During one particularly depressing wintry afternoon at the beginning of last year, leafing through Vogue brought about one of the most significant epiphanies of my life. It was an article about gardening for virgins (or rather, virgin gardeners), something that resonated deep within me. Up until then my gardening experience was reduced to shuffling behind my dad in garden centres while frantically looking for anything that could rescue me from terminal boredom (usually scented candles). Yet, The Virgin Gardener leapt out of Vogue's pages into my subconscious where it planted itself soon after, germinated at documentary-like speed and yielded tiny tomatoes late in the summer, pots of lavender, rosemary, mint and a windowsill full of cyclamens that just do not stop blossoming.
Laetitia captured my heart from the very first line of The Virgin Gardener: 'In my twenties the Outside was what I ventured through on my way somewhere, usually to a party after dark'. See why a gripping beginning is always important? She had me at hello. In this book you will find detailed instructions on how to grow, buy and look after plants; a lust list filled with all details you could care to know about all of those green things that make you swoon, and even recipes to showcase your garden work at the table.
Why am I talking about a gardening book? Because I am on a mission to investigate the Creative Identity of authors I love. I am beginning from gardening because authors of non-fiction are sometimes regarded as a lesser species; writers who do not have to go through a great deal of trouble when sharing their expertise via a book. I cannot think of a greater misconception (actually, I can: wrap dresses suit everyone), and this is why Laetitia is answering The Creative Identity Questionnaire about her writing, her favourite creative inspirations, extravagances and successes. Laetitia lives in London with a Hunk, a sweet baby and a certain Mr Pug. She is currently working on her second book while the paperback edition of The Virgin Gardener is out in May. Visit her for lots of inspiration about cooking, writing and creating with plants.
What is your idea of perfect writing?
Perfection isn't something I strive for (I leave that to perfect people), but there are plenty of things that make a piece of writing perfect for me: take me away with you, un-put-downable, meaning-rich, happiness-inducing prose.
What is your greatest writing fear?
I guess that would be writer's block! Not happened yet, but there's always a first time!
What do you consider your greatest writing achievement?
I won something called 'The Gumbleton Prize' when I was at school. It was a creative writing prize and I was thrilled to win something. It was a short story, very much in the vein of Jilly Cooper as far as I can remember... Great fun to write and lovely to win a prize as a result of a thoroughly enjoyable few hours. (In those days we wrote with a pen and paper. I often wonder whether my writing has changed as a result of using the keyboard).
What is the writing tendency you most deplore in yourself?
I don't agonise about my writing when I finally get around to it, that is. The most deplorable thing about me is that I procrastinate, although I like to think that this contributes to my (deeply important) thought-processes!
Which living writer do you most admire?
I love and adore Margaret Atwood (cf. 'perfect writing' above).
What is your greatest writing extravagance?
Hour upon hour of day-dreaming... but that hasn't happened for a good few years.
What is the quality you most admire in somebody else's writing?
That they thought that concept up, that they believed in themselves enough, that they committed to it and set aside time to produce and deliver the goods. The journey that happens from the germ of a seed to fruition; it takes something to achieve that and all without any help or encouragement. It blows me away. I've never done that. I was lucky enough to be championed by someone who believed in me, but there are many, many people who write with nothing to keep them at their desks but their own conviction – in other words, without a formal deadline – and that, to me, is something truly inspiring.
What or who is your greatest writing love?
Henry James, ten squillion times over. English A level. He taught me to concentrate, to hold out for beauty, to be patient, to find bliss in the tiniest smidgin of a thing. And in a slightly different way, my dog, Mr Pug, who sits on my knee and snores and is there with me every step of the way as I tap tap tap.
When and where were you happiest with your writing?
When it's flowing, fast and furious, and I'm finished before I had anticipated.
If you could change a thing about your writing, what would it be?
Faster faster faster!
What is the most marked characteristic of your writing?
Umm... I use lots of DOT DOT DOTs... My editor tries to keep this to a minimum but quite a lot of it slips through.
Who are your writing heroes?
Judith Kerr, Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, Helen Bannerman, Lewis Caroll (at the moment!).
How do you hope your writing will be referred to as long after you've gone?
I have absolutely no idea. I hope people will grow stuff as a result of what I've written and have fun with it... that's all.
What is your writing motto?
Don't think about it, just write.
Hear that dear reader? Don't think about it, just write! Thanks Laetitia!