We chat with New York Times bestselling author Jenny Colgan about her latest book release An Island Wedding, a delightful summer novel that will sweep you away to the remote Scottish island of Mure, where two very different weddings are about to take place…
Jenny, over the course of the last 25 years, you’ve written more than 30 books under your name, and several under two pseudonyms. How did you begin your writing career? Did you ever imagine you’d become an international sensation?
Goodness no, I didn’t even think I’d get published. Well, I’d muse, you know, the same way you think, what if I was a pop star, or an ice dancer. I worked a day job and went to lots of evening classes and sent away chapters to agents and just got lucky. This was pre-internet. I had to print out everything at work and send actual paper manuscripts. I was always leaving bits of novels on the photocopier and getting into trouble.
How do you describe your new novel, AN ISLAND WEDDING? Were you excited to revisit your characters from Mure?
AN ISLAND WEDDING is about three couples, and about a race to get married on Midsummer Eve. It is always fun to go back to Mure. In the summer in the far North of Scotland it never really gets dark at all so that’s kind of lovely and fun.
You set your books in different locations in the UK. What is the significance of place in developing your characters and themes?
They’re places I know well and absolutely love and I really hope that comes across to the reader. When people get in touch and tell me it feels like they’re there when they read me, that’s a huge compliment. I change the names of towns, though, people hate it if you write about their town and get even a tiny thing wrong!
You’re a prolific writer—publishing 2 novels a year, while writing 2 novels a year—you’re a wife, mother of three, how do you do it, what’s your secret?
Oh, I have help of course! I hate it when people pretend they don’t and can do everything themselves! Especially women! When the children were little, I had a lovely lady who looked after them and now I have Laraine, who takes care of the house. She’s brilliant. I have someone who helps out with my paperwork and social media, and my husband is a marine engineer, which means he goes to sea, but when he comes home, he’s at home all the time so he can, and does, do everything while I get on with writing. He did all the home-schooling during lockdown. He was just fantastic. Honestly all those ‘I get up at 4am and drink a green smoothie’ Hollywood ladies who pretend they do everything themselves are not helping women at all!
Is it true you live in a Castle?
We do! Well, it’s kind of a fake castle. It was built by two men after the war with stones from an old ruined castle. When we were looking for a place to live the realtors sent us the details and I was like, ‘look at this, it’s ridiculous’, but my brother said, ‘oh at least have a look at it’ and it’s just magical. Also, I love its history. The two men who built it together pretended to be friends, as homosexuality was illegal then, but they were of course a couple who built this amazing home together and lived happily for decades. Then they sold it to the famous painter Jack Vettriano. Some of the seas you see in his paintings are right outside our window. Then a famous footballer bought it and played football with his children in the garden. And now it belongs to me. It’s a happy place.
Your books are romantic comedies, but you don’t shy away from exploring complicated relationships, and examining issues of gender, class, xenophobia in your fiction. When you sit down to write, do you have in mind the theme you hope to touch on?
I don’t, I have stories I want to tell. But issues are universal, we all live in a world full of them. I hope I’m not heavy handed, because the character and the stories are more important. But they don’t live in a perfect fairyland.
Speaking of writing, what’s your work routine?
I wake early, mess about on the internet, get the kids to school, walk the dogs, then settle down with a big sandwich about 11am and plough on through till the afternoon. 2000-2500 words depending on where I am on the schedule. I like to take one of the dogs to a coffee shop. One is well-behaved and one is naughty so the good one gets a lot more outings.
What are some of your hobbies, your favorite food, and what do you read for pleasure?
I play the piano quite seriously. I mean, I’m terrible, but I’m on the good end of terrible. Every second I’m not writing or out or doing stuff, I’m at one of the pianos. (I own more pianos that is strictly appropriate. If you know a middle-aged man who drools over cars, well I’m a bit like that but with pianos). I have a wonderful teacher and once a year I go to France to a piano boot camp where we start doing piano yoga at 7am, have lessons all morning, practice all afternoon then perform at night for a week. I absolutely love it. I also have a harp, but I’m not very good at it.
I like to eat almost anything, but I think if I was to be totally honest with what I really, really love eating, it would be my morning cup of coffee with an everything bagel and cream cheese.
Like most library-raised children my tastes in books are catholic in the extreme. I love Jon Ronson, Sophie Kinsella, John Irving, Colson Whitehead. I know he takes a lot of flak, but I thought Jonathan Franzen’s last book was superb. I’ve also just read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell for the first time—I loved it! I’m currently reading Monica Dicken’s WWII memoir about nursing which is hilarious and incredibly rude.