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Tara Hanks

By Sarah Hutchings

Tara Hanks

This interview with Tara Hanks was first published on The Deckchair website on 10/01/2008.

How did you get your first break?

There have been a few - getting a poem published in Mickey Mouse magazine when I was seven; the encouragement of my university tutor, Chris Baldick; being showcased by author Laura Hird on her website; and winning the UKA Press Opening Pages Competition. Each small break has made me more determined, and I hope there will be many other opportunities.

Could you describe your working day.
I'm fairly disorganized and I have young children, so they come first. During the day I work on research, editing and promotion. My most creative work happens during the evenings, when my children are sleeping. I tend to divide chapters into several short sections of a few hundred words each, and work through one at a time.

How does an idea become a novel?
My novels are based on real events, and generally cover subjects that I've been interested in for a long time. Although not based on my own experience, they concern people I feel empathy with and situations I can relate to. Women like Christine Keeler and Marilyn Monroe, who are well-known but largely misunderstood, attract my interest. Both my novels are set in the past, but I consider my perspective to be contemporary and believe that sometimes we need to look at history in different ways to understand patterns that are still occurring today. Particularly in the way some women are exploited, and denied an authentic voice of their own. I'm a slow worker and quite self-critical, so I have to be patient and allow my ideas to develop, then break ideas down into chapters and scenes. Once I've become passionate about a project I never give up on it, no matter how difficult the writing may be.

Which book do you wish you'd written?
There are many books that I admire; 'Wuthering Heights', 'To Kill A Mockingbird', 'Memoirs Of A Geisha', 'The Grapes Of Wrath', 'Voyage In The Dark', 'Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky', 'The Brothers Karamazov', 'What A Carve-Up', 'The Little Friend', 'Nana', 'The Woman Who Walked Into Doors', 'The Orchard On Fire', 'Tender Is The Night', 'Ham On Rye', 'Absolute Beginners', 'The Dud Avocado', 'The Missing Person', 'Liana', 'Cheri', 'The Woman Of Rome'. But I don't wish I had written those books because they wouldn't be the same if I did. Falling in love with a book or author is something to be cherished, as it doesn't happen very often.

As a reader, do you always finish a book you've started?
No. If a book bores or irritates me, I stop reading it after twenty or thirty pages. There are so many good books waiting to be read, so why waste time on something that doesn't excite me? But my own taste is very personal, and just because I dislike a book doesn't mean that somebody else won't appreciate it. I can enjoy a 'trashy' book as much as a highbrow one if it grips me in some way.

If you weren't a writer, what job would you like to have done?
Years ago I wanted to be an actress or singer, but I realize now that writing is the only job for me. I was brought up without television, and read constantly, and so writing became the easiest way for me to express myself. Working alone doesn't bother me; in fact, I seem to need it. The internet has changed my life because I'm in daily contact with other writers and can promote my work online, so it's far less isolated than even five years ago.

Describe your perfect day.
The days when I feel calm and at peace with myself are close to being perfect. I'm happiest when I'm just hanging out with my husband and two sons, perhaps going out for a pub lunch and a walk on the beach or through town, and later on, watching an old movie. But sooner or later the feeling evaporates, and I go back to writing.

What keeps you awake at night?
When I'm lying in bed at four o'clock in the morning and everyone else is asleep, I worry about where I'm heading and start to question why I'm here. Sometimes the only way I can comfort myself is by getting out of bed and writing something down. I don't do that very often but still, I do believe it's a sense of insecurity that empowers me to write.

Why did you choose to live in Brighton and Hove and what keeps you here?
I lived here for seven years during the 1990s. It was during this time that I attended (and occasionally taught) writers' workshops, read my work at performance nights and started my first novel, Wicked Baby. My early years in Brighton, the loneliness and strange encounters, gave me the inspiration to write about Christine's adventures in London.

I met my husband in Brighton, and we moved up north shortly after my eldest child was born. I wrote most of 'The Mmm Girl' while living in Derby, then about a year ago I started to feel drawn back to Brighton. And so here we are...

How does living here inspire your work?
The tolerance and positivity of people here, and also the feeling of being on the edge of everything that you only really get in seaside towns. The sea makes me feel small and vulnerable, and that sense of being human helps me to focus on my writing. Brighton is full of people who've arrived from other places, and being an outsider is no barrier to being part of the community. I think that's fairly unique in England, and it is important to me. I'm also fascinated by Brighton's history, and hope to write about it one day.

This page was amended on 14/01/2012
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