Lissa Evans has written six novels, including Their Finest Hour and a Half (which was filmed as Their Finest,) and a loose trilogy which comprises the best-selling Old Baggage, Crooked Heart (longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize) and V for Victory. Two of her books for children, Small Change for Stuart and Wed Wabbit, were shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Lissa has a background in radio and TV comedy production; her programmes included ‘Room 101’ and ‘Father Ted.’
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
I was in my mid-thirties, and I was feeling stuck – both emotionally and physically. That’s the basis of my first novel, Spencer’s List: three characters who find a way to move on – from grief, from inertia, and from an unsellable house!
What came first the characters or the world?
They seemed to arrive together. Though all the characters were me, really – different parts of me…
How long did it take to write?
The first two chapters took about five years – I kept writing and re-writing them. Then I decided to bite the bullet and attempt chapter three; the rest of the book took about eleven months. It was eventually published when I was 41.
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
Currently: ‘Eclogue’ by Gerald Finzi and various tracks from Radio Lento, which specialises in long, wordless recordings of the natural world, my favourite at the moment being number 150, ‘Looking down on Coldingham Sands’.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your books?
My favourite response, always, is ‘it made me laugh’.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I started off as a doctor, but it really wasn’t for me (I was scared the entire time) and after that I became first a radio comedy producer and then a television comedy producer and director. I always wanted to be a writer, but I had to find what I wanted to write about, and also to develop my own style of story-telling, something which was enormously helped by years of script-editing
Which genres do you read yourself?
Mainly 20th century fiction, including short stories, and a huge range of non-fiction. I am a very big fan of reading accounts of epic journeys, explorers struggling through extreme cold/heat/terrain etc, while I sit in an armchair with a cup of tea next to me.
What is your biggest motivator?
Guilt. I’m lucky enough to be a published writer, and therefore I SHOULD BE WRITING.
What will always distract you?
Everything and anything, unfortunately. When I told one of my friends that I’d written a book, she said ‘You can’t have, Lissa. You have the attention span of a flea.’
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
More than I used to. I buy a lot of books, and the books I write are the sort of books that I enjoy reading, so my criterion for my own covers is only ever ‘Would I pick it up if I saw it in a bookshop?’
Were you a big reader as a child?
Yes, I read all the time, even at meals. And I’m certain that if there had been the same distractions then as now, then I wouldn’t have read nearly as much, and my life would have been very different. The immersive reading of childhood and adolescence shaped me as a writer.
Do you have any rituals when writing?
I try to do the ‘Pomodoro method’: 25 minutes of concentration, then 5 minutes off. I also drink a lot of tea.
What is your current or latest read?
I’ve just finished a riveting novel called ‘The Village’ by Marghanita Laski, written and set in 1946, about snobbery and the social changes brought about by the war.
What inspired you to write the genre(s) you do?
My last four novels for adults (and the one I’m currently writing) are historical – one set during the 1920s, and the others during the Second World War. I’ve been fascinated by the Home Front since I read a book called ‘How We Lived Then’ by Norman Longmate, when I was about twelve. I carried on reading about the subject, and eventually used it as the setting for a novel about film-making (‘Their Finest Hour and a Half’) which was later made into the movie ‘Their Finest’. Those finite years of fear and restriction and making-do, continue to fascinate me.