Come and meet Rhoda Baxter …

DrJ cover

 

Today we’re to find out what makes Choc Lit author Rhoda Baxter tick.

Hi Rhoda, and welcome to one of the comfiest sofas in the entire universe. Jane Lovering left a few Hob Nob crumbs but I think we’ve got rid of most of them now.

I see she’s left some chocolate stains too. I’ll just sit here on the other side of the sofa…

Put your feet up, grab a scone or a bit of cake and I’ll pour the coffee.

Ooh, cake please. That looks lovely. Yum. I’ll try not to get crumbs on the sofa. I’m usually well house trained.

It’s great to see you.There’s never enough time at the RNA conference for a proper chat, so here are some of the questions the Romaniacs would have liked to ask when last we met.

How did your writing career begin, and is it now a full time job?

The writing career probably started when I joined the New Writer’s Scheme in the RNA. It was back in the day when you could apply in March and still get in! I joined the online forum and it felt like I’d suddenly left the farm track I’d been trundling along and joined the motorway. I learned that it wasn’t just about writing the best book you can, it was about networking, marketing etc.

It’s not a full time job (yet). I have a modest plan to break even next year – so that I can go to the RNA conference, the Festival of Romance and feed my reading habit without guilt.

I actually quite like the fact that I have a day job. I get to hang out with real people (rather than the ones in my head or my family – who are also real people, come to think of it) and share gossip and things. It also helps keep me in touch with the other aspects of me. Then there’s the paperclips…

Is there any other dream job that you’d love to try?

Jeffery Steingaarten has my ideal job. He’s a food critic for Vogue in New York. New York’s a bit far, but I’d like to do the same for Yorkshire. I’d get to eat out in the finest dining venues in Yorkshire (for free), then write about it… and…get paid for it! Now, THAT is a dream job. Especially if I can take a doggie bag home for the next day.

I’m sure own bookcase is as stuffed full as ours in Romaniac HQ. If you had to pick three fairly recent publications (say, after 2010) from your collection to recommend to a friend, which would you choose?

Aaaaah. That’s a mean, MEAN question. Okay. 2010. Take a deep breath, Rhoda. If you take a run at it maybe it won’t hurt. (Sorry, Celia, did I mention that I talk to myself a lot? Well, I do).

Nation by Terry Pratchett – okay, technically it’s pre 2010, but I read it in 2011. This book is a YA love story, an adventure yarn and a thoughtful exploration of the human need for deities all in one. It’s very different to Terry Pratchett’s other books, but equally readable and slightly more wonderful.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – A great book. It made me cry. (I object to the term ‘sick lit’ though. It’s a love story. The kids happen to be ill.)

Some of the Choc Lit books – there are so many I can’t choose. Kate Johnson’s Untied Kingdom, Margaret Jameses The Wedding Diary, Margaret Kaine’s Dangerous Decisions, Jane Lovering’s Vampire State of Mind, Isabella Connor’s Beneath an Irish Sky… I know you want me to choose one, but I can’t, dammit. I just can’t! Waaaaaaaah.

Help!(gasp, gasp) Cake. Must have cake.

Thank you. Phew. Just let me crawl back onto the sofa – with the cake, with the cake… Ah. That’s better. (deep breath) Sorry about that. Shall we carry on?

I knew that one would be tricky but thanks, my Kindle salutes you and my ordering finger is clicking. And what about blasts from the past? Which three authors have written books that you’d love to have taken credit for yourself?

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger– structurally, it’s a beautiful book. The only thing I’d change is to make the main characters less irritating. I finished it and nearly expired with envy.

A Summer of Living Dangerously by Julie Cohen – This is an awesome book. Two timelines intertwine in the same story – without it being a timeslip. I borrowed it from the library, then immediately went out and bought a copy so that I could own it. My copy in now covered in post-its.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – I thought the premise was brilliant. Loved it. Of course, I want the world success too. Natch.

We are totally on the same wavelength here! Although I haven’t read Julie Cohen’s yet. Oh dear, hammering the Amazon Kindle button today … Okay, moving on. Where do you write, and what would be your ideal writing space/room if money was no object?

I’d love a nice big study with floor to ceiling book cases and a big desk. A REALLY big desk, with space all around it, so that I can move my chair and use different sides of the table depending on what I wanted to do.

You said money was no object, right? In that case, I’d also like an assistant who would be able to sort out my filing for me, a nanny to keep the kids entertained, a chef, someone who could massage the knots out of my shoulders from time to time, and a chocolate dispensing machine that dispenses Lindt chocolates in a variety of flavours.

Oh. Sorry. Drooled a bit there. Let me wipe that up. There. Good as new.

That sounds wonderful (not the drool, the room, but thanks for the mopping) – throw in a fridge full of cocktails and it would be heaven on earth. And maybe a hammock to do reading research? Speaking of which, I’ve got to say that Doctor January has been one of my favourite summer reads this year and Hibs is a delectable hero. He reminds me of Dr. ‘Mac’ Macartney from Green Wing (played by Julian Rhind-Tutt) but I can’t quite put my finger on why.Is he based on anyone in particular?

I love Green Wing and Mac is my favourite character in it! I don’t think I consciously channelled Mac when I was writing Hibs, but who knows what my subconscious was doing (apart from raiding the biscuit tin). Hibs isn’t based on anyone in particular. He just sauntered in rather unexpectedly and I had to write him as he was. He is rather lovely. It took me a while to stop thinking about him – even when I’d moved on to writing the next book.

The only part of Hibs that’s based on real life is his hair. I once met a guy who had the loveliest long black hair. He clearly took good care of it. Also, of course, there’s the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists http://www.improbable.com/hair-club/which might have had something to do with it.

Your heroine in Doctor January, Beth, goes through a serious relationship crisis that could have gone either way. Did you know exactly how this was going to work out when you began to write the book, or did the plot develop as it went along?

It was a bit of both. I knew that Gordon was a total git (boo!) and I had a rough idea of what was going to happen, but the details evolved as I wrote. The hardest part was working out why Beth didn’t see Gordon for the totally horrible person he was. I had to do lots of research (Yay the internet!) to find out why women often stayed with their abusers and excused their behaviour.

Incidentally, Gordon is named after Gordon the Fastest Engine on Sodor. My youngest is a huge Thomas the Tank Engine fan.

Was the friendship and bond between Hibs, Beth and Vik always going to be a strong theme in Doctor January? It seems to underpin the whole story and give it a feel-good warmth even when there were problems for Beth to face.

One of the best things about writing Doctor January was that I got to relive the fun times I had when I worked in a lab. I should point out that my supervisor was nothing like Roger, she was a very nice, supportive (and slightly formidable) lady.

I tried hard to capture the sense of camaraderie that runs through life in the lab. The atmosphere in most labs is informal and friendly. When you spend a lot of time doing repetitive tasks, or monitoring things dripping/spinning/running down a gel, you have lots of time to chat and share.

I wanted capture Beth’s feeling that Hibs and Vik were ‘her boys’. Of course, Hibs is much, much more, but it takes her a while to realise that.

Following on from the above question; speaking as a writer, how important are friendship groups in your own life? Are you more of a solitary soul or do you need the buzz of people around you most of the time to inspire your work?

I’m a very sociable soul. I love hanging out with people and chatting. I’m not sure that people that inspire my work, but then again, that sneaky old subconscious is probably making notes all the time.

I do have to be careful not to talk to myself when other people are around. It tends to freak them out. I like to be alone when I write – partly for the same reason. I often try out lines of dialogue, to see how they sound. Sometimes I even have a go at expressions or gestures to figure out how to describe them. My husband, bless him, has stopped jumping out of his skin when I mutter things like ‘I have always loved you, but I have to kill you now’ whilst sitting at the laptop.

In the brilliant session with Jane Lovering at the summer conference, you demonstrated hidden talents in comedy timing – the pair of you had us rolling in the aisles. Which comedians/comedy writers appeal to your sense of humour and how important is humour in your own choice of reading matter?

I really enjoyed doing that. It was as much fun for us as it was for you guys. Even Jane in her penguin suit!

I love watching comedy. I read a lot of romantic comedy (research, you know) and I’ll watch just about any comedy. I love Blackadder, anything by Graham Linehan, Big Bang Theory, Eddie Izzard, Bill Bailey – the list goes on. I adore a good (or even bad) pun.

I’d say humour is more important to me than music. My music collection consists mainly of parody songs. Tom Lehrer still makes me laugh, despite having heard the songs over and over again.

I read a few books about writing comedy and came to the conclusion that the only way to learn about comic timing is to watch loads and loads of comedy. Hey, that means watching comedies is research too. Hurrah!

Now some quick fire questions to finish with:

Monty Python or Fawlty Towers? Tricky.Fawlty Towers for consistent laughs.

Gin and Tonic or Champagne? Am I allowed to say neither? I can’t hold my alcohol very well.You know when I’m at the RNA conferences … that’s me sober, that is.

Frosty winter days or the heat of the summer? Frosty winter days.

Steak or Salmon? Steak (with sweet potato fries, if poss)

Country walks or reading in front of the fire on a damp autumn day?

Reading in front of the fire. I don’t do exercise – it’s bad for you. Have you ever known anyone strain a muscle from reading? No. I rest my case.

Crime fiction or ghost stories? Crime.

Jeans or joggers? Jeans – but not low rise ones. I like my muffins to be the edible sort.

Mountains or coast? Coast

Mean and moody heroes or cute blond bombshells? What kind of a question is that? Moody boys or cute girls…I refuse to answer on the grounds of sexist stereotyping.

Noooo, not cute girlies, I meant boy bombshells! But I agree, that question was very badly put – I think the gorgeous blond Mac was still in my head toying with my brain!

Spa day or sporting event? Spa day. See earlier comment about exercise.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Rhoda – lovely to see you.

Lovely to see you too. Thank you for the lovely cuppa and the cake. Let me brush down the sofa before I leave.

A last piece of cake to take with you? The chocolate sponge is just out of the oven.

Oh, thank you. That’ll do nicely while I go watch some research.

 

Jeev

***

Rhoda Baxter lives in the North of England, where the cakes are excellent. She had a childhood ambition to be an astronaut or at least 5 feet tall. Having failed at both of these, she now writes humorous novels instead.

Rhoda’s first novel was a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award and was a top ten finalist in the 2012 Predators and Editors poll for romance reads. Her third novel, Doctor January, is published by Choc Lit Ltd and available now.

She can be found wittering on about science, comedy and cake on her websitewww.rhodabaxter.com or on Twitter (@rhodabaxter).

 

 

 

 

Deadline Dramas

I think I need more practice at meeting deadlines and less children to look after at the same time. This is how handing in my RNA NWS report went this year:

Argh! It’s August! What the frig happened to the rest of 2014?

IMG_0839

 

Okay, don’t panic, you managed to send one chapter in last year when the twins were eight-weeks-old, this year will be a breeze.

Frantic read through and tidy up of the extra 30,000 words you’ve added. Not bad, not great, but will be good to get some feedback so prep to send a partial.

Ah. The printer isn’t set up at home. Smile sweetly at husband.

Printer is set up. Go, go, go!

 

 

 

 

 

Stop! This is so NOT what they mean by a partial!

IMG_0835

PANIC! Why did you leave this til now to sort out? Switch to plan B = Print at local library. Sort everything out whilst they nap then head there after lunch.

IMG_0841

Babies: Why would you choose to not nap today! (Teething I worked out later. Three new teeth cut between them!)

Drink/Snack/Calpol = now we’ll sleep, mummy!

Yeah! *Runs around house gathering sticky labels, envelopes, pens, the magic green form*

Whilst in panic mode you share with twitter your woes and that @SotonLibrary is your only hope. @SotonLibrary tweets back saying they are ready! (Yay, social media!)

Aim to get to library at 2 when it opens. Arrive half an hour later than hoped after lunch (not the relaxing kind, the kind where two cuties lob at least 50% of theirs on the floor) and delightful double nappy change.

The printer works! The staff entertain the babies. We might actually DO THIS!

Rush to post office and IT’S SENT WITH A DAY TO SPARE!

And collapse.

By jove, I don’t know how writers with real deadlines (not involving partials) manage. I suspect it may involve some of the Romaniac staples. Cake, chocolate, and alcohol. Am I right?

 

 

Follow Me, Follow You; it’s the launch at last!

FOLLOW ME_front highres

So, it’s finally here – the long awaited arrival of the paperback version of Follow Me, Follow You. Set in coastal Dorset, Laura E James’ own stamping ground, it tells the story of what happens when a technology junkie steps away from the screen and goes back to basics. It explores complex relationships, misunderstandings, grief and enduring love and still manages to make you laugh. Phew! Here’s a picture to give you an idea of the beautiful setting.

Rocks

Right, Laura – time to pick your authorly brain – let’s look at the complex cast of characters in FMFY.

Which character gave you the most trouble?

Laura: Victoria was the hardest character to write. It took a trip to Italy on a writing course to pin her down. The difficulty was in making a flawed character likeable

I remember that trip well! Which of your characters would you like to invite for dinner this week?

Laura: Oo. I think Olivia has the right sort of energy, the wisdom and the humour to help me get through my root canal treatment next week.

Snog, marry or shove off a cliff, please?

Laura: That’s easy. Snog: Chris Frampton. Marry: Chris Frampton. Shove off a cliff: Tommy Stone. He’s vile. 

We were all bouncing with excitement when Truth or Dare was released by Choc Lit as an ebook, but how are you feeling about seeing Follow me, Follow You in actual, real live paperback? I know how you feel about all things stationery and paper based.

Laura: Holding the printed copy is amazing – it has such a wonderful cover. The book smells good, too.

Have you been busy in the run up to FMFY’s launch? What does the whole thing involve for you?

Laura: I’ve been working very hard to meet the deadlines for the launch, with blogs happening right left and centre. As far as online promotions go, the rough count for guest posts and interviews in total is 15, which is a lot of thinking and a whole lot more writing!

So what else is in the pipeline at the moment?

Laura: I’m working on book three, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, which looks at the pressures on today’s sandwich generation. Set in Dorset, the romance between Griff, a Coastguard Watch Officer, and his wife Evie is central to the story. Between them, they’re trying to care for Logan, Griff’s elderly, disabled father, Tess, Evie’s troubled teen, and baby Dilon. Relationships are strained, and Griff’s assertion that everyone can be saved is creating more problems than it solves.

Well, that’s earned you a huge mug of hot chocolate and a generous of chunk lemon drizzle cake, Laura. Thanks for your answers, but most of all thanks for writing such a fascinating book. Can’t wait for the next one!

Celia x

Choc Lit

 

Coming soon – Laura E James and Follow Me, Follow You

Choc Lit

 

We’re all very excited at Romaniac HQ, because on Monday we’ll be able to interview our very own Laura and find out more about her brand new book. It’s in paperback! It’s amazing! We’re all reading it/have read it and without a word of a lie or an over-enthusiastic shout out for a good friend, it’s a really gripping, emotionally challenging read, with humour and deep family relationships at its heart. Do you get the impression we like it with a capital L?

FOLLOW ME_front highres

Anyway, enough waffling. Today I’m thinking about how the Romaniacs have got to know each other over the years. We’ve always been able to talk for Britain, and listing someone else’s good points is so much easier than blowing your own trumpet, so we often do each others bigging up to save our blushes. For this reason, it’s no problem at all to tell you about Laura – in fact it’s an absolute pleasure. I’m going to ask the others to add their own thoughts after this, but here are a few points to start us off:

  • Laura loves the colour red, writing, Kate Bush and hot chocolate in equal measures but her real passion is her lovely family
  • She’s an excellent singer
  • She’s recently discovered gin and tonic but her drinking skills are not fully honed yet. Just give me time …
  • Laura can make you laugh even when you think there’s absolutely NOTHING to laugh about
  • Her listening skills are top notch and she’ll always come up with sound advice for a friend in need
  • She has some very interesting boots
  • She is the queen of punctuation

Okay, Romaniacs, over to you. What have I missed?

Jan: Well, I’d agree with all of the above points, Celia, and would like to add that Laura’s enthusiasm is infectious. I’ve never known anyone who can have her finger in so many literary pies and give each one of them her ‘all’ with such gusto. She’s an inspiration to us all, a great friend and a super-talented writer who deserves all the success in the world.

Sue: Many dittos to all of the above. I’m in total awe of Laura’s enthusiasm, dedication and forward thinking;  she’s a real power house on those scores. For me, it’s knowing I can rely on Laura for pragmatic and, at times, succinct advice on all things, not just writing and, as such, I truly value her honest friendship. I’m also particularly impressed how she has embraced being hugged. ;-)

Debbie: Ahh, Laura. Just saying her name makes me smile. Her writing talents are obvious and I’m nodding at everything the girls have said. But to me, what’s most remarkable about Laura is, she’s what we call in Yorkshire, ‘a right character.’ Like Yorkshire folk she doesn’t sugar coat anything. There’s nothing Pollyanna about our singing writer and the original Mrs Dynamo! We can all learn a lot from her, both from her ideas but also her character. I value how she challenges, stretches my mind and makes me think. I admire her tenacity, her DOGGED determination, her boundless energy, especially given that she suffers with Rheumatoid Arthritis (and she never moans or makes excuses.) Laura is solid and a real backbone of the Romaniacs. She’s strong and focussed. And you won’t find me far behind her at parties as she’s the best ‘mingler’ I’ve ever known!

Vanessa: I nodded along to all of the above – it’s been so wonderful to be able to share in Laura’s journey to publication because I know how hard she’s worked and she’s such a great writer, her books deserve to be a massive success. I’ve been lucky to have Laura to talk writing with – we have a shared affinity for the darker side of fiction as well as the lighter side and have often found similar themes and characters emerging in our works-in progress! And it’s important not to forget – she’s also mad as a box of frogs :-) (in the best possible way…)

Lucie: What a fantastic round up of our wonderful friend my lovely Romaniac ladies have done. I can but echo every point they have made – Laura is truly an amazingly inspirational woman who deserves every ounce of success she is no doubt going to achieve. I feel like I have known Laura all my life – as I feel with all the other Romaniacs. Laura is by far the most confident of us all. She turns into a beautiful social butterfly when at events, fluttering her way around the room spreading joy and positivity. It is an absolute pleasure to have such a talented friend and I wish her every bit of love, luck and success … not that she needs it, she has the determination to get there on her own credit.

Catherine: I LOVE LAURA. In five words she is QUIRKY, WONKY, WICKED, WISE and FEARLESS. (There was more to this, but the interweb ate it, then the girls covered most of the other bases.) She is a real talent and I hope right about now she’s blushing! 

So there you go – that’s Laura in, well, not quite a nutshell, more of a large bucket of joyfulness. Come back Monday and join us when Follow Me, Follow You is really out there. And I wish you all a wonderful Laura in your lives. If you can’t find one, we might just let you share ours …

Celia x

Catch the Moment

Feather

This isn’t going to be one of those annoying posts where someone pats themselves on the back for having some flowers in the garden and ‘the best husband in the world*’. At least, I’m hoping it isn’t. (If it is, feel free to send me a virtual slap. Or a real one if you only live up the road.)

It’s more of a follow up from last week’s blog where we looked at alternative ways to get the writing bug back in fallow periods. I was just picking blackberries in the sunshine, ready to make a crumble for the visitors who are coming later on, and it hit me that this was one of those perfect moments when everything was okay in my world. This was why:

  • The daughters have been on an adventure and I’m the world’s worst worrier when they’re travelling but they’re back safely in Brighton at last
  • There are loads of blackberries

Berries

  • And kidney beans

Beans

  • And a few really pretty sweet peas left

sweetpea

  • I’ve just passed the 50 000 word mark on my WIP after a really sticky bit, and get this – I know what’s coming next … ish …
  • My kind bloke is cleaning the kitchen floor (*sorry for the plug for him, but it’s really not my favourite job and it needed doing before the visitors saw it and realised I was a slut)

Ray kitchen

  • The grass was warm under my bare feet
  • I haven’t seen said visitors for ages; they’re going to get the full roast beef/Yorkshire pudding combo and I’m already hungry thinking about it
  • I found a white feather out there on the lawn

Of course, such bliss is fleeting – I came in and tracked grass over the newly hoovered carpet -not a good move – and then noticed I’d got blackberry stains down my front.

stain

But anyway, on this bank holiday weekend, maybe it’s time to catch the moment and then go off and write about it. I’m aiming for the 55 000 word milestone now, and there could well be blackberries in the next part.

So – what makes your own perfect inspirational writing moment? The Romaniacs, ever nosy, really want to know.

Happy holiday weekend,

Celia x

 

 

Chasing Dragonflies – Ten Top Tips

dragonflies

It’s that dragonfly time of year again – the time when there’s often a hint of autumn in the air, and the urge to buy a new pencil case and felt tips is irresistible.

Dragonfly time, for me, is when those thoughts that you want to get down on paper just keep flitting away. I’m in the middle of book number three, I’ve hit a snag and it’s time to grab some inspirations/distractions to get out of the mire. Here are my top ten ways to fire up the muse again:

1) Find someone to cuddle (see dragonfly picture – you may not want to go quite this far, especially if you’re in Sainsbury’s).

2) Get up earlier than usual, see the sunrise, make strong coffee/peppermint tea (recommend not having gin at this point, although later on it may be needed) and write something. Anything. To do list, poem, rant to newspaper, blog post, FB status with attitude, competition entry (see number 4).

Windows Photo Gallery Wallpaper

Sunrise

3) Have a huge, bubbly bath. This bath isn’t mine, sadly, but I have used it very happily. and it does the job well. Especially if a nap follows. (Also good therapy for writers’ block).

Bath

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 02.07.264) Enter a competition. It’s a great distraction, somebody’s got to win, and being short-listed gets your name out there.

 

 

553605_3856188518744_1913750779_n0

 

 

5) Meet up with friends; have a bit of a larf, some cheering hugs and some cake.

 

6) Relax, and read something that you’ve wanted to catch up with for ages. Even better if it’s funny.

H&B       P1030706

 

 

7) Go for a walk. Sea if possible, fields also acceptable.

Northumberland plus 226

2nd Somerset 012

poppies

 

8) Spend some time with a small person or two to ground you. Tip – always check with their mum first. I’m sure Catherine Miller would let you hug her babies if you ask nicely.

Babes

 

9) Make jam. (Substitute your food of choice here). Then have a party or a picnic to celebrate and eat lots.Jam

 

10) And if all else fails, open the best bottle you can find. Cheers!

car track 171

Celia x

Excitement at Romaniac HQ

It’s an exciting day here at Romaniac HQ as we all participate in some group happy dancing to celebrate the e-publication of Laura’s second novel

Follow me, follow you.

FM_hirespackshot_copy

Don’t you just love this cover?

Set along the beautiful Dorset coast, Laura’s home county, it’s a fantastic read and we wish Laura every success Follow me, follow you deserves.

IMG_6505

Dorset coast

 

Blurb

You save me and I’ll save you…

Seth_on_Chesil_Beach

Seth on Chesil Beach

Victoria Noble has pulled the plug on romance. As director of the number one social networking site, EweSpeak, and single mother to four-year-old Seth, she wrestles with the work-life balance.

Enter Chris Frampton, Hollywood action hero and Victoria’s first love. His return from LA has sparked a powder keg of media attention, and with secrets threatening to fuel the fire, he’s desperate to escape.

But finding a way forward is never simple. Although his connection with Victoria is as strong as when he was nineteen, has he been adrift too long to know how to move on?

With the risk of them breaking, will either #follow their heart?

Sales link Amazon.co.uk here

Author Bio:

Laura_Head_Shot_1

Laura is married and has two children. She lives in Dorset, but spent her formative years in Watford, a brief train ride away from the bright lights of London. Here she indulged her love of live music, and, following a spectacular Stevie Nicks gig, decided to take up singing, a passion that scored her second place in a national competition.

 

Laura is a graduate of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, a member of her local writing group, Off The Cuff, and an editor of the popular Romaniacs blog.

Laura was runner-up twice in the Choc Lit Short Story competitions. Her story Bitter Sweet appears in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Anthology. Truth or Dare?, Laura’s debut novel, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction Best Romantic eBook 2013 and the 2014 Joan Hessayon New Writers’ Award. Follow me, follow you is Laura’s first Choc Lit novel published in paperback.

  1. lauraejames.co.uk
  2. twitter.com/Laura_E_James
  3. facebook.com/LauraE.JamesWriter

And if you’ve made it all the way down here – thank you! You’ve reached the link for book trailer.

Follow Me Follow You.