Looking back, which experiences, jobs and personality traits do you think have really helped you? It’s funny how when you are young and trying to work out what to do (if you are not lucky enough to have a vocation), you can’t find any sort of pattern to your skills and passions that will lead you to a career. But looking back now, it all makes sense. I was always a huge reader yet somehow didn’t translate that into being a writer for a long time. But my history at school, philosophy degree, long gossips with my uncle, Julian (Fellowes, creator and writer of Downton Abbey), early work as a journalist…it’s all led to here, which has turned out to be a great place for me!
What was the best thing about writing this book? As my third Downton book but having had a year off (I had two other books to write), it was such a comfort to get back to the characters and period I love best. Plus it comes with the perk of set visits!
Which are your favourite images in this book? My favourite is probably the picture of Mrs Hughes and Mr Carson, holding hands as they paddled into the sea. It was a moment the audience had been longing for, and they didn’t let us down. They’re both such consummate actors and I think their thorough enjoyment on set comes through. Jim Carter has a wicked sense of humour, too. After that scene – which ended season four – I asked him if it signalled the start of a romance between Carson and Hughes, to which he replied: ‘It could be….or a suicide pact.’ Ha!
Who are your favourite characters in Downton Abbey? Edith is my favourite character and always has been. I used to say this and people would look at me strangely, but now everyone adores her – or at least, everyone wants her to be happy! For me she represents the extraordinary time women then had, with their expectations of life completely turned around. It was a time of exceptional challenges for them in Britain but they rose to it in ways they – and certainly their mothers and grandmothers – could never have imagined: going to university, wearing short dresses, voting, living in their own apartments, driving cars, running their own businesses, flying planes…
Have you eaten any food from the recipes in this book? Absolutely! The pancakes are a weekly favourite with my son – a Sunday treat. I’m just about to try out the marmalade recipe. Nothing nicer than home-made marmalade.
What do your bookshelves at home look like – where are they and how do you arrange your books? They keep sprouting…. I have a guest bedroom with an entire wall of books, two tall, wide bookcases on either side of my bed, a large bookshelf in the hall that I had to get to accommodate new research books, a tall bookcase in the drawing room that was meant for games but is being slowly overtaken by books. Windowsills, small tables, bathrooms….they are all constantly under threat! I try to impose some sort of order – in the guest bedroom they are largely grouped by author and period – but mostly they just get squashed in where they can, hopefully to be discovered in an idle moment!
Do you have a favourite museum or art gallery? In New York, if I only have a little bit of time to myself, I’ll walk around the Frick – it’s small but densely packed with beautiful things, you never feel as if you’ve seen it all. In Delaware, I absolutely fell in love with the Winterthur Museum and don’t need much of an excuse to get back there. In England, I’m a member of the National Trust (similar to the Royal Oak in the US), so if I’m on a trip, I’ll try to break it up with a visit to one of their hundreds of properties. There’s always something wonderful to see – I like to plan a fantasy house that pinches absurd ideas I’ve seen, such as a cupboard with a bath in it for a bedroom or a little house in the garden for eating pudding in.
When you go into a bookshop, which department do you head straight to? It depends on the bookshop. If it’s a second-hand bookshop, then I’ll always look for memoirs written about life in the early twentieth century. If new books, then I’ll head for fiction. I tend to read either books written a hundred or so years ago or contemporary novels – from Dorothy Parker to Donna Tartt.
What are your favourite gadgets? I’m quite fond of gadgets, particularly in the kitchen. I think actually I wish I had a Mrs Patmore and Mrs Hughes in my life but in their absence must make do with a NutriBullet and Robot Hoover.
What are you working on next? I have a lot of Downton Abbey talks planned in the UK and USA – Henley Literary Festival, the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival, trips to Virginia, Georgia, Oklahoma and Canada…Plus I hope to finish a couple of personal book projects…watch this space…!
Read my review of ‘A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey’ here.