A Look Behind The Book With Heidi Swain.

20170104_091654Since her debut in 2015, Heidi Swain has quickly risen up the ranks to become a best-selling author with her hugely popular brand of “feel good fiction”.

The good news for her many fans is that earlier this year Heidi started writing full time – and that hopefully means we will get to enjoy even more of her wonderful books.

Speaking of which, the author’s eagerly awaited new novel, Sleigh Rides And Silver Bells At The Christmas Fair, comes out next month.

Before that Heidi, who is based in my adopted home county of Norfolk, agreed to talk to me for my latest Behind The Book post, which I am thrilled about.

Here’s what she had to say:

How did the idea for your debut, The Cherry Tree Cafe, take shape? How long did it take to write? Was it always your dream to write and publish a book?

The Cherry Tree Cafe was the second novel I wrote. The first, long since consigned to the memory stick, was an attempt to see if I had enough words in me to fill a book. I enjoyed the process so much that I thought I would do it again but this time with a plot that indulged my passion for cakes, crafts and friendship.

I can’t remember how long it took to write but it was considerably longer than my latest book and yes, it was always my dream to be published. At the Cherry Tree launch party a school friend told me that she could remember me scribbling away between lessons.

It was picked up by Books and The City (Simon & Schuster) following an open submission (and went on to be an Amazon best-seller). How did you find out they were interested and what was that like?

I had submitted the book to the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme and on the back of such positive feedback decided that this would be the novel which, one way or another, would be my debut. The Books and the City open submission came along at just the right time and I had an email a few weeks later telling me they loved it and wanted me to go to London for a meeting. I think I held my breath from then until I heard the magical words ‘we’d like to offer you a two book deal.’ It was amazing. Verification that I might just be able to spend the rest of my life doing the very thing I love most. I feel incredibly lucky.

Are you ever sad to see any of your stories come to an end? I imagine it’s almost like living with the characters, albeit in your head, after a while, do you miss them? If that’s not a daft question.

Not a daft question at all. You’d be amazed how often I’ll be out shopping and think ‘Lizzie Dixon would love that dress,’ only to then remember that she’s a fictional friend and not a real one…but I tell her anyway. Now that’s daft!

I can’t say I’ve ever felt sad to see a story end. If I’ve got the ending right it feels like completing a circle and of course with five books based in and around Wynbridge I know the characters will always have the chance to pop up again.

Can you talk about your heroes? Are they ever based, even in part, on real people, actors for example or someone you know? How do you make sure that they are appealing to the reader?

I’ve only ever written one character based on someone I know and that was because they were simply too irresistible not to include. I’m not telling you who it is though.

With regards to making heroes appealing, that isn’t something I consciously think about when I’m writing. I always make my main characters people I would like to be friends with, people who aren’t perfect but real and I think that comes across and strikes a chord.

What’s the most exciting thing to happen since your first book came out (besides publishing more)?

That is such a difficult question to answer. Hundreds of exciting things have happened but I’ll force myself to pin it down to two. The first was in May last year when I was asked to attend an event organized by my publisher, along with some of their other commercial fiction authors. The venue was incredibly swanky and overlooked the Thames and Tower Bridge. Lovely Jane Costello stepped out onto the balcony before the guests had arrived and said ‘today is a good day to be an author’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

My second standout moment was discovering that The Cherry Tree Cafe had been such an e-book sensation it was going to be published in paperback as well. Not only was this an exciting moment for me, but also the many, many readers who had been constantly asking if it was ever going to happen.

And I know I said I’d stick to two but Milly Johnson, who has been the most supportive author pal imaginable, supplied a quote for the front of Coming Home To Cuckoo Cottage this year and I just don’t think I can top that!

Do you write full time? Is it like a 9-5? Does it flow easier the more books you write? Do you ever get writers’ block? How do you combat it?

Yes, I do write full time now. In June this year, having secured an agent and written two books within 12 months for the second year running I took the decision to leave the day job.

If I’m working on a first draft I tend to write at all hours and all over the place. When the words are flowing it is paramount to capitalise on the moment. However, after the first draft frenzy a routine is re-established. I like to start as early in the day as family life allows with a view to finishing at lunchtime and then use afternoons for writing blog posts and catching up with social media. I try and keep weekends free. Apart from Twittering of course. I’m never off Twitter.

I don’t necessarily think it does get easier. If anything it’s harder because your expectations are higher. You are constantly striving to make the next book better than the last. That said, I’d written the first draft for Sleigh Rides in ten weeks whereas a previous one was a real battle. A lot of that was down to life throwing spanners in the works. You have to factors those in I’m afraid, but don’t let them stop you.

No, I haven’t experienced writers’ block. I’ve had tough times and I’ve struggled but I simply refuse to let those days get the better of me. I force myself through it.

There seems to be a strong community of lovely writers, particularly on social media, who all offer support. How important is that to your writing? Do you belong to a writing group or have help (aside from your editor?)

The online writing community is hugely supportive and that is incredibly important. I don’t currently belong to a writing group but I do have lots of author pals who are just a message away and I attend occasional local one-off creative writing day courses and RNA events to ensure I interact with real people rather than just stare at a screen or notepad all day. Being an author is essentially an isolating experience and for a chatterbox like me my author pals are a real sanity saver.

sleigh-ridesCan you talk about what you’re working on at the moment? 

At the moment I’m balancing a couple of things. My Christmas 17 read, Sleigh Rides And Silver Bells At the Christmas Fair, will be published in October so I’m doing lots of promo for that while at the same time working on my summer 18 release and of course planning what will come next. It’s always pretty frantic but I love it.

Your Twitter profile says you write “feel good fiction”. It’s not only my favourite type (to read and write) but, under the broad umbrella of romantic fiction, it is always near the top (if not the top) of the best-selling and most popular genres. And yet, critics still seem consistently underrate it? Does it make you cross and do you ever feel the need to defend what you write?

No, I can’t say I ever get cross or defensive about that because I listen to what the readers have to say. As you point out ‘feel good fiction’ hits those best-seller spots all the time and that adds up to a lot of very happy readers, reading stories that they love and I feel honoured to write them.

When someone tweets or messages to say they’ve saved my book for their holiday read or that they were delighted to find it in their Christmas stocking, that’s an absolute highlight for me.

heidiswainquote

Any top tips for struggling writers?

Never stop believing and never give up. If you really want to be a writer then make that commitment and give it everything you’ve got. Once you’ve made the decision to succeed nothing will hold you back – you’ll make time to write, you’ll find a way to be published and you’ll wonder why you didn’t get on it with it years ago.

~

I can’t thank Heidi enough for taking the time to answer my questions, especially when she’s got so much going on at the moment. I particularly love what she said about making the decision to succeed. What do you guys think?

You can pre-order her new book, which is out on October 5th, here, find out more about her via her website or have a chat on Twitter.

I will have two more Behind The Book posts for you next month.

 

 

Advertisements

Book Review: The Lost Wife.

51-GxTJob3LAfter loving a debut, I almost nervously approach an author’s second novel – often holding my breath for the first few pages until I know it’s all going to be ok.

In the case of The Lost Wife, I knew within the first few paragraphs that I was going to enjoy it, which was good because I was full of cold and holding my breath didn’t seem like the best idea.

Anna Mansell has a way of taking two (or more) characters that seemingly have nothing in common and weaving their lives together – sometimes gently, sometimes hurling them towards each other – so you almost forget that they were ever apart.

It makes her stories virtually impossible to put down because you really need to know how it all works out in the end.

Here’s the blurb:

When Ellie Moran passes away, she leaves her newborn son and husband Ed behind her. Their marriage was perfect, their lives everything they had hoped for. So why was Ellie keeping secrets from Ed?

Knowing he can never ask his wife the truth, Ed is struggling to cope. When the secrets threaten to tear his whole family apart, Ed turns to Rachel, the one person who sees him as more than just Ellie’s widower.

But then Rachel discovers something Ellie was hiding, something that would break Ed’s heart. Can Rachel help Ed to find peace without the wife he lost – and a second chance at happiness?

The Lost Wife is a wonderful tale told in such a way that it keeps you guessing right to the end.

And the characters, oh, the characters. I desperately wanted to hug Ed whose grief felt almost tangible. My heart ached along with his when the love he and Ellie shared was called into question.

As for Rachel? She is also heartbreaking in her own way. I must also mention her best friend, Mo. Their relationship moved me to tears towards the end of the book (I won’t tell you why) but it was so, SO well written.

While this is a story about loss, on both sides, the overriding feeling I was left with is hope – and that’s no small feat when you consider the subject matter.

If you haven’t already read her first book, How To Mend A Broken Heart, you’ll want to after reading this one.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £1.99.

My rating: Five stars.

 

New Series Alert: Behind The Book – Meet The Author.


I love to read (as you can probably tell by the number of reviews I post) but quite often when a book is finished I am left with questions – not about plot or character development, necessarily, more about the author and their path to print.

Sometimes I itch to send them a tweet or an email but, for some reason, they feel a bit unreachable – probably because they have done the thing I aspire to and not only written but published a book. It’s like on publication day they are transported to a hall of fame where they stand on a pedestal with a plaque stating “author” underneath. While you are invited to admire them from a distance, a strict no touching rule is in force. Not that I want to touch the authors, just to be clear, but I would really like to talk to them.

After I started posting reviews at the beginning of last year I found myself chatting with some of the writers and I discovered they are actually quite open to communicating with readers, maybe even enjoy it, in some cases. I tentatively asked a couple whether they would be willing to let me pick their brains about the writing process and post about it here. I’m delighted to say the responses have been positive. See, they are just like us, after all.

So amid posts about my parenting fails, photography, my rubbish attempts at crafting (and cooking, for that matter), book reviews and general nonsense, I’m going to occasionally feature Behind The Book interviews.

I already have a couple of lovely people lined up but I thought I’d throw open the floor and see if anyone else is willing to share their story.

If you are a published author (any genre and self-published more than welcome) I’d love to interview you about your journey into print (or ebook). I will email you 10 tailored questions and will require the answers along with a photo of you and an image of your book cover. In return you will have my heartfelt thanks and I will, of course, provide a link to your work and your social media details (I promise there is no touching involved).

If you’re a reader/writer with a burning question about publishing a book please let me know and I’ll add it in when the time is right. When I use your question I’ll link to your blog or Twitter etc.

Fancy joining in? Please drop me an email at tara@taragreaves.com.