Our guest for this week’s Saturday spotlight is the lovely and talented Carol Cooper. Carol is a doctor, teacher, writer, broadcaster and mother, whose debut novel, One Night at the Jacaranda, has received a wealth of rave reviews on Amazon. Carol is also a successful writer of non-fiction books, mainly on child health and parenting, and is The Sun newspaper’s doctor, so gets to have her say on a wide range of health issues – from the serious, to the scrapes that ‘tired and emotional’ celebrities sometimes find themselves in!
We’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far and what it was that made you want to move away from non-fiction to write your first novel?
While I enjoy writing non-fiction, creating fiction exercises my imagination more. And I’ve always wanted to write a novel. There’ve been false starts, like a rites-of-passage novel set in Cambridge and a story about a female surgeon. Unfortunately she spent far too much time horizontal so she never made it to the top (just like the manuscript, still languishing in a drawer). Finally I ended up writing the kind of novel that I’d most like to read myself for pleasure.
With your profile and the potential for you to secure an agent or traditional publishing deal, why did you decide to choose self-publishing?
Well, I do have an agent who handles my non-fiction, but One Night at the Jacaranda wasn’t her usual thing. In the end I decided to self-publish because I like the degree of control you can have as a self-published author, over the contents, the cover, the price, and timing of publication.
How do you approach marketing for your novel, without a traditional publisher behind you for support?
I try to spread the word amongst people who might like the book. So I concentrate on getting reviews from book bloggers, book reading sites, and newspapers, and I’ve also been interviewed on several radio stations. Without a publisher it is harder to get noticed, but luckily I have a lot of great Amazon reviews, which means the book gets taken seriously.
Do you see yourself working with a traditional publisher in future?
Yes, definitely, at least for non-fiction. In fact there’s already another textbook in the pipeline. I’m really a hybrid author, someone who’s both self-published and traditionally published. Best of both worlds, you could say. It’s hard to beat the expertise of a trad publisher when it comes to illustrating and designing non-fiction books, and of course distributing the final product.
Do you have any writing habits e.g. writing in the same place, using a certain pen, times of day etc?
I like writing on my sofa, with pencil and paper, and the words seem to flow best when I have my feet up and the cat sits on me, even if she does sometime grab the end of the pencil (if you’ve read my novel, you know I love cats). But ultimately I can write almost anywhere. That’s the beauty of being an author, the fact that it’s so portable. When my twins were tiny, I’d ‘park and write’. If I had an article to finish, I’d put them in their car-seats and drive around till they nodded off. Then I’d stop the car and write until they woke up. My carbon footprint must have been appalling, but I learnt to produce copy quickly.
What are you working on now and what are your writing aspirations?
My aspirations are ….more novels! I’m working on a sequel to One Night at the Jacaranda. A prequel is also crying out for attention. It’ll go back about 15 years, to the time Geoff, the doctor in the novel, was still a student. There’s also going to be a novel based in Alexandria, Egypt. It’s where I grew up, and that world is still very vivid in my mind. Think I’d better carve out a bit more writing time.
Do you see your future novels having a medical theme or are there other genres that you are planning to try?
All my novels will have at least one doctor in them, as I do like to have a bit of a medical thread running through the story. After all, it’s best to write what you know. I don’t think you’ll be seeing any thrillers or steampunk with my name on the cover.
What gave you the idea for One Night at the Jacaranda?
A few years ago I was on a plane to New York, on my way to my father’s funeral. While sitting with a much-needed gin and tonic, an idea for a plot just popped into my head. I began scribbling on the paper napkin. The jottings on the napkin developed into the story of One Night at the Jacaranda, that of a motley group of people trying to find someone special. The novel has nothing to do with my father, except for the fact that he’d always wanted to be a writer. He spent all his life working at a boring but necessary job in life insurance and never managed to write fiction, so I guess this book is because of him. Some of the scenes in my novel would have made him choke on his dentures, but I think he’d have been proud of me all the same.
Who is your favourite character from the book and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?
That’s a tough one because I like almost all of them, but I have a really soft spot for Harriet. She gives up the thing she values most for love, and it turns out not to have been true love. All my characters are completely fictitious, so Harriet isn’t based on anyone in particular, but I think her situation resonates with a lot of women. Many of us have been down the same road, though most people haven’t sacrificed as much as Harriet.
Some writers use pictures they find to inform the physical descriptions of their characters and we wondered if you did this or, if not, how you form a mental picture of your characters’ physical qualities?
No, I never do that, probably because the picture I have of my characters isn’t based much on their appearance. Compared with most commercial women’s fiction, One Night at the Jacaranda has very little detail of the characters’ physical qualities. Yes, Dan is bald, Simon has a comb-over, and Karen’s body is a bit saggy (who’d have thought, after four kids, eh?). But, beyond a few spare brush-strokes, I prefer to leave it to the reader’s imagination. It will also make it much easier to cast if ever Hollywood comes calling!
What are the best and worst things about being a writer?
The best thing is that it’s creative. I love the challenge of getting a message across, of playing with very ordinary words and hopefully getting them to say extraordinary things. With any luck, that message will be fresh, yet will still strike a chord with readers.
The worst thing is the isolation. You work alone, and it’s almost entirely inside your head, which can exclude others, even your dearest and nearest. You live indoors, which isn’t healthy, and when you try to socialise all you ever talk about is your book. It must be very boring for other people, not to mention borderline obsessive. No wonder most writers only have other writers as friends.
What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer or even to yourself, if you could go back to before you had written the novel?
My advice would be to keep writing and keep reading. Every writer needs to find their own voice. Would-be writers often go through an intense magpie stage, where they jot down quotes and passages from other writers, hoping to ape them, or, worse, paste these phrases into their own work. Yes, we can all learn from great writers that have gone before, so reading is key, but it’s vital to develop an original style that sounds natural. Editors and book-buyers don’t want something that’s just a pale imitation of someone else’s work.
Thanks Carol for coming by today and giving us such an interesting and insightful interview.
You can read just how much The Write Romantics loved One Night at the Jacaranda on our recommended reads and reviews page. The link to some more great five-star reviews and your opportunity to buy the book can be found here:
This weekend, from 5am Saturday 26th April until 1 am on Monday 28th April, One Night at the Jacaranda is available for the fantastic promotional price of 99p. Grab yourself a great read, for less than the price of a Sunday paper!
Read Carol’s blog at – http://pillsandpillowtalk.com/
Follow Carol on Twitter – @DrCarolCooper
Visit the One Night at the Jacaranda Facebook page to find out more here – https://www.facebook.com/onenightatthejacaranda?fref=ts