Author Interview: Milly Johnson

Wednesday 17 June 2015
Today I am far too excited to be sharing a Q&A with the amazing Milly Johnson! Her latest book Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Café is released tomorrow (June 18th) and you can read my review here. I am a huge fan of Milly and I hope you enjoy reading the Q&A.

Milly, did you have as much fun writing Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Café as I did reading it? It is a LOT of fun, with some incredibly hilarious moments. 

I had a lot of fun – I always do. If I can’t have fun with it all, I think that would shine through.  I love writing stories and taking my readers on an emotional journey. Writing books is my dream job and I put my heart and soul into every one. I always feel quite bereft when I have to leave the world I have created.

You do also write some really heartfelt scenes though, and create characters that your readers can really believe in. What - if anything - would you like people to take from this book? 

I would like people to think that it is never too late to change things in your life. You should be the happiest you can be and there is no use settling for second best when you could make some effort and have more.

There are a number of fantastic characters in the story this time around and one of my favourites was Cheryl. Is there a particular character you enjoyed creating and writing about the most? 

I got very fond of the cleaning girls. They were originally quite low profile, then I caught an infection on my lungs that put me out of business for a couple of months and in that time I started thinking more and more about how much meatier their roles could be. They grew in my head when I had too much time to think.  I became very fond of Astrid – the huge transsexual with a very soft heart and the formidable queen bee Hilda. They were such a wonderful bunch of supportive women.

Are the characters and the things they get up to in the book entirely fictional? Reading your biography you have had quite the varied employment history, did any of those workplace nasties make their way into this story? 

Nope – it’s mostly fictional. Though I think we’ve all heard of a relation of an elderly person who is trying to safeguard his inheritance with a spot of intensive creeping and a man having a middle-aged crisis who actually thinks the totty he has run off with finds him more interesting than his money. My nana was a cleaner for over fifty years and I remember her telling me stories of some of her clients – fussy ones and people she felt very sorry for and grew attached to. And I’ve collected a few stories from people who’ve cleaned and had to dodge perverted clients. Some people, alas, see cleaners as very lowly – others, like me, couldn’t live without them and put them on a pedestal.

Do you create your characters or plots first? The idea for Connie to set up a rival cleaning company to take down her husband I thought was genius and it had scope for some brilliant twists, all of which you delivered on and there was a real eclectic mix of secondary characters as well. 

It all depends. Sometimes I have characters floating about in my head with no home needing a place in a story, sometimes I have an idea for a story but no characters to go in it. In this case, the story of the cleaning company came first so then I needed to fill it with a cast. To be honest, it just ‘happens’ and I don’t know how it does. I always try to make sure that my secondary characters are as colourful as my main ones because they’re as important. I often have my most fun with them and sometimes – like Freya in Summer Fling – they become so big I have to bring them back in another story.

Do you find it easier or more difficult to come up with ideas for characters and stories with each book that you release? 

Just the same, no easier or more difficult. I look forward so much to building a new cast and placing them on a set I can have fun with.

You are now one of the nation's most popular Women's Fiction authors. Could you ever see yourself writing a book in another genre? And what books do you like to read yourself? 

I read mostly crime and thrillers myself and have been desperate to write one in that genre for ages. And I will as soon as I have time. That’s the problem – I have so many plots stacked up in my head for romcoms that I’m desperate to get to. But I think it would be good for me. I enjoy writing involved plots but I would have to have a completely different voice. I just wish there were 4 more days in every week!

What does a typical writing day look like for you? And do you have a writing 'space' or can you write anywhere? 

I can certainly jot down ideas anywhere, but I have a dedicated office in the house. The office pays for everything so I made sure I was comfortable in it and have a big plush chair, huge desk, lots of shelves – and it’s still not big enough. I write as soon as the children go to school and the dog is walked and carry on until they come home demanding food. I have to treat it as the proper job it is. A lot of people think that if you work from home you can break off anytime and go for coffee and I can’t. Yes we have more flexibility, but those hours have to be made up or I don’t get a book out and the mortgage doesn’t get paid. I’m a workaholic though and if the house is empty, I’ll gravitate to the office and put some extra time in.

What is your most favourite thing about being a writer? And how are you celebrating the release of Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Café?

I love being my own boss.  I have great self-drive so it isn’t a problem for me working under my own steam and you get to do so many great things that I never got to do in the other jobs I did. So many invitations – most of which I have to turn down, alas. Plus I never have to work for another psychopath!  I love that exciting things are always around the corner for me. Plus I feel as if I’m being paid for doing a hobby which I love – you can’t get much better than that.

As for celebrating the book – I always give my books a major ‘christening’ and send them out into the world with a big launch party – which get bigger and bigger every year.  At the moment I’m collecting together all the lovely raffle prizes I’ve been promised for my launch to raise money for my affiliated charities and doing interviews, sorting out my new website and doing a lot of research ‘afternoon teas’ – all fun things. Releasing a new book is like giving birth to a new baby and it needs to make a big splash when it comes out to get readers interested and keep me in the job. It’s hard work but it doesn’t feel like it. I’ll relax in August when I’ll climb aboard a big ship and let my shoulders sag.

As you know I am a relatively new fan of your work having read only three books - which I will rectify soon! - so if I was to read another which one would you recommend? 

I would read It’s Raining Men which is the most fairy-taley of my books but still very much anchored in real life. I loved the village of Rem Dullem and its characters and Gene Hathersage used to bring me out in a sweat when I wrote about him.

Thanks Milly!

About Milly Johnson

Five-foot-tall Milly Johnson is a half Barnsley, half Glaswegian writer of greetings cards, novels and shopping lists featuring gin and buns. When not writing she is either reading, learning Italian, mixing with the Yorkshire glitterati, getting up the council's nose about a Dodworth Road Pedestrian Crossing or ironing school clothes. She lives with her two boys and a quartet of mad animals near her Mam and Dad in the middle of Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

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