With a prequel novelette out ahead of her debut novel release, St Albans-based author Matilda Swinney discusses making the writing jump, real life inspiration and why she can’t get enough of her hometown
Was a writing career always on the cards?
Yes! I’ve wanted to be an author since as long as I can remember. I used to put extra effort into writing stories in school and I even started writing a book when I was nine, but never finished it.
Is it true you made the jump to start a writing career as lockdown was imposed?
That’s true. My first baby was a year and a half old at that point. I’d stopped breastfeeding so had more time for myself. That’s when my partner encouraged me to write the book I’d been talking aboutfor so long. He used to take our daughter for long walks to the park so I could write my book in silence.
What inspired The Texts Before We Met?
The Texts Before We Met is a prequel to the book I’ve been writing, The Girl Who Jumped, which will be out in January. I wanted to release a prequel to drum up excitement and give people a preview into the world of The Girl Who Jumped. The book is a short novelette made up of text messages. They’re real-life text messages taken from the seven days before the moment that changed my life forever.
And how does this link into The Girl Who Jumped?
The Texts Before We Met ends where The Girl Who Jumped starts. The Girl Who Jumped is a classic novel length and is not made up of text messages. I do feature some within the story though, but it’s written in first person and is a romantic comedy. I like to think of it as Fifty Shades of Grey meets Bridget Jones’ Diary.
How would you sum up your writing style?
My writing style is refreshingly honest and funny (I hope). I like using short sentences to create tension and pace. I want people to escape into the world of the book and feel the same magic and excitement I felt as I went along the journey of The Girl Who Jumped. All my books are based on true stories, so they’re really close to my heart.
How long have you lived in St Albans?
We’ve lived here since February 2018. It’s an amazing place – in my opinion, it’s the best place to live in the UK. It’s a picturesque haven 20 minutes away from the centre of London. I still can’t get over just how close it is to the busiest city ever. You would never know. It’s so peaceful and beautiful.
What is your favourite thing about the area?
My favourite thing about the area is the bustle and happiness during the weekend. I feel like everyone makes the best of the gorgeous shops and cafes. I also love what a wonderful place it is for children. There’s so many great classes and parks and all the parents are so welcoming.
Have there been any outdoor spots that have been a godsend during the various lockdowns?
I couldn’t have survived lockdown without our daily walk around the cathedral and down to the lake.The greenery and peace of the water made it possible to forget everything.No matter what was happening we knew we always had our daily walk.
Can you pick out three local haunts you can’t get enough of?
We should have a Baked Nation subscription. We practically live there. The guy who runs it is wonderful, he has baby daughters of his own, and the almond flat white is the best in St Albans. Plus, the garden at the back is a sun trap. The new café near the cathedral, Crunch, is beautiful too. I love the décor in there, it’s definite a must-visit. And finally, Fitness First. It’s the best gym I’ve been to. The staff always smile, the equipment’s wonderful and the yoga classes are so relaxing.
Do you have a local secret or any interesting stories about where you live you are willing to reveal?
We love going to the park near the cricket club. There’s lots to do and it’s been recently improved. Before the improvements I used to love attempting the monkey bars when no one was looking. I’d only get to the second bar, but I’m determined to do them all at some point! And my final secret is the trampolines in Verulamium Park. I go with my toddler, but really I’m going for myself. It’s the best feeling in the world jumping on a trampoline. Once you stop feeling self-conscious, you’ll feel like you’re flying.