Jenny Colgan is the author of the new novel 500 Miles from You. Her many other books include The Bookshop on the Shore and The Bookshop on the Corner. She lives north of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for 500 Miles from You, and for your characters Lissa and Cormack?
A: Well, I live - or, I used to when I moved about! - in the country but near the city and often feel I have the best of both words, but I wanted to take someone from the city and put them into the middle of nowhere, and vice versa.
And I loved the idea of not having a couple meet till very late on - it's much harder in these days of lots of social media, but of course some people aren't on it at all. Cormack is an ex-soldier, a fairly serious person, so he doesn't have a Facebook account. That made my life a bit easier!
Q: The novel takes place in London and in Kirrinfief, a Scottish Highland town you first wrote about in The Bookshop on the Shore. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: I think setting is incredibly important. I really want to take you - my reader - somewhere with me, to the Scottish highlands, or rural Cornwall, or wherever I'm writing about; I want you to feel like you're actually there!
It's the highest praise when people say, “Oh, I felt like I was there” - particularly at the moment, when I think we all feel like walking in someone else's shoes from time to time.
Q: Did you need to do any research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything surprising?
A: Yes, I was writing a court case so there's lots I didn't know about that. Fortunately my friend is a barrister so she could help fill me in with lots of things.
I went to a big courthouse in London to get a feel for it and I was stunned really by just how grotty and utilitarian it was, all carpet tiles and cheap plastic doors. I'd expected it to be a little more impressive. I think the high court is, but criminal courts are just sad places that smell of bad coffee and bad luck.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I always want my readers to feel uplifted and hopefully laugh, and feel that they got the chance to go somewhere else for a while!
The fun thing about this is I made Cormac a kind of bad cartoonist because that's what I am - I always dreamed of being a cartoonist but wasn't really good enough. All the drawings in this book are mine though!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on a book for next year about how the lockdown affects a small community but I don't know if we'll want to read about that kind of thing next year, maybe we'll just want to forget all about it. So I am ready to change it all at the last moment.
It's oddly romantic though; there's something rather attractive about two people who want to meet but aren't allowed to...
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I just want to say - although I probably shouldn't! - but I'm being asked a lot at the moment, “What should I be reading during lockdown?” (or shelter in place), and asked for book lists and so on and I just wanted to say, this is so tough on everyone.
If you find it hard to concentrate on reading at the moment: Don't worry about it! Books will be there when we're back. Be kind to yourself.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb