We caught up with The Sunday Times bestselling author AJ Pearce to find out all about her new book Yours Cheerfully, along with what it takes to be an author and where she finds her inspiration.
Tell us a little bit about your new book Yours Cheerfully?
Yours Cheerfully is set in London, 1941, and follows young journalist Emmy Lake who works on the problem page at Woman’s Friend magazine. When the Ministry of Information calls on the women’s press to help recruit thousands of women to work in the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to step up and do her patriotic bit. But when she meets a young mother who shows her the very real challenges that women workers face, Emmy has to decide between doing her duty and standing by her friends.
Although it’s set in the war, really it’s a book about friendship and loyalty, with some romance in there too as Emmy tries to juggle work with her personal life. It’s funny and sad and, I hope, an uplifting read.
Have you always wanted to be an author?
When I was little I wanted to be a poet, but I was dreadful at it, so I gave up! I only really thought about trying to become published when I started writing as a hobby, years and years later.
Where do you find your inspiration when writing?
I get inspiration from lots of different places. As my books are set in the war, the most exciting way is speaking with people who are kind enough to share their memories of that era. The inspiration for Yours Cheerfully came from chatting to a lady who told me about going to a factory during the war with her mother, when she was tiny. We got talking about the challenges young women faced and I realised this was a story I wanted to write.
I also collect women’s magazines from the 1940s. I have, I think, over eight hundred magazines now. Every one of them has something inspiring in it – the problem pages are like tiny novels in themselves.
What are your three favourite books?
That’s really hard! I read a lot of novels written in the 1930s and 40s. I love anything by D.E Stevenson who wrote Miss Buncle’s Book and the Mrs Tim series. Angela Thirkell and her Barchester series is another favourite. My favourite new books this year are Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, and The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont, both of which are wonderful.
You can invite three people to dinner, past or present, who would you invite and what would you cook?
What a brilliant question! Henry VIII so I could ask him what an earth he thought he was doing. I mean – really – what a bully! It would be good fun to call him out on that. Actually, that’s a great idea for a TV series: Figures From History I’d Like To Have A Serious Word With. My second guest would be Peter Sellers because he would be brilliantly funny and charming. And last but totally not least, Michelle Obama because I think she is one of the most inspiring people on the planet.
Cooking would be tricky as I’m not very confident or good at it. I’d probably pick up fish and chips as everyone likes that. They do massive portions in my local chippie so Henry would be OK.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Work hard, keep your nose clean, and don’t take any old nonsense from people. That’s from my mum and dad.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t worry if it takes time. There will always be readers and they will always want books. It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 100, you can still start. Write about something you feel passionately about, be patient, and don’t give up!
Which profession do you look at and think: “I’d love to be able to do that?”
Three day eventing. My horse is twenty seven now and retired, but I loved riding. I’d have loved to be a million times braver and several million times better as a rider. The thought of having the ability to fly around Badminton cross country is beyond a dream!
What’s your favourite Sophie Allport collection?
My favourite ‘writing mug’ is a Sophie Allport sheep stoneware mug, which is perfect as it holds enough coffee to get the words flowing! I have my eye on one from the new strawberries range. I love the stoneware jugs, and in terms of designs, the sheep and bees are my favourite collections.
Quick fire round
Where is your favourite place to write? At a big wooden table with my dogs by my feet.
Does writing energize or exhaust you? Both! New ideas are so exciting. Trying to make them good enough to be published is the hard bit.
What motivates you? Making sure I write as well as I can so I don’t let my readers down.
What are 3 words to describe yourself? Stubborn, shy, (occasionally) funny.
What are you grateful for? Everything. Definitely being able to write for a living. That’s a real privilege.
What is one thing everyone should do? Be kind to animals.
What are you reading right now? The Facemaker by Lindsey Fitzharris. I was in tears by the end of the prologue.
What 3 things you can’t leave the house without? My phone, my keys, and dog poo bags.
How many hours a day do you write? Sometimes none, but if there’s a deadline, my record is twenty four!
Loved our Q&A with AJ Pearce? Well, you're in for a treat as we have an exclusive short story to share with you, read A Country Picnic. We've also teamed up with our friends at The Alexander Hotel Collection and Pan Macmillan to offer one lucky winner a two-night stay for two people at Barnett Hill, a luxury four-star hotel situated in the heart of the Surrey Hills, the perfect place to escape and get lost in a book. The lucky winner will also receive a signed copy of Yours Cheerfully and a £150 Sophie Allport voucher. Enter this fabulous competition here.