I couldn’t have picked a better book than Jenny Colgan’s The Endless Beach to kick off my New Year reading.
Romantic, emotional, poignant, I could go on and on with a long list of all the things that make it amazing but I won’t.
What I will say is that while I was already a fan of Jenny’s work, this one is now my absolute favourite.
Here’s the blurb:
On the quayside next to the Endless Beach sits the Summer Seaside Kitchen. It’s a haven for tourists and locals alike, who all come to eat the freshest local produce on the island and catch up with the gossip. Flora, who runs the cafe, feels safe and content – unless she thinks too hard about her relationship with Joel, her gorgeous but emotionally (and physically) distant boyfriend.
While Flora is in turmoil about her relationship. her best friend Lorna is pining after the local doctor. Saif came to the island as a refugee, having lost all of his family. But he’s about to get some shocking news which will change everything for him.
As cold winter nights shift to long summer days, can Flora find her happy-ever-after with Joel?
I like books set in shops (anything to do with food/chocolate, really) and I thought I had a good idea of what to expect but it completely blew that out of the water.
With a cast of characters who quickly got under my skin, I read well into the night, got up early to continue – and even read in the car and made myself feel a bit ill (that’s Mark’s driving for you) but it was all worth it.
The quality of the writing meant I felt Flora’s frustration and loneliness at Joel’s distance and Saif’s story actually had me in tears but I was heavily invested in all of them, including Flora’s brothers.
As Jenny explains at the start, she first wrote about the tiny island of Mure (where I now want to live) and its residents in A Distant Shore, part of the Quick Reads series, but I hadn’t read it and didn’t have any trouble keeping up.
I’m hoping there might be another book or three in this series, there is so much potential. If there isn’t one already being written I’m going to start a petition to set Jenny to work. As soon as you’ve read this one, I think you’ll join me.
A school careers adviser once told Lynsey James that writing wasn’t a “good option”.
Six books later, I suspect she has something to say about that – and she’s still only in her 20s.
Her latest novel, A Winter’s Wish Come True, is a follow up to A Season Of Hopes And Dreams, which I was delighted about, as it marks a return of one of my favourite heroines of the year.
I was excited when Lynsey agreed to talk to me for my final Behind The Book post of 2017 as it was a chance to find out more about Cleo Jones and the inspiration behind her.
What a cracker to end on, as I hope you’ll agree.
Despite what the careers adviser told you, here you are a full time writer (yay!). Where did the confidence to follow your dreams come from? Has it been as you imagined?
Wow, what a brilliant first question to kick things off with. I think support from my family has definitely contributed to my confidence to follow my dreams. They’ve always believed I could do it, even when I didn’t. Apart from that, I genuinely couldn’t imagine loving anything as much as I love writing. It’s like oxygen to me. It’s been different to how I imagined, but in a good way. I’ve learned so much and made lots of amazing friends along the way.
What does your day look like? Do you treat it as a 9-5pm job? You’re still in your 20s, can you imagine doing anything else?
I get up, have breakfast, watch a bit of telly and then crack on with my writing. I don’t treat it as a 9-5 job as such, but I do structure my writing time and do some writing every day. If I don’t, things don’t feel right! I can’t imagine doing anything else, if I’m honest. Writing has always felt like the most natural thing in the world to me; I love it and I’ll do it forever if I can.
Can you talk about your path to publication? Did you submit your first book to agents or publishers? Was it an immediate hit?
I submitted my first book to agents first of all, and was lucky enough to get some amazing constructive feedback. Although they said no, I used the feedback to improve my draft and sent it off to Carina UK (now HQ Digital). A couple of weeks later, I got that wonderful email saying they’d like to publish me! It really was a dream come true. I signed with my awesome agent Sarah a year or so later. She’s a dynamo and truly the best in the business.
You now have an amazing SIX books under your belt, is there anything you know now that you wish you had known with your first novel? Are you ever tempted to go back and change something?
Wow, I know! Six books feels absolutely insane to think about. That’s a difficult question to answer because on the one hand, there are things I’d change if I was writing my first book now but on the other hand, I’m proud of how it turned out. And it’s kind of fun to see how my writing’s changed from book one to six.
I became a fan of your work after reading A Season Of Hopes And Dreams. I loved that your heroine had real struggles that she was still in the thick of. How much research did you do on the sensitive issues you tackle? What made you write her as still in the midst of them rather than having had them in the past?
A lot of the research actually came from my own experiences with body dysmorphia. It’s been in my life since I was teenager, but it got really bad a couple of years ago when I was trying to lose a significant amount of weight. I felt like I couldn’t trust my own self-perception and it really affected my confidence. It’s less severe now, but it really informed my decision to write Cleo as being in the midst of her struggles with it. I thought the journey would be an interesting one to write, and hoped it might help people going through similar things in their own lives. Body dysmorphia isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of in books, so to me it felt important to tell the story and to show how things can and do get better.
Your most recent book follows Cleo again. Can you talk about why you chose to continue her story (I’m thrilled you did).
In all honesty, I absolutely love Cleo. She’s one of my favourite characters I’ve ever written and I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to her. I was talking to A L Michael, one of my best friends, and she told me to go for it and write a second part to Cleo’s story. I’m really glad I did!
I’m interested in the books you read – from your blog reviews you seem to have eclectic taste. Will there be a switch in writing genre for you in the future?
Never say never! I love to read a whole mix of books, so I’m really open to trying new things. As long as I’m creating stories for people to hopefully enjoy, I’m happy.
Did you ever consider using a pen name?
I haven’t so far, but if I decide to switch genres then I would.
Are you able to share what you working on at the moment?
I wish I could! All I’ll say is it’s top-secret and will be out next year. Watch this space for more announcements…
Do you have any writing tips you can pass on?
Read as many different books as you can. Have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Thank you very much to Lynsey for answering my questions so honestly, I really appreciate her opening up about her own struggles – and I have no doubt that Cleo Jones is an inspiration to many people, myself included.
You can find out more about Lynsey via her website, on Twitter or buy her books via her Amazon page here. Her latest, A Winter’s Wish Come True, is currently £1.99.
I’m looking forward to posting some more Behind The Book interviews in the New Year but, just in case you have missed any, you can find the archive here.
There are some characters I continue to think about long after I’ve turned the final page of a book – and ex-soldier, Sam, the hero in Carla Burgess’ first novel, Marry Me Tomorrow, is one of them.
Luckily, Carla seems just as unwilling to let them go and one of the joys of reading her second and third novels was coming across little updates about Sam and her other creations (must try and remember they are not real people).
She released Stuck With You (which I adored, even though it starts with people trapped in a lift and I’m claustrophobic) in April this year and has just published her most recent, Meet Me Under The Mistletoe (review to follow).
I’ve been wanting to chat to her for ages and I was thrilled when she agreed to feature in my Behind The Book series. Thank you to Carla for not only answering my questions but also giving us peek at her very first (as yet unpublished) book she wrote and illustrated, which I think you’re going to love.
Marry Me Tomorrow was published after you responded to a Tweet from HQ Digital asking for submissions of stories that start with a proposal. Had you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, I’d wanted to be a writer ever since I was little. It’s weird but I remember being amazed when I discovered that someone had actually physically wrote the books that I read and loved. I don’t know how I thought they’d been made, but I was only little at the time. I suppose I just thought they were written hundreds of years ago and passed down through the generations, and no new books were ever made! But when I found out, I thought what an amazing job that would be. So when I got a bit older, I decided to write my own. I was so in love with Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers books that I wrote my own book about a boarding school. I also adored horses so it had a lot of horses in it too. My daughter was looking through it the other day and laughing at my home-made illustrations!
What happened after you submitted Marry Me Tomorrow? Did you already have the story written? If not how long did it take to write? Had you written any stories before?
I had only written one chapter and a synopsis for Marry Me Tomorrow, and that was completely in response to the tweet. Prior to that, I’d been writing a short story for an online writing course I was doing, and that had been about a homeless teenager who was in love with a girl he’d seen in a café. There had been lots of media coverage about the increasing rate of homelessness and how each homeless person has a different story to tell. Once you start hearing the stories, it becomes clear that it could happen to any one of us if our circumstances were to change. Basically, I really wanted to write a story about a homeless man, so I decided to adapt my initial idea and start from there. HQ (or Carina, as they were called then) phoned me back shortly after receiving it, and said they would like me to write it. I think I was given four months to write the first draft, which was daunting as I’d spent the previous ten or so years writing and rewriting just one book. But, at the same time, I knew I could do it because the previous November I’d participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and managed to write 50,000 words in a month.
You’ve just published your third book, Meet Me Under The Mistletoe, and, as I’ve already revealed, characters from your previous books make little cameos, which makes me so happy. Did you always plan for that?
Ah, I’m so glad you liked that aspect of it. I love books where characters from previous stories pop up and readers can check how they’re getting on with their lives (Yes, they have real lives!). For instance, many years ago I read Rivals by Jilly Cooper and fell so in love with Rupert and Taggie’s story that I look for updates about them whenever she brings a new book out. I feel so excited and happy when they actually do pop up that it’s made me want to do that in my own books.
How do you know when your books are finished? Is there ever a temptation to write just one more chapter?
Definitely. I think that’s why I’m writing a sequel to Meet Me Under The Mistletoe! Rachel and Anthony have so much more to give and I don’t want to say goodbye to them yet.
Writing is often said to be a lonely profession. Do you find that? Does it bother you and if so how do you combat it?
It can be, but I have my lovely dog to keep me company, and I share my writing room with a bearded dragon who is very friendly too. I listen to music while I work so it doesn’t get too quiet, and I drop into Twitter and Facebook fairly regularly. Too regularly, to be honest. Also, the children are back from school before I know it.
How hard is it to come up with titles? Do they usually come as you’re writing?
Titles are so, so hard! Anything I come up with is usually changed by my editor anyway, but I trust her to know the market and what works so I’m quite happy to go with whatever she suggests.
How long have you been writing for? Do you do it full time now? If you don’t, how do you make time to write?
As I said before, I used to write a lot when I was a child. It tailed off as I got older and homework and studying took over, but I always had stories in my head and would often daydream about them instead of getting on with what I was supposed to be doing. After doing a degree in English literature and Psychology, I took a job as an editor on a trade journal called Medical Device Technology and really that took care of my urge to write for a long time. Also, I got married, bought a house and started having children, so I felt like I didn’t have the time. But then, in 2004, I lost my sister to cancer and I felt like I needed an outlet for my feelings so writing became a sort of therapy for me. So, for the past thirteen years I’ve been writing properly. In the beginning, when I was still working, I’d write in the evening after the kids had gone to bed, but after having my third child and being made redundant, I decided to stay home with the children and now I am able to write full time. It’s funny because I used to feel guilty about the time I spent writing. I would constantly be thinking ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be doing some housework instead’. So now, as well as being a dream come true, being published has also been quite liberating because now I think ‘Yes! I am doing what I should be doing!’
How do you write your heroes? They all seem so different. Do you have to fall for them a bit too or are you matching them to your heroine? Speaking of which, are any of them based on you?
I think I’m a little bit in love with all of my heroes and I find it helps if I pick an actor or some kind of famous person to gaze at while I’m creating them! This, I find, is a major perk of my job! I suppose they have to match up to the heroines as well as the plot, and I think for the reader to love them they have to be kind and funny, and treat the heroine right. Sam from Marry Me Tomorrow had to be quite rugged because he was a homeless ex-soldier. Daniel was a tree surgeon and also a guitarist in a band, so I wanted him to be quite outdoorsy and confident. And Anthony is basically Tom Hiddleston. There, I said it. Obviously, the reader will create their own impression of what the hero looks like, so I shouldn’t really influence them in anyway, but that is who I based him on. Oooh, imagine if Tom Hiddleston walked into your flower shop?! Swoon! As for my heroines, I suppose all of them will have some aspect of me in them because I wrote them, but at the same time, I’m quite conscious of the fact that I don’t want them to be too much like me either.
I know you’ve just published your latest book but are you already working on something new? If so can you tell us anything about it?
I am frantically writing the sequel to Meet Me Under The Mistletoe, which should be out sometime in the spring.
Any writing tips you can pass on?
My one big tip is to try and join a writing group. It was easier for me because Authonomy was still in existence, so you could put up your manuscript and people would read and critique it. I wrote for years without showing anybody what I wrote, so it was a big boost to my confidence when people read my work and said it was actually okay. Authonomy has shut down now, but I know there are various online writing groups out there. On top of critiquing each other’s work, you get to share tips and information about the industry, and that can be invaluable. And as for the actual writing:
Reading Carla’s answers really put a smile on my face, I hope you enjoyed them too. I know just what she means when she talked about feeling guilty for writing before she was published. I am exactly the same. In fact, I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo at the moment and have been lucky enough to buddy up with an amazing group of women, many of whom have also spoken about similar issues. Does anyone else feel guilty about time they spend writing?
You can discover more about Carla and her wonderful books by following her on Twitter, checking out her website or heading straight for Amazon where you can buy her books, including her latest, which is only 99p at present.
I’ll have another Behind The Book post for you next month.