Earlier this year Kate Field won the prestigious Joan Hessayon award for her debut, The Magic Of Ramblings – and having read it and been enthralled by her story, I can see why.
I am delighted that Kate agreed to let me quiz her about her novel – and what winning the award means to her – for the latest post in my Behind The Book series.
Her second book, The Truth About You, Me And Us, comes out on Friday so Kate has a busy and very exciting week ahead.
Just in case you haven’t read it, here’s the blurb for The Magic Of Ramblings.
Running away can be the answer if you run to the right place…
When Cassie accepts a job as companion to an old lady in a remote Lancashire village, she hopes for a quiet life where she can forget herself, her past and most especially men. The last thing she wants is to be drawn into saving a community that seems determined to take her to its heart – and to resuscitate hers…
Frances has lived a reclusive life at Ramblings, a Victorian Gothic mansion, for over thirty years and now Barney is hiding away there, forging a new life after his medical career ended in scandal. He doesn’t trust the mysterious woman who comes to live with his rich aunt, especially when she starts to steal Frances’ affection – and maybe his own too…
Let’s start with your happy news. You recently won The Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers against some really tough competition. What did that mean to you?
It was a genuine surprise, and I still look back at the photos in amazement that it actually happened. I always assume that award winners are tipped off in advance so they can prepare a brilliant speech, but it certainly wasn’t the case with this one, as anyone who heard me waffling on the night will testify. There aren’t many awards that celebrate romantic fiction or new writers, so I’m very proud to have won. It’s a great boost to have at the start of my writing career.
Having read The Magic Of Ramblings I think it’s a very worthy winner, can you talk about where the idea for the book initially came from and how you developed it?
This book was unusual for me, as it’s the only one I’ve written where the hero came first. I had a picture of Barney in my head, and I knew that his overriding characteristic would be his need to care for people, and that influenced the creation of the heroine, Cassie, and the other main character, Frances.
I love reading books set in stately homes, but quite often in stories those houses are in financial difficulties, and I wanted to do something different. I decided that Ramblings would be a special place with the power to save the people living there, rather than needing saving itself. I hope that comes across in the book!
Without giving too much away, your heroine, Cassie, has had a tough life, was that a difficult element to write? It feels like it might come with some pressure to get it exactly right (which I think you have). Did you do much research?
It was very difficult to write, especially trying to balance my wish to write an entertaining, uplifting book with the need not to trivialise what Cassie had experienced in the past.
I spent a lot of time researching it, reading some harrowing blogs and diaries from women who had lived through a similar situation. I was particularly struck by an article by the DJ Lauren Laverne, which made me appreciate that it’s a problem that can affect anyone, regardless of class, education or character. I knew then that it was the story I wanted to tell in the book.
Do you still think about Cassie and Barney now? Did you carry on the story after you’d finished writing in your head?
I clearly remember the moment that I finished writing The Magic Of Ramblings: instead of the relief I’d felt on reaching the end of previous books, there was an overwhelming sense of sadness that I had to let the characters go. I loved spending time in the world of Ramblings.
I did carry on the story in my head, and I think it was inevitable that I would eventually write about Ramblings again. I have a first draft of another book set there, which begins a year after the first one ends. I don’t know if it will ever be published, but I enjoyed writing it!
Is Ramblings purely fictional or is it based on somewhere I can visit? How important is having what seemed like a very real location to your writing?
Ramblings is fictional, but it was important to me that I described a house that might be found in Lancashire, where the book is set. As soon as I saw a picture of Scarisbrick Hall, I knew it was the right place. Unfortunately that house isn’t open to the public, as it’s now used as a school. I’m envious of the pupils who study there.
Once I’d found Scarisbrick Hall, I researched Victorian Gothic architecture and came across Tyntesfield in Somerset, which is a National Trust property and open to the public, and I borrowed some features of that house for Ramblings too. I haven’t been able to visit it yet, but I hope to soon.
Can you talk about getting it published? From sending it off to finding out it had been accepted?
I’m a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and in 2015 I attended their annual conference, where I was able to have a one to one appointment with an editor from the independent publisher, Accent Press. I’d sent her the first chapter of The Magic of Ramblings in advance, and was amazed when I walked into the meeting and she simply said to me: “More please!”
I emailed her the full manuscript a few days later, and then endured an anxious wait to hear from her over a few months. The acceptance came by email on a day when the internet service at home wasn’t working, and my husband was away – so I only saw it late at night, and then had no one to celebrate with. I remember driving my daughter to school the next day and I couldn’t stop smiling.
Aside from the award, are you pleased with the way the book has been received? How much work did you have to do personally to make sure the title was out there?
I organised a blog tour when the book was first published, and I’ve tried to promote it as much as I can on Twitter and Facebook, but marketing and pushing myself forward don’t come naturally to me. I’m much happier hiding away with my characters.
I had no idea how it would be received, because I’ve always written in secret, not even showing my family: the only people to read Ramblings before it was published were the reader from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, and the Accent team. It was an incredible moment when the first review came in, and it was a positive one. It’s almost a year since the book was published, and I’m still grateful for every review. It makes a huge difference to know that someone has enjoyed reading it, and it encourages me to keep going with the next one!
Do you write full time? If so, do you have set times you work? If not, how do you fit it in?
I have a day job, so I can’t write full time. I wrote a book last year that was inspired by a piece of office gossip, so I’m not sure giving up work would be a good idea.
Writing fits in mainly at the weekend and in the evenings. It can be slow progress – some nights I’m too tired to manage more than a couple of lines – but I don’t set myself a daily word count, or worry if I go a few days without writing at all.
When your last book has won such an amazing award does it heap on the pressure for the next one? Can you talk about what you’re working on?
My next book comes out in a few days’ time and is called The Truth About You, Me and Us.
I wrote The Truth before Ramblings, so there was no additional pressure when writing it, but I’m definitely more worried about how readers will receive it, and whether it will be a disappointment. Once again, no one I know has read it, so it will be an anxious wait for the first review.
Do you have any words of wisdom for other writers, especially ones who are perhaps struggling with self-belief?
I wish I knew the solution to overcoming struggles with self-belief! It’s something that still affects me, and I’m sure it always will. Now I try to focus on the positive side of it: because I doubt my own ability, it motivates me to try even harder to do the best I can.
I attended a workshop with the author Miranda Dickinson a few years ago, and she passed on a great piece of advice. She suggested that you find a sentence that you’ve written that you’re proud of, and print it out. Every time the doubt sets in, read that sentence and remember what you can achieve.
My own tip is something I’ve only discovered recently, after years of keeping my writing to myself. Find a group of fellow writers and share feedback and support. It’s wonderful to have writing friends to lift you when you’re feeling down, and to celebrate with when good things happen. I wish I’d known this years ago!
Thank you so much to Kate for answering my questions. I was fascinated to hear that no one outside of the RNA and her publisher had read her first novel (or the second) in advance. I also love the advice she shared from her workshop about printing out a sentence you’re proud of. What a great idea.
To find out more about Kate you can visit her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter and, of course, pre-order her new book here. I wish her every success for The Truth About You, Me and Us, I can’t wait to read it.