which I find conducive to writing and I love the beaches! I found some exotic flavours in RETURN TO MANDALAY and LAST DANCE. Fabulously exciting settings both.

I used to live in West Sussex and moved to West Dorset a few years ago to fulfil a dream of mine to live here. I love travelling so it’s a huge bonus to be able to explore places which I can then write about. You’ll probably agree that there are so many wonderful places to explore and discover..?

It’s been fabulous chatting to you, Annabelle and I wish you all the best with THE PEOPLE WE ONCE WERE and all your future writing. I will look forward to reading the next one so keep me posted!


Intrigued that your next book is set in Sardinia; that’s somewhere I’ve not been, and is very much on my list.  And yes, I totally agree that there are endless wonderful places to explore – I’m firmly of the opinion that travel is an addiction that outstrips anything like coffee or cigarettes!

Lovely chatting to you – very much looking forward to reading the new Sardinian book when it comes out!

Annabelle’s brilliant debut novel The People We Were Before is available to buy now, and Rosanna Ley’s next sizzling read Last Dance in Havana is publishing 19 May, pre-order yours here

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