A Look Behind The Book With Isabella Davidson.

IsabellaDavidsonPhoto2For years she wrote the popular but very much anonymous blog, Notting Hill Yummy Mummy, which gave a rather tongue in cheek peek at the glamorous, competitive and often bizarre world of the super rich of west London.

That changed when her first book, The Beta Mum: Adventures In Alpha Land, came out and she had to reveal herself as Isabella Davidson – not just to her readership but also to her neighbours and the school gate mums she sometimes wrote about.

In my latest Behind The Book post I was thrilled to be able to ask Isabella about what it was like to be thrust into the spotlight in such a big way (she was featured in the Times and other newspapers as well as on TV and radio) together with picking up some tips for bloggers hoping to become authors.

When did you start writing? Was it with the blog or even before that? Was it your dream to eventually publish a book?

I have always written, ever since I was a child, whether short stories in class or in my diary. I also took a creative writing class during university but having my work read and critiqued in class when I was 18 was quite hard to take in. Then, I went back to writing when I started my blog, which was a fun and creative outlet for me at the time, but my dream was always to write and publish a book.

Would you say blogging helped you, aside from subject matter, with your book?

Blogging has been a huge help for many reasons. Firstly, it forces you to write even when you don’t want to, but it also helps you hone your craft. As they say, the more you write, the better you get at it, so writing blogs is a way of writing which contributes to your writing skills. Of course, when people complimented me on my writing, it gave me confidence to think that perhaps I could write a book. And having a ready audience helps. You know that at least a few people will read your book!

You gave up your anonymity when you published your novel. What was that like? Was it a big decision to take? Was there any fallout for you?

It was a big decision to come out in the open. Originally, I wanted to publish my book under a pseudonym and keep the blog anonymous. But when the Times asked to interview me, I didn’t have much choice, because they wanted pictures of me (a massive two page insert of me in my house!) so I asked my husband if he was ok with it, and when he said ok, that was the end of my anonymity. Mostly, people have been very supportive and encouraging of my book, but they also said I was very brave. I am sure a lot of people have been talking about me and my book when I’m not there. There has been some fallout, but truthfully, not with any of my friends, who all know who I am and know that it was a bit of fun. It’s mostly people who don’t know me that have taken their distance, or people who are scared that I am going to write about them or expose their life or lifestyles. I keep it all anonymous and tongue and cheek and it’s not meant to be taken very seriously, but I understand that not everyone will be happy with what I have done.

Not only did your book get a lot of publicity when it was launched but so did you. I’ve seen some beautiful photos of you reclining on a lovely white sofa. Was that difficult to deal with, especially having been anonymous? Had you expected it? And did you get any help with managing it?

I knew that when the Times article came out, it would cause a stir, I just didn’t know how much. From there, I went on to be interviewed by The Daily Mail and went on TV and radio, but it was an intense period of time. I was being interviewed on a regular basis and it takes time and effort to prepare for the interviews and to look ‘good’ and to be ‘on’ all the time. It was quite draining. I didn’t get help with how to answer controversial questions I was asked, but I did in the end get some help with the PR because I couldn’t do it on my own. It was a lot of work. I am glad the publicity has died down somewhat and I can go back to my normal life without having people coming up to me and saying they saw me in the papers. In the process, I realised that I am a lot more private than I thought. I thought I would enjoy all the attention but after I while, all I wanted was some peace and quiet.

image1Your fabulous book follows the story of Sophie Bennett who arrives in London fresh from Canada and is thrown into the outrageous, entertaining but also sometimes quite cruel world of the Alpha Mums. I felt genuinely sorry for Sophie but by the end of the book I also (surprisingly) had some sympathy with the Alpha Mums. I think it would have been easy just to cast them as the bad guys and leave it at that but you made them very 3D. Was that important to you? 

Yes, it was important that I make them realistic too. I didn’t want my readers to think all these mums are horrid and evil, because for the most part they aren’t. There are a few exceptions like Kelly, that really exist, but most of the mums are absolutely lovely and nice. But there would be no story if everyone was nice! So I had to pile on the horridness. There is a lot of competition though, and that’s just very true in London in general or any big city. New York is 100 times worst. I also believe that most people are 3D characters and have reasons for acting certain ways, whether because they are unhappy or insecure or just negative people, so I try to understand the motivations behind people and try to have empathy towards everyone.

How much of the story was autobiographical? Is it really like that? And which side are you on?

Everyone thinks the story is autobiographical, but it’s not. People come up to me thinking I am like Sophie and are almost disappointed that I’m not. I am not Sophie in many ways, she is shy and reserved and that’s certainly not how my friends would describe me. I have lived in London for 15 years so that’s also very different. I used the set up of Sophie moving to London to really show an outsider’s point of view of London. I am probably more Alpha than Beta in the end as well… But I’d like the Alphas to be kinder to each other and not to take it all too seriously. Some parts of the book are influenced by real events that have happened to me or to people that I know, but mostly it is all fiction and fictionalised. The plot and all the characters are fiction and not based on any particular person.

Can you talk about how you were published? Did you submit to agents/publishers or were you discovered? What was the process like? How was it seeing a copy of your book in the shops for the first time?

My road to publishing in the end was very much my own path. I was first approached by an agent through my blog, (but he turned it down later) so that’s when I started thinking seriously about writing a novel. I then went on the Faber Academy novel writing course and wrote my novel that year. I did approach several agents and publishers, but after a few months, I decided to do it on my own terms and sent my manuscript to Silverwood, which is an independent self-funded publisher that I found through another writer who had done the Faber course as well. These days, there is more than one way to get your book published and I didn’t want to wait one and a half years to see if I could get a traditional publishing deal. Luckily, I already had a platform and visibility through the blog, which got me the Times interview. In the end, for me, I just wanted to see and feel my book in my hands, which was a wonderful thing. And having it all over the Notting Hill Bookshop window was pretty cool. I couldn’t have asked for a better place for it. But doing it on your own is so much work, so you need time and dedication and determination to get your book out there. Neither path is easy, but as they say in writing, you need perseverance.

You have lots of strings to your bow but I know you worked a medical doctor for a long time. Would you ever write about your experiences of that profession, either as a book or for newspapers and magazines?

Interestingly, I don’t have a need to write about medicine or being a doctor. When I was a doctor, I did quite a bit of medical research writing but for my fiction writing, I want to create a world outside of medicine. I can’t see myself blending those two worlds, which for me is a serious world (medicine) and a creative world (writing). I would love to write a book about Vietnam one day though (I am half Vietnamese).

How do you find time to write along with family life and all the many other things you have on your plate?

That’s a good question. When I was writing my novel, I dedicated that year to writing and said ‘no’ to coffee mornings, lunches, events and working out and spent my days between school drop offs and pick ups writing. Also, I need the mental space to get involved in my story and in my characters, so it is usually a solitary time for me. I didn’t do much blogging during that time. Then after the book was published it was about doing interviews, being on social media and doing blogger outreach and interviews, so it’s been a lot less about writing recently. Right now, I’m also enjoying doing book events, I had a book reading and signing last week and I have another one next week – and that’s also quite time consuming! But you have to find time and to prioritise if you want to write a novel. That meant while the kids were at school, after they went to bed, and sometimes when we were on holiday.

Is there another book in the pipeline? Can you talk about what you’re working on now?

I am not quite ready for my next book yet. I still need to digest this one and still need to do a bit of work with this one. There is a potential project with this book that is rather quite exciting, and if it took off, it would take up most of my time for the next year or so. But the chances that it will happen is 1/1000 or less so I think I can still keep dreaming. It’s always good to have a dream and a goal though, so that keeps me going.

Any tips for fellow bloggers interested in writing a book?

My writing tutor told me that the most important thing was ‘tenacity.’ As a writer, you have to have so much perseverance, dedication and determination. Of course talent helps, but what sets a writer apart is their hard work: to sit on that chair and write every day, to finish that book, to edit, edit, edit, to send it to agents and publishers, to accept rejection and to just keep going until one day you may get to see your book on a bookshelf in a bookstore. It is incredibly hard work, but to succeed, you need to work harder than anyone else and never give up.

Isabella quote

Oh, and luck really helps too, but unfortunately I can’t help you with that! What you can do though is to keep going…

 ~

Many thanks to Isabella for answering my (often very long) questions. It’s great to find out more about her and her book. I think she handled her new found fame much better than I would have done. I can’t wait to see if her exciting project comes off, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

You can read my review and an excerpt of The Beta Mum: Adventures In Alpha Land here. You can also follow more of Isabella’s adventures via her blog, on Twitter and, of course, you can buy her book via Amazon in paperback or for Kindle here.

I’ll have two more Behind The Book guests next month. Don’t forget you can now follow After The Rain on Facebook so you need never miss a post.

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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.

 

 

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.