Phaedra Patrick is the author of the new novel The Messy Lives of Book People. It focuses on a woman who works for a famous author. Patrick's other books include The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. She lives in Saddleworth, UK.
Q: How did you create your character Liv Green?
A: My character Essie Starling is a mega-bestselling author who hasn’t been seen in public for a decade. Her only real link to the outside world is via her house cleaner Liv Green. Because Essie is a prickly, wealthy writer, I wanted Liv to be the opposite, so she’s a busy, book-loving mum-of-two teenagers.
Liv is proud of her cleaning work but has a secret desire to be a writer, especially as her dad was an English professor at university. My own son is 16 so I was able to base a lot of Liv’s experiences of family life and work on my own.
Q: Is Essie Starling based on anyone in particular?
A: All my characters are their own people. I don’t base them on anyone in particular, but they sometimes take influences from real people. I imagined Essie to have the same immaculate bobbed hair as Anna Wintour (the editor of Vogue) and the presence of a stern, much-feared headmistress.
Q: What do you think the novel says about the lives of people in the book world, and about fame?
A: As with all industries, there’s a mix of people in that world. My “book people” in the novel include literary agent Marlon (who is former car mechanic), posh editor Meg, prickly bestselling author Essie, book-loving cleaner Liv, and her mum, Carol. I live to think The Messy Lives of Book People celebrates book lovers and readers everywhere.
Essie Starling used to love being famous. She enjoyed the cars, houses, and actor husband that came from being a huge bestseller. Now she’s a recluse, not seen in public for 10 years, and being famous makes things more difficult for her. She’s well-known and adored by readers globally, but doesn’t interact with anyone other than Liv. It’s a very solitary existence for her.
A key message from the book is to embrace what you have and what’s important to you. Personally, I think I’d be happier living in Liv Green’s little terraced house than I would be in Essie Starling’s luxurious but lonely penthouse suite.
Q: The author Colleen Oakley said of the book, “Whenever I need my faith in humanity restored (which, let's face it: lately is often), I pick up a Phaedra Patrick book. The Messy Lives of Book People is no exception.” What do you think of that description?
A: I loved Colleen’s last book, The Invisible Husband of Frick Island, so I was delighted that she gave me such a lovely quote.
I like to write fiction that takes readers on an uplifting journey and I always give my characters a happy ever after. After we’ve all battled through the pandemic for a couple of years, I think readers are looking for fiction that makes them feel good, and I hope my novels fit the bill.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on the first draft of my sixth novel, which should be published in Spring 2023. A lot of the story is based in Italy, so it was nice spending time in the sunshine, in my head if not in real life.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The Messy Lives of Book People is the USA/Canadian title for my novel and the UK title is The Book Share, so please don’t buy both versions! I really appreciate anyone who reads my novels, wherever they are.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Phaedra Patrick.