Interview with Claudia Carroll, Author of The Secrets of Primrose Square

Claudia Carroll - Image Credit Mark McCallWhat inspired you to start writing?

Like a lot of authors, for about as long as I can remember, I’d been scribbling down stories and embarrassingly rough drafts for novels. But then like most people, I just assumed that book deals were something that happened to other people so I’d just shove what I’d written into the back of a drawer and vow not to mortify myself by even talking about it. Took me a very long time and a LOT of courage to get brave and actually put a book out there.

In the meantime though, I was working as an actress on a long running soap opera in Ireland and, like so many others, had always dreamt of writing a book, but never really had the guts. But my idea for a book kept whispering at me. So I took to getting up earlier and earlier every morning and taking pen to paper and in a few months, had somehow cobbled together the first draft of my very first book.

It was the story that inspired me – and the characters too. Somehow I just had to get this story out of me and commit it to paper, whether it ever saw the light of day with a publisher or not, if that makes sense!

I got VERY lucky though. One of our directors on the TV show, a good pal of mine, published her first book and advised me to get three chapters of mine to her agent who she very kindly asked to look them over. So I took a very deep breath and went for it, sent off my chapters, then spent the next few weeks down on my hands and knees praying till I heard news back.

But thankfully the agent, the fabulous Marianne Gunn O’Connor very kindly agreed to take me on and had a book deal for me a few weeks later. I’ll never forget the moment. I was driving when the call came and my lovely agent said, ‘pull over the car.’ I thought something was wrong and when she told me we had a book deal, I think they heard my screams for miles!

All these years later and I’m still pinching myself…

What message would you like your readers to take away from The Secrets of Primrose Square?

There’s a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which was a huge touchstone of mine when I was writing the book. ‘A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until dipped in hot water.’

Because that’s the thing about Primrose Square. It’s about ordinary women, who find themselves in extraordinary situations. And I suppose the message of the book for me is that we women are stronger – so much stronger – together. Always.

Do you have a favourite character in the book?

There’s a character of a twelve-year-old girl called Melissa who just broke my heart to write. She’s struggling when we first meet her, because her sister has past away very tragically, her Dad is away from home with work and her Mum is having a nervous breakdown. Melissa is at that child/woman stage of life and in spite of all the knocks she’s been given, she’s trying her very best to keep the show on the road and to keep smiling for her parents, her teachers and neighbours who constantly ask her how she’s coping. Melissa’s stout, brave response is to put on her biggest brightest smile and to say that everything is hunky dory, thanks very much. I loved writing her!

Have you ever lived somewhere similar to Primrose Square?

No, I wish!! I recently moved back home with my parents, who I look after now, as they’re both elderly and my poor Dad isn’t in good health. The old family house is on a busy main road and a lot of the neighbours are older too, so I rarely see them out and about. I’d love neighbours who’d stop to chat or to give you the time of day. I want to live on Primrose Square!

We often read about sending the first three chapters to an agent. What advice would you give aspiring writers about how to make these first chapters compelling?

For starters, I’d advise any aspiring writers to work out a skeleton outline of any new story before you even sit down to write a line. It makes life so much easier later on, on the days when you find you a bit stuck. I know it takes me quite a long time to get to really know my characters, so I’d begin by writing out a rough biography for each one of them, to try to make them as three dimensional as possible, it helps me hugely.

A reader will quickly lose interest if they just don’t like the hero or heroine. You really have to try to layer them carefully so that they really jump off the page! Remember at the start of a new book, you’re asking a reader to go on a 400 page journey with your characters, and particularly your leading character, so it’s vital to get this right early on.

Woody Allen once said, ‘there’s nothing to writing, all you have to do is sit down at a computer and open a vein.’ And believe me we all have plenty of days where I know just what he meant!

But equally you get great days, where the words are just flying and without even noticing it, it’s five hours after you first sat down and you completely forgot to even eat.

In a nutshell though, I’d advise anyone who wants to write to try to keep the writing day as close to a nine to five job as possible. Easier said than done though…the trouble is, when I’m writing from home, there can just be so many other distractions. Even as I’m typing this, I’m looking at a big mound of ironing, just winking at me to be done.

I constantly have to remind myself that when I’m writing I’m working, just as if I was based in an office or business setting, so I try my best not to take calls, answer emails from pals or surf the net. Believe me though, this took a long, long time to get used to! Soon enough though, my family and friends slowly copped on not to call during the day.

So I suppose here’s a little tip to would be authors who may be reading this; just ignore the door, put the phone on silent, don’t go online and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll get done. Really.  My mother is by a mile the worst ‘time bandit’ offender, but then she thinks I spend all day every day daydreaming out the window and that books appear on shelves by magic!

Having said all that though, being a full-time author really is the single best job in the world. I’m incredibly lucky and still pinching myself that I can do it full-time now. Imagine a job where you can haul yourself out of bed and be ‘in work’ five minutes later?

What’s not to love?

When you are not writing what do you do to relax?

I’m a great movie and theatre goer and so is my gorgeous editor, the wonderful Eli Dryden, so when she and I get together, the chat is non-stop about shows and actors and movies and plays. I’m so lucky to have an editor who shares my passion for the stage and silver screen!

See the review of The Secrets of Primrose Square on Hot Brands Cool Places

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Interview with Annie Robertson, Author of My Mamma Mia Summer loved the way you brought Mamma Mia references into your book, is it a favourite film of yours?
It took me a while to fall in love with Mamma Mia. When it first came out I really didn’t get it but then, after several years, I was re-introduced to it and I began to see it differently. Now I can’t get enough of its energy and joy. I’ll be first in the queue when Here We Go Again is released!

Your descriptions of the island are so vivid, that as a reader, you feel utterly transported there, how did you research this?
Sadly I haven’t been to Skopelos. I looked into arranging a quick trip during the writing of the book but it was off season and the logistics of getting there were quite complicated. Because I have a young son I couldn’t travel for the time needed and so, in the end, I relied upon parts of the film, Google streetview, and various websites and image searches. The setting was probably the hardest and most time-consuming part of writing the book so it’s great to hear that the descriptions feel vivid.

Of all the characters in the book which one would you have liked to be?
Definitely Athena. I love writing older characters. Age, a bit like childhood, seems to bring a lack of inhibitions so it was fun to write a character who pretty much said and did as she felt. I hope when I’m a little older I’ll be as carefree as Athena – my husband thinks I’m most of the way there already!

You achieved a distinction in your MA in Creative Writing, how did the course help you with your writing?
The MA helped enormously with my writing but probably the biggest thing it taught me was learning to develop a thick skin to feedback/criticism. Working in a workshop environment exposes you to the sort of feedback agents and editors throw at you all the time. But of course there was a lot of technical advice too, which six years later I still hear when I’m working.

There is a feeling in the book of the importance of following your dream, what has been your experience of this, and what advice do you have for others?
Throughout my twenties I wanted to write (with my film music background I thought I might be a lyricist or screen writer, and before writing my first novel I had planned to write children’s books) but I found it really difficult to take the leap of faith and quit work to pursue my ambition. In the end fate leant a hand – I hurt my back and couldn’t work, which left me lots of time to follow my dream. I don’t regret any of my twenties, all that experience feeds into my writing. My advice would be take your time, explore your options, and when you’re ready, jump in. My contentment comes from being creative on a daily basis. Find what makes you content and build your life around it.

What is your favourite type of holiday?
I’m not great at doing nothing so city breaks are best for me – cramming lots of things into a short period of time. I’m obsessed with Richard Ayoade’s, Travel Man on Channel 4. Now that’s a dream job.

See the review of My Mamma Mia Summer



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Interview with Author – Veronica Henry

Interview with Author - Veronica Henry As A Family Recipe is about to be published I had a wonderful opportunity to interview Veronica Henry about her inspiration and her life outside her books.

We love the structure of A Family Recipe, what was your inspiration for writing the book in that way?
I wanted to write about two different generations in one house; the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter, and how their lives are intertwined. And it was my family recipe box that provided the key to that relationship – how the recipes in it had been handed down through the generations, and reflected what was happening at the time. And when I began researching houses in Bath, to find the perfect place for my family to live, I found out about the Bath Blitz. I immediately wanted to write about the effect that had on a friendship – two young girls who survive that trauma, and what happens to them afterwards.

We are always impressed by the perfect way that you always tie up the loose ends in your books, how difficult is it to create such satisfying conclusions?
It takes a while to figure out what happens to everyone. Not so much how the stories end, because I usually know that right from the start, but what happens along the way. I usually map out a few major plot points, but then I start writing and see what happens and I’m quite often surprised. That’s when writing is exciting, when your characters take you somewhere unexpected. I spent a long time writing television drama, so I know how to keep control of what is happening and not get sidetracked. There has to be a purpose to the story – your characters can’t just wander off and do whatever they like!

You have used a variety of locations in your books, if you were the main character in a book, where would you like it to be set?
I live by the sea, and a change is as good as a rest, so I’d like to have a big, rambling bohemian house in Chelsea, perhaps in the 1970s, when the Kings Road was a place to see and be seen and was full of creativity, but also slightly decadent. Perhaps I’d be an artist. I can’t paint for toffee, but maybe my fictional self is a talented genius!

What advice do you have for writers that want to switch genres, e.g. from non-fiction to fiction.
Don’t swap genres just because you think that’s where the money is, or because that’s the current trend. Write what you believe in. Write what you love; what makes you tingle inside when you think about it. In other words, write with your heart, not your head or your bank balance.

You have achieved so much in your writing career, do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
I am so lucky to do something I love. I do fantasise about having a little bar by the sea somewhere warm, where people can come and enjoy a glass of wine in the sunshine, and have something delicious to nibble on, and close their eyes and drift away … A secret bar that only lucky people will know about. A place for assignations and affairs and honeymoons. A place to fall in love.

When you are not writing, what do you do to relax?
That’s something I’m struggling with at the moment. I spend so much time writing and reading for work, it’s hard to relax as you can’t really escape from it. I went for a walk on the beach with my dog Zelda this morning, but spent the whole time thinking about my new characters …I do love cooking, though. I find that quite relaxing. So today I’m going to make an asparagus quiche, and a roast chicken salad with Green Goddess dressing, and play some new music that’s been recommended to me, and try and forget about my fictional worlds for a short while!

A Family Recipe - Veronica HenryImage of Veronica Henry credit: H.J.Lewis

See the review of A Family Recipe


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Interview with author Liz Fenwick

Interview with author Liz FenwickI love Liz Fenwick’s new book One Cornish Summer and I had the wonderful opportunity to interview her about her love of Cornwall and how she gets inspiration for her novels.

We love that you have chosen Cornwall as the location for many of your novels, what do you enjoy most about living there?

Tough question as I love so much about living in Cornwall, but first and foremost is the wonderful community in which I live. They make living here a joy. Second and very close to the community is the landscape. It’s magical from the trees that are shaped by the prevailing wind to the way the land falls to the sea. I’m under its spell.

What comes to you first when creating a novel? Is it the location, the characters, or the story line?

It’s never the same. Each story has had one thing that I call the trigger that pulls other ideas together and creates a whole. For example, I was researching for A Cornish Affair and I found the Cornish saying…save a stranger from the sea, he’ll turn your enemy. Boom. Instant conflict as it went against what we naturally think and A Cornish Stranger was born. From that point I knew the novel would be set on Frenchman’s Creek and would tell the story of a grandmother and granddaughter. With One Cornish Summer the Helwyn House, Godolphin in reality, pulled the story ideas together. I’d wanted to write about early on-set Alzheimer’s as my best friend’s sister is struggling with the disease. So on a visit I was standing there looking at the house trying to imagine what it must have been like in its heyday at double or even treble the size it is now. Only one wall remains of the great hall that once stood there, a skeleton of its history. That’s when I put the two together. The house is haunted by its past which to the modern visitor is invisible…

We thought One Cornish Summer was such a compelling book, apart from using the history of the house, how did you decide on what would be happening to Lucy and Hebe?

I tend to look at my characters and ask what choices have they made that have brought them to this point as the story begins. Following on from that I continue to ask them what they would do if X and Y happened. I’m afraid I’m not always very nice to my characters!!

As a writer, how do you motivate yourself on those days when the words may not be flowing as well as you would like?

First I do accept that some days the words aren’t there. Normally because I need more research or I haven’t given my subconscious time to catch up. However if I am close to deadline and the time to step away isn’t there then I have a few things that help. 1. Take a bath and read someone else’s book 2. Read and do an exercise out of a writing craft book 3. Take a walk 4. Set an egg timer for twenty minutes and say to myself just write anything for twenty minutes only…this never fails! It’s like the permission to write anything kills the fear holding back the words.

One Cornish Summer - Liz FenwickDo you have any plans to revisit any of your books and to write a sequel, or do you think you might create a series in the future?

I’ve been asked by readers before for more on certain characters and I have responded a bit. I knew that Max from A Cornish Stranger needed his own story so I wrote the novella A Cornish Christmas Carol. But I haven’t been tempted by a series. I like that the books are stand alone but are connected by location and secondary characters. Although someday I may write Hannah’s story from A Cornish House. She hasn’t left me…

When you are not writing what do you do to relax?

I read, walk, cook, drink wine and watch tv. Oh and nip across to the pub…

See the review of One Cornish Summer

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Interview with Author Katie Fforde

A Country Escape - Katie Fforde - My Creative NotebookAs Katie Fforde’s latest book is released, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview her about her inspiration behind A Country Escape and the first steps when you create a novel:

What was the inspiration behind A Country Escape?
I had two sources of inspiration for A Country Escape. One was from the farmer who helps my daughter with her three sheep who said I should set a book around farming. The other was a television programme that followed farmers through the year. One of them had no children to leave the farm to.

What do you love about living in the Cotswolds?
I love everything about living in the Cotswolds. The scenery is stunning and I never take it for granted. It’s easy to get to London and the rest of the country from here and there is a big range of people who live in the area, lots of them artists and writers.

When you started writing was there a time when you said to yourself, I am a recognised author now, this is what I do for a living?
I suppose there must of been a time when I realised I was a real author but in some ways I still don’t believe it.

In your past you have experienced many different professions, but is there one dream career that you would choose if you could start again and not be a writer? Very hard to say what I’d have been if I hadn’t been a writer as it is the best job in the world. But I think I would have been a counsellor as I love listening to people’s stories. This is assuming I wouldn’t have made it as a torch singer or a flamenco dancer.

Katie Fforde Interview - My Creative NotebookWhat are the first steps when you create a novel, do you start with pen and paper? How do you develop the plot, the characters, the detail in the location?
I don’t start every book in the same way but I do sometimes start with a spider graph which entails pen and paper. I put the name theme in a circle in the middle and add the characters and incidents in circles round the outside and see how they link up. The hardest part is the plot. Once you’ve got that as a frame work the characters create themselves. For example, what sort of woman would take over a betting shop in her fifties? She’d have to be a bit tough and possibly be good at maths. Why is she so good at maths? Details in location are greatly aided by television. I know what sort of area I need or want to be in and add woodlands and lakes for decoration. What is odd is that if I’ve already started thinking of a place, or a house, for example, I find it quite hard to change it in my head.

We know that you support new writers, can you tell us a little about the Katie Fforde Bursary?
The Katie Fforde Bursary is for someone who’s been trying to get a book published for a long time. The prize is a year’s subscription to the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) and a place at the conference. It may include something else if I see a need.

See the review of Katie Fforde’s latest book – A Country Escape on Hot Brands Cool Places

Image credit of Katie Fforde – David O’Driscoll



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