It is the early Sixties, and thirteen-year old Cassandra Fitzpatrick is growing up in a household full of waifs and strays and general misfits. Despite her unorthodox home life, however, she is generally content – until something happens to her that turns her life upside-down.
Cass’s unhappiness deepens when she wins a scholarship to boarding school and is torn away from all she knows and loves – especially her adored, if wildly unconventional, mother. In time, Cass begins to settle down, but accustomed though she is to her mother's eccentricities, even she is not prepared for the announcement Mrs Fitzpatrick is about to make.
Years later, as her beloved mother lies dying from cancer, the adult Cass is reassessing the experiences, good and bad, that have made her who she is. The Bird, the Bees and Other Secrets is the story of how one woman comes to terms with her extraordinary past and eventually finds happiness. It is a novel about the brevity of childhood and the responsibilities of adults, and a reminder that love can be found in the most unexpected places."
Hi, Frances, tell us a little about your novel, The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets:
"The novel initially grew out of a short story I wrote some years ago about a woman sitting with her dying mother and thinking back over her childhood. Of course, there is much more to it than that, but it did give me something to work from and some kind of structure (and I need structure, especially as I don't plan ahead).While the novel is not autobiograpical, the idea was inspired by my own mother, who was very eccentric but also funny, creative and brave. Her life – like the life of the mother in the book – was fraught with difficulties and suffering, and yet she managed to maintain an amazing spirit. It is this spirit which I hope to put across. The novel means a lot to me, not because it is good (I'm not in a position to judge) but because I have put so much of myself into it. The experiences of love, joy, sadness and bereavement have all been mine, in one way or another, and they make the book very personal to me."
The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets is your second book published by Macmillan New Writing. How has your life changed since they published Dead Ernest in 2007?
"Apart from the yacht and the Porsche, you mean? I think the key word is confidence. The imprimatur of MNW was a tremendous boost, for as we all know, writing can be a lonely business, and to know that someone believed in my book enough to publish it was fantastic. I think I've been on a sort of high ever since that first letter from Mike Barnard, and while many MNW writers' novels have done better than Dead Ernest (so far, although it is now in the early stages of development into a TV film, so you never know...) I still feel excited to be a published author. I haven't yet gone so far as to call myself a 'novelist', but I'm getting there. Also, at my age (I think I'm probably the second oldest MNW writer, after Brian Martin, and my youngest son is the same age as Faye!) it's good to know that it's possible to succeed at something new."
What is your typical writing day?
"I don't have one. I so envy the rigid routine of the 'Get up at 6am, 2 cups of strong coffee, write for 2 hours. 8.15am more coffee and a muesli bar, walk the dog, two more hours' writing etc'brigade, but I simply don't have the self-discipline. I write when I feel like it, which could be any time. Sometimes I write quite a lot; at others, just a few words. But I have set myself a deadline for the WIP (although I'm not telling anyone when it is)."
Do you have a writing mantra?
"I think mine is probably 'Keep going, because eventually it'll start writing itself, as it always does (but I get impatient, as I always do...).' Or is that too long? Not very snappy!"
By pen or by keyboard, and why?
"Keyboard every time. I'm far too lazy to write things out more than once (although I have a kind of typing dyslexia, and tend to write letters in the wrong order, so the spell ckeck is in constant use). "
Greatest influences on your writing
"I don't think I'm influenced by other writers, but I read widely. I love many of the 19th century novelists, especially Trollope, Jane Austen (of course) and Mrs. Gaskell. I especially admire writers like Barbara Pym and Anne Tyler, who can write with great delicacy about simple every-day subjects."
Most ludicrous moment in your life
"There have been so many, but none stands out especially. Being pulled fully-clothed into a swimming pool by my grandson at a wedding - will that do?"