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Author Interview With Joanna Trollope
Mainstream author Joanna Trollope is known for her emotionally gripping novels about family. Her most recent release is this month's Daughters-in-Law, which focuses on the changing family dynamics as the Brinkley's last un-married son ties the knot.
RT BOOK REVIEWS: In this month's Daughters-in-Law you focus on the relationships parents have with their married children and their spouses. What intrigued you about this dynamic?
Joanna Trollope: It’s universality. Even if you aren’t actually married, anyone living in any kind of a relationship has to deal, somehow, with their partner’s parents and family. I am keenly interested in all the relationship situations that are common to all of us, rather than focusing on the esoteric ones that will affect very few.
RT: Rachel, the family's matriarch, originally seems to be overbearing. How did you layer her character to make her someone that readers could relate to as opposed to the stereotypical mother-in-law?
JT: She has to be credible. Even if you can’t stand her, you have to be able to recognize her as real, so I was at pains to show the reasons for her being as she is, even if she doesn’t always have an excuse! And she had, after all, brought up three boys that the daughters in law fell in love with…So I tried to imagine her thinking and her feelings myself.
RT: The newest daughter-in-law to join the family is the headstrong Charlotte. How did you bring to life the emotional challenges that she represented to the other daughters-in-law?
JT: Charlotte is the result of watching and listening to a very great number of modern young women, and their powerful sense of entitlement!
RT: There are four marriages at stake in Daughters-in-Law, which was the easiest to write about and why?
JT: I found Edward and Sigrid the most sympathetic couple – maybe because I felt that there was real mutual respect there, as well as love….
RT: Can you share one way that the finished story differed from what you were expecting?
JT: Rachel got more out of hand, and so, in a good way, did Mariella….But I felt Rachel had to push all the boundaries as she insisted on doing, to have reality as a character, so of course I let her.
RT: You have written several family-oriented mainstream novels, what is your best piece of advice for someone trying to build (or sustain) a good relationship with their family members?
JT: Back to the question about which relationship was the easiest to write, really. I think love is all very well, and a delicious emotion often, but the element that has staying power for me is respect and even admiration. Being with a person or people who can be and do things you cannot manage yourself, but you know to be worthy of esteem, is abidingly rich.
RT: When your own family is making you crazy, what do you do in order to help you re-assess the situation?
JT: Just – wait…and say nothing.
RT: You've been writing full time since the 1980s, can you share how your writing has changed the most since you began?
JT: I think it’s probably more economical. Readers have been so wonderfully loyal that they have given me the confidence to express myself with less rather than more.
RT: You have found great success with geographically separate audiences — both in America as well as your native England and further abroad. When you compare fan responses to your books, are there any cultural differences that you notice in how your books are received in different countries?
JT: I am so appreciative of the warmth of the response both sides of the Atlantic, but of course there is a difference in that response because we are culturally more different than we often acknowledge — a reason, no doubt, for finding each other’s literature faintly exotic! The English are slightly more skeptical, the Americans slightly more literal. But both are as fascinated by the dynamics of family life as I am!
RT BOOK REVIEWS: And can you give us a look ahead at the next project you are working on?
Joanna Trollope: So sorry, no…I can’t ever talk about work in progress — it has to do with a sort of superstition that if I talk about it, I won’t be able to do it any more…But there will be a new novel next spring!
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