The first time she performed in the UK, two-time Grammy nominee Gretchen Peters described the experience as like “stepping through the looking glass” as if she had landed in a parallel universe.

The American singer/songwriter, who is calling in at Harpenden Public Halls this month, says the first time she came to the UK she played four gigs with no more than 50 people in audience, yet felt that “everything that wasn’t working in the States worked really well here".

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Gretchen’s first album, and to celebrate, the 58-year-old from Nashville has released a new album called The Essentials, which she describes as being “retrospective.” She says: “It seemed like the right time to put together a compilation with selections from past albums. What makes this different and special is that we have added a second disc with some out-takes and demos - things that never really saw the light of day on other albums before.

“There are a lot of people in the UK, who are only familiar with the last two albums, because both Blackbird and Hello Cruel World were higher profile in this country then the ones before that. So it will be a nice introduction to the older songs.”

Gretchen, who began playing the guitar when she was seven, explains that when she was growing up, she and her family listened to a wide range of music. She lived just outside New York City until she was 13, before moving to Colorado after her parents divorced. She says her dad was a jazz fan and he played Ella Fitzgerald or Django Reinhardt in the house while her older sister enjoyed rock and she and some of her other siblings listened to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.

“I think everything that goes in your ear comes back out at some point,” she says. “Folk music really appealed to me, because I was a young kid with a guitar and it was the only kind of music that I heard, which I was able to reproduce myself.

“What really attracted me to songwriting was how people like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell would have stories in their songs. I guess I realised that songwriting married my two loves and that was music and words.”

The mother of one, who has also won an Country Music Association Award (CMA), believes that writing is the hardest part of her job, yet also the most rewarding and describes it as a “mysterious process”.

She says: “I have never really figured out the process.

“My father was a well-known journalist in the 1960s - he wrote first nationally published article on Martin Luther King. Although I didn’t take after him in the sense of being a journalist, he definitely gave me the idea that being a writer was something that you could do.

"So when it is time to write I go to my writing room and I spend a lot of time waiting. When you have an idea, it’s really more a matter of waiting and letting it manifest rather than forcing yourself."

Gretchen often talks about people in her songs, and claims that the best thing to do is to observe people. She adds that she did a whole host of jobs before she became a professional musician, from working as a maid in a motel, which was her “worst job ever” to working in a hospital kitchen. All of these have helped shape her writing. The most valuable, she says, was working in a record store.

“Although I was desperate to get out of there.It actually gave me an understanding of the other end of the music business, which is retail.

“My songs are about characters and people. I think all the jobs that I had let me do that – they let me see people in all kinds of situations. The best thing for a writer is to be able to be anonymous and watch people.”

Gretchen Peters will be performing at Harpenden Public Halls on Wednesday, February 10. Details: 01582 767525