Location, location, location – it’s all about heavenly Hampstead for Carol Cooper

MSP_8587-Edit-2 cropWe are delighted to welcome back Carol Cooper, a long-time friend of the blog, to tell us all about how she decided on the setting for her second book. Carol is a doctor, journalist, and novelist. She writes for The Sun newspaper and teaches medical students at Imperial College.

After a string of trade-published non-fiction books and an award-winning medical text, she chose self-publishing for her fiction debut One Night at the Jacaranda. Her latest novel, Hampstead Fever, is out in June. Her novels are all about Londoners looking for love, and they’re laced with inside medical knowledge.

Like her fictional characters, Carol lives in leafy Hampstead, North London. Unlike them, she got married again in 2013. She loves a happy ending.

Over to Carol…

Why did I set Hampstead Fever in Hampstead?

Some fiction writers like to invent entire locations, but it’s not for me. I prefer to deploy my imagination on characters and plot rather than geography. It seems an unnecessary headache to make up a whole town. Besides, there’s always the risk that the street map in the author’s head is physically impossible.

Real places already have meaning for readers. Think of Liz Fenwick’s Cornish romances, or Glynis Smy’s choice of EastHampstead Fever FINAL EBOOK COVER London as the setting for Ripper, My Love.

In case you didn’t know, Hampstead is one of the most charming parts of London, and, logically, I also chose it for the title of my novel Hampstead Fever. The area is beautiful, trendy, and has a rich cultural heritage, although, on a Monday morning when Camden Council arrives to empty the bins in my street, you’d be forgiven for missing all of that. On bin day, a queue of irate drivers builds up, many of them turning the air blue because they can’t drop off their little darlings at school without walking a few extra yards.

The area is full of character, but it’s not edgy. Neither are my characters in Hampstead Fever. If you want edgy, you’d be better off reading Irvine Welsh or Chuck Palahniuk.

The people in my books have relatable problems, and Hampstead means different things to each one of them. For Harriet, the area is aspirational. She is a freelance journalist who finds it increasingly hard to pay her bills. Commissioning editors for the magazines she writes for don’t want well thought out features. They prefer pieces like “What’s My Bottom Line?” (the topic is literally pants). Harriet does her best but is overawed by all the successful authors and journalists in London NW3.

At 40, Laure is a first-time mum who panics every time her toddler develops a new symptom. Her partner works long hours and there’s no extended family, so Laure’s parenting guidance comes from books and the uber-competitive mothers at toddler group. Alas, Laure is so wound up in her child that she has little time to spare for her partner.

I think many readers will identify with single mum Karen. Her style is the opposite of helicoptering. I call it submarine parenting. She has four children ranging in age from six to 12 and is facing an early menopause, so energy is at a premium. No wonder Karen lacks the enthusiasm for a suitable relationship.

There are plenty of men in Hampstead Fever too, like Geoff who’s a doctor, and Sanjay who works as a fundraiser. Laure’s partner Dan is now an up-and-coming chef at a new restaurant in the heart of Hampstead Village. It’s the perfect place for a trendy bistro, but Dan complains he’s not paid enough, so, rather than use one of the existing restaurants as a setting, it seemed fairer to make up a new one. But I sited it in Flask Walk, a very real street.

A plus is that I live in Hampstead. Researching a location involves little more than a brisk walk, unlike, say, a writer in the UK who chose Venice as her setting.

I wanted my new author photo to fit in with the locale, but as I discovered you can’t always take one when and where you want. Hampstead Heath proved a little windy and wet on the day, which wouldn’t have been right for a book set in mid-summer.

My photographer got me to pose in the street near the Freud Museum. While the connotations may be a little heavy for my brand of contemporary fiction, the building is attractive. Alas, I hadn’t bargained on the crowds of people arriving to pay homage to the father of psycho-analysis. The Freud Museum doesn’t open till noon, so they were outside, waiting to be shown in to worship at the great man’s couch (yes, it’s still there in his study). One of the prospective visitors had even brought a suitcase, so there he was, on the pavement with his baggage. Now that would have been a great picture.

Hampstead Fever was released on June 30 and available on ebook platforms and in bookshops.


Wednesday Wondering – What are your childhood summer memories?

P1060508Welcome to August’s Wednesday Wondering. A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old daughter broke up for the school holidays; the start of a whopping 7 weeks and 2 days off! That’s a phenomenally long time. Panic set in. Would we be able to keep her entertained for that long, especially as we’d booked our main “summer” holiday for October half term so wouldn’t be going away and I’d started a new job and had very little time available to take off? Thank goodness for grandparents is all I can say on that one! Thinking about the long summer break ahead of her got me a bit nostalgic for my own long summer holidays as a child so my question to the Write Romantics this month was:
What are your memories of the long summer break as a child? Endless days playing out? Bored? Caravan holidays? Tell us all about it.
So they did …
Deirdre says …
Endless blue-skied days spent playing outside were very much a feature of my school summer holidays – because, wasn’t it always sunny, back then?  The freedom of being able to stay out until dusk, making ‘camps’ with the grass at the back of our flats when it was cut, hurtling down the slopes on roller skates, wandering round the estate where we lived and visiting friends’ houses – all of that made the holidays special.
Patty & Deirdre 1But my favourite time was when my two cousins, Pat and Linda, came down from London to stay with our Nan and Grandad for a week, and then I would be despatched by bus, with my little suitcase, to stay with them too.  The three of us slept in one double bed and of course there was more giggling than sleeping.  There were some old books about film stars, and Pat used to read to us out of them, making up funny accents.
Being Londoners, Brighton beach was the main attraction for the cousins, and Nan would take us down to spend most of the day there.  The photo shows Pat and me (I’m on the right) enjoying a splash about.  We’d stay in the sea until our skin was wrinkled like the skin of an old apple.
When the cousins had gone home, there were trips into the countryside to enjoy, just Mum, Dad and me.  We were lucky in that we had a car – hardly any of our neighbours did – and that was because my father worked in a garage and could get his hands on old bangers for very little money.  But they did us a turn, and we would pack a picnic and set out for our favourite spots.  No thermos flasks of tepid tea for us – we had a tiny stove that ran, I think, on methylated spirits or some such.  It was housed Leslie and picnic stovein an old biscuit tin and my Dad took great pleasure in getting this thing going in order to boil the kettle for the tea.  This photo of Dad plus stove is one of my favourite pictures of him.  I do remember great consternation – and a bit of a row – when on one occasion, nobody had remembered to bring the milk.
If I was ever bored in the summer holidays I don’t remember it.  I do remember feeling a bit miserable when all the other kids had gone indoors but I was an only child, so I was used to amusing myself.  At those times I’d escape into the current library book. This is nothing to do with summer holidays but that reminds me of something my Dad used to say, especially in his last years, after Mum had died: You’re never alone if you’ve got a book to read. Nice that, isn’t it?

Jackie says …

As a family we always went to Wales for our summer holiday and my memories are mostly of wearing a clingy, plastic rain mac, dragging it through puddles in Borth as water dripped into my eyes from the rain lashing down. I do recall the wonder of seeing flabby jellyfish lying in the sand and of finding tiny cowrie shells, clutching them furtively in my palm in case my dad said I wasn’t allowed to keep them. I’ve never seen them on any other beach in the UK since.

But the holidays I remember the most, were camping with the Girl Guides in the days when you had to make tripods for your rucksacks to sit on, and dig latrines in the ground with a tent put over the hole. By the end of day one, the tent was buzzing with flies and the smell was pretty horrific. When it was full, someone would then be told to fill in the hole and another one would be dug. 

I remember spiders and daddy long legs giving me evils from the top of the tent, and I remember trying to wash my hair in a round washing up bowl that was perched on a homemade tripod, and the whole thing tipping up on my shoes. 

There were frogs in the swimming pool and Captain pushed me and another girl in, and I thought I would die of fear and shock as I splashed into the cold water, although I don’t know what I thought the frogs would do to me! Nowadays she would probably be reported, but back then it was just considered par for the course.

My middle sister had Blancmange clumped in her fringe for most of the week and my elder sister cried when we sang ‘Taps’ around the camp fire before going to bed  ‘cos she missed my parents so much. That song makes me cry now. All I have to hear is the opening bars of ‘Day is done,’ and I’m welling up!

The most magical time of that holiday was being allowed to sleep under the stars on the last night. Us younger ones were hemmed in by the older girls as we all laid on the grass in our sleeping bags. We stared up at the clear sky, sprinkled with silver stars while Captain told us about each of the constellations and stories of how they got their names. 

I clearly remember appreciating the miracle that was the world I lived in and felt truly blessed to belong to it. 

I don’t think any of us realised how lucky we were to have our Captain, ‘Chad’ as she was known by the ones ‘in the know,’ But if she is still out there, I would love to be able to tell her how much she shaped my childhood and made me question and appreciate the world I live in. 

Thanks Chad, with love and respect from Jackie Dormouse.

Rachael says …

The long lazy days of my childhood summer certainly feel that way now. Firstly because life is so much busier today, but also because they were days of summer, if you know what I mean!

For me, six weeks out of school meant time to go for long walks with the family dog, to cycle  – on my mother’s old shopper, to go to town and feel all grown up hanging out in the city centre with my friends. Most of all, it was family time. With three younger brothers to keep in order, the noise level in our house was far from quiet and the activities we embarked on were varied to say the least. From playing on the garden swings to playing schools, to just generally fighting on the living room floor. They are all conjured up in my mind when I think of the summer holidays.

photoHelen P says …

I loved summer holidays, mainly because I hated school but it meant that we had our annual family holiday to Scarborough to look forward to. The whole family would go including my three brothers, nan, Aunty Dot & Uncle Pat. We would always stop in a self catering holiday flat and I loved it. In fact I still do, I took my own family there about ten years ago and they loved it too.

Below is a rare picture of Josh & Jeorgia enjoying playing out at Primrose Valley Caravan Park. It doesn’t seem that long ago, time really does fly.


As for me, I smiled when I read through the responses as they had so many echoes of my own reaction to summer. We usually had two weeks away on holiday as a family. When I was very young, we had a tent, but this was swapped for a caravan. We had a lot of UK-based holidays, but we also travelled abroad with the caravan including very long trips to Germany and Norway. The caravan holiday that stands out the most for me was a trip to Great Yarmouth. It was probably the biggest caravan site we’d ever stayed on with a pool, huge playground and a clubhouse with entertainment until the early hours. My second cousins Andrea and Lisa were also on holiday in the area with their parents and we met up with them a few times, including a couple of nights at the campsite disco. I absolutely loved it.

P1060509But that still left about four weeks. Like Deirdre, I remember sun all the time. I used to play out on my bike and build dens in the fields and hedgerows that bordered our housing estate. Sometimes I played adventurous games with the boys in the neighbourhood and sometimes I wore dressing-up clothes or donned my roller boots and played out with the girls.

Days out with the family – including those whilst away in the caravan – always involved pre-prepared picnics. I don’t remember ever eating out. Mum would always prepare a jug of juice and we’d huddle round the back of the car, or sit on deck chairs in lay-bys with our sandwiches and juice. I can still picture that jug with it’s sealable lid and those beakers now, and hear the little sigh as the lid was eased up ready to pour. Isn’t it funny the little things that stick in your mind?

Sharon says…

It’s funny, but the summer holidays seemed to be always sunny and bright when I was young. I don’t remember it raining at all, though I’m sure it must have. Well, except for the summer of 1976, when the drought stretched on and on, and water was rationed, and it was too hot to do anything much except lie on the grass or eat ice cream.

Most summers, we went away to Primrose Valley. That was in the days before Haven owned it, and it wasn’t as big as it is now. I remember there was an outdoor roller skating rink and swing boats on the cliff top. There was a small shopping arcade, and a pub, “The Log Cabin”, where we all met every evening, and where my sister and I would sit in a little room drinking Coke and eating peanuts while the grown-ups had all the fun!

I loved those holidays because it seemed as if all the family went – grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, half-cousins, the lot. My grandparents and aunt stayed in a pretty bungalow in the village, and we were in a posh caravan in a field across the road. There are photographs of those holidays stretching right back to when I was a baby in my pram on the beach, but the first time I remember going, I recall how shocked my parents were when we walked into the caravan and saw how grand it was. I don’t know what they’d been staying in before! We used to walk along the beach from Primrose Valley to Filey, and go winkle picking on Filey Brigg. Then we’d get fish and chips in Filey and walk back along the sands, tired but really happy.

At home, the days were spent roller-skating up and down the street, playing games like “May I?” and “Mr Wolf” across a road that had remarkably few cars passing through it, brambling, and going to the local swimming baths to cool off in the outdoor pool. I also remember warm summer evenings, sitting on the front garden wall, waiting eagerly for the ice cream van while Dad mowed the lawn. To this day, the smell of freshly-cut grass reminds me of those early evenings, sitting on the wall with my sister, watching my dad in the garden and listening out for those familiar chimes. Happy days.

We’d love to hear all about your summer memories. Please click on the comments at the end of the words below to join in the conversation.

Jessica xx

Saturday Spotlight with Publishing House So Vain Books

Happy Easter! We hope that you’re having a lovely, relaxing time and haven’t overdosed on the chocolate eggs. If you’re working this weekend, we hope your time to relax comes really soon.

Squared_BLACK_logoMost of our Saturday Spotlights feature other writers, but every so often we bring you a different insight into the world of writing and today is one of those days.

About a year ago, Alys shared with The Write Romantics an advert she’d spotted for a new publishing company called So Vain Books. They weren’t looking for the genre of books she writes (urban fantasy), but she wondered if they might be a good fit for others in the group, particularly Jo and possibly myself. Jo submitted her MS and was offered a publishing deal with them. ‘Among a Thousand Stars’ will be out on 17th June. However, I didn’t submit. I felt that my novel didn’t really match the request for glamour/fashion/sex.

I was so impressed by the way So Vain Books were working with Jo that I remember joking that I should change parts of my MS to fit more with the glamour/fashion/sex element as they sounded like a company with whom I’d really like to work. Instead, Jo asked Publishing Director, Stephanie Reed, if there was anything else they were looking for. Steph said they were after books with heart where the protagonist changes their partner/life/career and learns from it. That was exactly what my book was all about so I submitted and was delighted to secure a publishing deal too. ‘Searching for Steven’ will be out on 3rd June.

Today, we welcome Stephanie to the blog and thank her for a valuable insight into the world of a new publisher.

Jessica xx

image_stephanieWhat’s your background?

My background is mainly in magazines and PR. I worked for over 5 years in the field of magazine editing, writing, fashion styling and PR, whilst in the meantime studying Publishing and getting some experience in the book publishing industry as a freelance editor.

What inspired you to start So Vain Books? How did you go about it?

Back in 2009 I founded So Vain Magazine, a now well-established online fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazine. After four years in the industry, I started thinking of how to expand the brand in different ways. Given my love for books and my background, an idea was very soon formed: we were going to start publishing books. What I always wanted to do was to bring my unique approach to the book publishing process. The fact that I didn’t come from years and years working for any big book publisher meant that I did not have a “standardised” way of seeing things, and had the luxury of being able to shape the publishing house in a way that I thought could work. We publish unique books that we really believe in and market in non-traditional ways. All the So Vain Books team members come from different industries and we are all very young and full of fresh ideas. After a few months spent planning, getting funds, focusing our editorial direction and recruiting new members for the team, So Vain Books was launched on the 13th of February 2014 with a very glamorous and successful event in Central London. Ever since then we have spent all our time reading manuscripts, signing up very promising authors (including the fabulous Jo Bartlett and Jessica Redland from The Write Romantics), meeting with industry experts, building up our database or bloggers and editor, etc.

It’s a very stressful job, full of long hours and no holidays, but also a very rewarding one, as now we have had the pleasure of signing up some talented authors and we really can’t wait for what’s to come in the future.

What sorts of books are you looking for? How might a potential writer submit to you?

3d CoverSo Vain Books is always looking for a great story to publish! We are passionately interested in anything to do with fashion, beauty and romance no matter if it is a light and entertaining fiction novel or an insightful guide on how to be part of the fashion elite.

  • Fiction: we publish light fiction romance novels, specifically in the genre of chick-lit, erotica and New Adult that are funny, witty and quite glamorous.
  • Non-fiction: we publish memoirs, how-to guides, coffeetable books and DIY books all written in an entertaining and informative way by bloggers, celebrities and industry experts.

We only accept submissions from authors based in the United Kingdom.

We require a minimum of 3 chapters for the non-fiction guides and a full manuscript for the fiction books. For both of them, we will ask you details about yourself, a full synopsis and how you see your book positioned.

Sometimes, even if you have not written anything yet but have a fantastic idea you want to explore with us and see if we might be interested in it, we will read it and give you feedback and maybe work with you to develop it, but we will wait until we have the right amount of words to consider it for an actual contract.

For all submissions, you can refer to our dedicated page: http://www.sovainbooks.co.uk/are-you-an-author

How quickly do you know whether a book is for you or not?

Depending on the number of submissions we have at a given time, it may take us up to 8 weeks to come back to any author who has submitted a full manuscript to us. We do provide feedback both if it is a no or a yes.

Many of your books are set in a glamorous world. Is your world glamorous?

Not at all! There might have been a time when I think I led a pretty glamorous life, going to fashion shows and parties, always wearing super high heels and red lipstick wherever I went. But I soon realized that life was not for me. I am more of a tea-and-duvet kind of girl, and I prefer spending my evenings reading a good book rather than going out to glamorous events. Plus, that’s what books are for: they provide an insight into a world in which everything is glitzy and sparkly, without having to leave the comfort of your home (or bed)! Plus, often, when you end up living “the dream” you do realize it’s not always how you expected it and it’s just better to read about it in a book!

book 3dWhat do you do to support your authors?

We pride ourselves to be a very author-centred publishing house. We won’t publish anything that we do not passionately believe in, and for this reason we only publish a limited amount of books per year, focusing on quality over quantity. We dedicate to each author and each book the right attention to detail, offering editorial support, creating stunning designs, planning bespoke marketing and publicity campaigns, and being by their side every step of the way, supporting their own initiatives and ideas for the production, publication and promotion of their books.

Our bespoke publicity campaigns include a customised author’s website, social media campaigns, email marketing, blog tours, reviews, and much more. We don’t want to simply publish great authors, but we are committed to creating a brand around them and bringing them to success, so all our plans are about thinking long-term and ensuring a bright future for all our authors.

In a very competitive market, what do you think authors can do to promote their work and get themselves noticed?

It is really hard nowadays to get yourself noticed. There are hundreds of new books published every day, so finding a way to stand out from the crowd is no easy matter. The main thing people value when deciding whether to read a new book or not is recommendations. They have been proven to be the most influential factor, so having a large number of reviews on Amazon and on websites like Goodreads is key. Once you achieve that, it opens up a world of possibilities. So get as many beta readers as possible (including your friends and family), contact book bloggers and Amazon reviewers, and offer them your book for free in exchange for an honest review. If your story is a good one, it will take no time to start getting some very positive feedback and building that network of recommendations and “social proof” that is fundamental to get people to buy the book!

What sort of books do you read for pleasure?

I love romance, but you might be surprised to know they are not the only kind of books I read. I love fantasy almost as much as I love chicklit! I adore books by Cassandra Clare, JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Sophie Kinsella, Cecelia Ahern and also from some far less-known authors.

I am currently reading “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes.

horizontal BLACKWould you ever consider writing a book yourself?

No, definitely not. The more I read the manuscripts we get submitted by authors, the more I realize I would never be able to do that, or at least not as well as they do it. I also would not have the patience an author must have, as it can take a very long time to write a book and get it perfect.

What does the future hold for So Vain Books?

I am confident that it will become a well-established publishing house, full of successful and exciting books, ensured by the fact that we dedicate all our passion and creativity to each title and we have a mix between fiction and non-fiction, with an array of celebrity books that will help with promoting the less famous and first-time authors.

In the future we also aim at becoming an online store, with many books and other items revolving around our core brand. I want the company to also expand into things other than books, organizing events, conferences, etc.

Jo and I can honestly say that it has been a pleasure working with So Vain Books and we’re both very excited about our June releases. Thank you for joining us today, Steph.

If you’d like to leave a comment or ask a question, please click on ‘comments’ at the end of the teeny weeny tag-words below this post xx

Publication Day – The Friendship Tree by Helen J Rolfe



I signed my contract with Crooked Cat Publishing in October last year and the lead up to publication day for The Friendship Tree has been hard work, but really exciting.

bookcaketopperChoosing the cover for my debut novel was one of the most exciting parts of the process because it all began to feel so real. I loved discussing images with my publisher and working out what was the best fit for The Friendship Tree, and I was delighted with the finished design.

The book came out for pre-order on Amazon a couple of weeks ago and it was fantastic to see The Friendship Tree ‘out there’, but nothing compared to the actual publication day itself. I slept until 5:30am when I couldn’t resist the temptation any longer, and then switched on my Kindle to find my own book waiting there for me. It was the best feeling in the world.


cupcake2I was a bit unsure of what to expect with an online Facebook launch party, but I had a fabulous day with so many lovely messages from friends, family and strangers who not only said well done, but also told me that they were enjoying my book.

Publication day was a whirlwind of excitement with cupcakes, champagne and congratulations, and I enjoyed appearing on a number of blogs to talk about The Friendship Tree.

Cheers to a brilliant year of writing for all The Write Romantics!

Helen J Rolfe x



Why I Like Writing Strong Female Characters – Saturday Spotlight with Talli Roland

When we invite guests to join us on the Saturday Spotlight, we usually ask them whether they’d like to be interviewed or simply have write what they want. Most opt for an interview and we try to ask different questions but we’re always secretly excited when someone says they’ll go for free-text.

Talli Roland - WebToday, I’m delighted to welcome Talli Roland to the blog. Talli was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. By age 13, she’d finished her first novel and received very encouraging rejections from publishers. Talli put writing on hold to focus on athletics, achieving provincial records and becoming a Canadian university champion in the 4 × 400 meter relay. After getting her BA, she turned to writing again, earning a Masters in Journalism. A few years later, she left Canada behind and settled in London, where she now lives with her husband and their young son. Talli writes bittersweet and witty contemporary women’s fiction.

Her debut novel, The Hating Game, was short-listed for Best Romantic Read at the UK’s Festival of Romance, and her second, Watching Willow Watts, was selected as an Amazon Customer Favourite.

Over to Talli…

The Pollyanna Plan - Talli RolandI enjoy sweetness and light as much as the next gal, but sometimes  it can get a tiny bit irritating to watch female characters spin in hopeless circles as they eat their way through cupcakes and trot off to buy high heels. Where are the successful, professional women who stand up for themselves and don’t fall to bits when faced with hunky men? Where are the protagonists who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, who drink whisky not spritzers, and who chow down on crisps not chocolate?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of romance and love. But I want to see a couple come together as equals, after the woman sorts out problems herself – not because the hero has swooped in, snapped his fingers and made everything fine. I want the woman to be a person in her own right; I’ve never understood the attraction of the sentiment ‘you complete me’. In our modern times, women do it all. Why shouldn’t our protagonists represent that? After all, isn’t true romance two people who don’t need each other, but who choose to share their lives because they want to?

I am sometimes surprised when reviewers deem my main characters unlikeable. Yes, my female protagonists are certainly miles from perfection, but they make firm decisions, act on them, and will do whatever it takes to get what they want. In a man, this ambition would be an admirable thing. But in a woman . . . not so much. They’re often judged as cold, unfeeling and selfish.

The No-Kids Club - Talli Roland - CoverIn the novel I’m writing now, a mother tries to reconcile her family responsibilities with the chance to pursue her dream career. It’s a dilemma I’m sure many women face: how do you juggle your own fulfillment with the needs of others – with children who hold a huge claim on your heart, too? Can women do it all? And does anyone ask that question of the husbands?

It’s been a wonderful challenge to write this character, and I’ve enjoyed watching her determination grow as she struggles to pursue her passion. She doesn’t always make the right choices, but at least she’s doing something – and by the end of the book, she’s learned more about herself along the way. She’s not willing to let her dream go easily, and I admire her for that.

Give me a woman with grit and resolve over a flaky swooning female any day.

You can find out more about Talli and her work through the following links:





Amazon Author Page

Thanks for joining us today, Talli, and for a post that certainly made me smile. And also breathe a sigh of relief that my protagonist is a strong female character as described! Now I think I’ll just go and get myself a whisky, chow down on some crisps and … who am I kidding? Whiskey at this time of day? A cup of tea perhaps. Crisps sound pretty good though 😉

Jessica xx

Take a seat in Karen’s Reading Corner

karencocking faceOur guest on the blog today is Karen, from ‘My Reading Corner’. Karen loved reading from a very young age and over the years this passion has grown, now her idea of bliss is to curl up in a comfy chair with a good book.  Karen runs her book review blog alongside working full-time as a legal secretary and uses some of the commute from Essex to London to read up-to two books a week. In the picture below you can see Karen’s heaving ‘bookwall’, which she keeps in her spare room, but she admits she has overflowing bookcases elsewhere in the house too! So we’re really glad that Karen has been able to find some time to be our guest today and here she tells us all why books and blogging about them are so important to her.

Why is that you love reading so much

I’ve always loved reading, and can remember from a very early age reading the Ladybird books and then progressing to Enid Blyton and then as a teenager turning to Agatha Christie. Other favourite authors of the time were Jeffrey Archer, Rosamund Pilcher and Maeve Binchy. I love to escape into a book and to use my imagination which is why the film adaptations of books rarely work for me as it spoils the image I have in my head. Apart from the occasional biography, I rarely read non-fiction.

What made you decide to turn that passion into a regular book-review blog?

I’ve been adding short reviews to various online book sites for a number of years and although sites like Goodreads are very useful for keeping track of books that I own, the cover pictures change (I like to have a record of the correct book cover too) and there’s no control over the site content. I decided to start my own book blog so that I could keep my reviews in one place and keep my own note of which edition I had read. I also wanted to share books that I had enjoyed and if my review helps someone to choose their next read, then that’s wonderful.

What are the best and worst things about blogging?

It’s always a pleasure to be asked to review a book by a new author and finding a little gem that otherwise might have passed me by – and to be ableKaren cocking2 to tell others about it. Some of my most enjoyable reads this year have been found this way and there are some indie authors that are now on my favourites list. Another is being given the opportunity to read books before they are published. I feel privileged that publishers allow me to access ARCs of their ebooks from sites such as Netgalley and of course it’s always exciting to receive paper books in the post – whenever I receive a book shaped package, I feel like a kid at Christmas!

One of the worst things is feeling under pressure to read and review quickly. I have a huge library of my own of both paper and Kindle books which I am longing to read but struggle to get to because much of my free time is spent trying to keep up with review books. I need to find that balance of being able to read both my own and review books.

What is your favourite genre?

I don’t have a favourite genre. My first love was crime fiction but over the years my tastes have widened. I enjoy reading women’s contemporary fiction just as much as crime and suspense.   I also enjoy reading YA books and some historical fiction, especially dual time novels. The one genre that I am really picky about is ‘chick-lit’ and I tend to stick to the same trusted authors or authors that have been recommended by book friends.

Has there been a book that you’ve been put off reading, perhaps by the cover or blurb, and then have finally read and really loved?

No, although there have been many books which I haven’t enjoyed despite the hype surrounding them. One that immediately comes to mind is The Time Travellers Wife. So many people loved this but I disliked it so much I couldn’t finish it.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

I have to be comfortable. I have a reclining armchair in the corner of my lounge (this is why my blog was named ‘My Reading Corner’) which is my favourite place to read, although sitting on the bed propped up with pillows comes a close second!

Have you ever considered being a writer?

Only in my dreams! The reality is that I know my limitations and I would not be good enough. I greatly admire people who can turn their hand to writing but it’s not something that I would consider doing.

How do you promote your blog?

Mainly on Twitter and Facebook. A few months ago I set up a Facebook page for my blog where I post reviews, share competitions and all things bookish. https://www.facebook.com/myreadingcornerblog.

Karen cocking1How many requests for reviews do you get in typical week/month and what’s your criteria for deciding which to review?

It varies, some weeks I can get several – both from authors and publishers. I suppose on average I get about 2 – 3 requests a week.   I always look at the book description to see whether it’s something I would enjoy reading and if it appeals then I say yes. Otherwise I politely decline. It also depends on how I’m asked. If a request is polite and unassuming then I am more inclined to say yes. If I receive an obviously ‘copied & paste’ email request with the book attached on the presumption that I will want to read it then that is an immediate turn-off. My blog has a review policy listing the genres that I read and it is often quite clear that many authors/promoters haven’t even bothered to read it before requesting a review.

Do you give bad reviews or only review books you’ve liked?

I will only review on my blog books that achieve a minimum rating of 3 out of 5 stars – if I really don’t like a book then I won’t include it on the blog. I want my reviews to be an honest opinion but I don’t want to be unkind. It’s extremely rare for me to rate a book as 1* (- it has to be REALLY poor) however very occasionally a book achieves a review rating of 2* and this would only appear on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads.   I don’t review every single book I read – if I’m reading one of my own books then sometimes it’s nice to just read for pleasure and not feel obliged to always post a review.

Have you got a top three of your all-time favourite books?

My favourite books change all the time. There are however two that have remained firm favourites over the years – To Kill a Mockingbird and Rebecca.

What sort of interaction do you have with fellow reviewers, authors and readers?

I think Twitter is wonderful for interaction with fellow book lovers and authors – what did we do without it! I love to see authors interacting with readers and it’s still a thrill when an author retweets one of my reviews or replies to a tweet. The downside of sites like Twitter and reading other book blogs is seeing all the new book recommendations which add to my ever increasing wishlist and ‘To be Read’ pile.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Just to say thank you for inviting me onto your blog. Having sent out my own questions for authors to answer, I can now see that it’s quite different being on the other side!

Thanks again for visiting us on the blog, Karen, we’ve loved having you stop by and it’s been great to hear what life is like as a book reviewer. If you want to find out more about Karen and her reviews at ‘My Reading Corner’ please following the links below:



Twitter @karendennise

Anyone for tea?

Anyone for tea?

Today I’d like to welcome Josephine Moon to the blog. She is the author of ‘The Tea Chest’, published by Allen & Unwin, and she’s a self-confessed tea lover!

Josephine, tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to be a novelist?

I was born in Brisbane and now live on the Sunshine Coast with my husband, toddler and an unreasonably large collection of animals. I write fiction and non-fiction, with a different publisher for each. I love good food, aromatic wonders, nature and animals, and am a self-diagnosed spa junkie. My aim in life is to do all my work from the spa.

I took the long route to novel writing, and wrote ten manuscripts in twelve years on the way. I studied journalism at Uni, taught English and Film and TV in schools, worked as a technical writer and then five years as a professional editor, all the while writing and hoping to one day be published. Finally, in 2012, I got a literary agent and three book contracts soon after.

The title of your debut novel, “The Tea Chest” makes me want to open up the book and delve inside…what’s the book about and how did you come up with the idea?

I am a mad tea woman. I just love tea, teapots, tea rituals, high teas, doilies, silver spoons and teeny tiny cakes. One day, I was wandering through a T2 tea shop (around 2007), inhaling aromas and shaking bowls of tea, and I thought, ‘What an awesome job! Who gets to design all these teas?’ And with that, the character of Kate Fullerton, lead tea designer at The Tea Chest, arrived.

In the book, Kate Fullerton has just inherited fifty per cent of the company from her mentor and must decide what she will risk, both for herself and her young family, in order to take a chance to follow her dreams. Along the way, she’s joined by Elizabeth and Leila, two women at crossroads in their own lives, who join Kate’s venture to help realise The Tea Chest’s success. Set across Brisbane and London, with a backdrop of delectable teas and tastes, lavender fields and vintage clothes, The Tea Chest is a gourmet delight you won’t want to finish.

What are your plans for your next book?

My next book is currently sitting with my publisher and I’m anxiously awaiting her feedback! It is due to be published next year. It’s called The Chocolate Apothecary, and is set across Tasmania and France, is a family drama with a strong, classical romance structure, and continues my fascination with artisan food, lavender fields, sensory delights and chocolate, which wasn’t so good for my waistline and I’m now carrying the kilos of two years of hard research.

Which writers have had the greatest influence on you both as a reader and as a writer?

James Herriot, Monica McInerney, Liane Moriarty, Nick Earls, Kimberley Freeman (Kim Wilkins).

As a reader, what do you expect from a novel that you pick up?

I want to escape to another place, meet new characters that I love, and be taken on a journey. I avoid anything that is stressful, dark, involves violence or misery — I think there’s too much of that around us in real life and I’m not interested in spending my leisure time living it through books. So I want something nurturing and entertaining.

What are your most favourite and least favourite parts of the writing process?

Good question! I truly think I have the best job in the world and I would be doing it (and indeed I did do it for twelve years prior to a publishing deal) even if I wasn’t being paid. So I’m blessed to be excited to ‘go to work’ each day and I feel stressed when life gets in the way and I can’t work. I never feel happier than when I’ve had a great writing day.

There are of course moments of pain, too. I explain it like that moment when you’re running, or swimming or on the exercise bike etc. and you hit that pain barrier where you think, oh man, I’m not enjoying this and I want to stop now. But if you keep going, you reach another level and if you’re really lucky you’ll hit that zone where you’re just flying and scoring goals and nothing can stop you. I used to get that playing netball and it was a magic place. Some people call it a ‘runner’s high’. I now call it a ‘writer’s high’ 🙂 I’ve learned that when I hit that moment of pain in writing, when I really want to stop there, that’s the moment to just wait it out.  And so often (so often!), I’ll get a second wind and some really great words.

So, in summary, that moment of pain where I feel like I’m pathetic and this is hopeless and I’m never going to be able to finish this scene let alone this book… that’s unpleasant. But getting into ‘the zone’… that’s magic!

What did you learn from writing “The Tea Chest”?

Before writing The Tea Chest, I’d written ten manuscripts across a huge range of genres and styles. It took me a long time to really find my voice and know what I wanted to put out into the world. So the biggest thing I learned from The Tea Chest was to write the book I wanted to read.

Do you see social media as key to reaching your readers?

These days, I think you have to embrace social media as a keystone in relationship building and connection with everyone from all walks of life. For me, social media is a double-edged sword. It can be wonderful for that instant communication and feedback, entertainment and promotion and socialising… but it also takes up a LOT of time and, more concerning for me, headspace. I recently discovered ‘Freedom’ a computer program that blocks the internet for you. Whenever I find myself ‘looping’ on social media (you know, you check stuff, post something, move on, but then someone comments and you feel you have to reply, then you have to check if they replied and on and on) I switch on Freedom, go through a few moments of panic that I might actually NEED the internet for the next two-and-a-half hours (!!) and then get over it and write some great words.

Have you had reader feedback about “The Tea Chest”? Are there any responses that you have particularly treasured?

I have had so many lovely readers contact me to tell me how much they love The Tea Chest. And I really treasure each one. I mean, at the end of the day, you write so someone will read it, don’t you? So that kind of validation is really meaningful to me. I do remember one woman wrote to me and said she hadn’t read anything since leaving high school and The Tea Chest was the first book she’d bought since then and I’d turned her back into being a reader. I mean, wow.

Do you find some scenes harder to write than others? Are there any types of scene that you do your utmost to avoid writing?

Yes! I’ve definitely found racy scenes difficult to write in the past, but just in the past two years I think I’ve worked out what my style is and how I should approach them and so they intimidate me less now. A huge re-write happened in The Tea Chest in the first couple of drafts and during the structural edit I took out a lot of racy scenes. They just weren’t me and weren’t working. Liane Moriarty writes brilliant sex scenes, I think, and I’ve learned a lot from her writing.

The other thing I try to avoid are emotionally painful scenes (such as when someone has died). But that’s because I don’t want to feel all that pain. I do get back to them eventually; it just takes me a while to face them.

And finally…Do you have any strange writing habits? (That you’re willing to share of course!)

I don’t think so (other needing my ‘writing pants’ to work in… which are generally pyjama bottoms). But I do seem to need chocolate to edit. I don’t know what that’s about but it just seems to be as necessary as the red pen.

Thank you so much for having me along. I’ve really enjoyed these questions! Jo x

Thank you Josephine for talking about yourself and your book. I’m just over halfway through ‘The Tea Chest’ at the moment and it’s a great read…I don’t like tea but you never know, you may have converted me!

Helen R 🙂