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.
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).