Saturday Spotlight: Interview with Kendra Smith, bestselling author of ‘Jacaranda Wife’

It’s a real pleasure to welcome Kendra Smith to the blog today.  Kendra’s first novel ‘Jacaranda Wife’ was published by Endeavour Press in March.  It has been hugely successful and a few weeks ago was #1 on Kindle in Australia.  I’ll hand over to Kendra to tell you more. Alys x Kendra, PHOTO

What inspired you to write Jacaranda Wife? Life. We had recently moved back to Australia and whilst I absolutely love the country, it was a time of great upheaval for me. I wanted my heroine to grapple with conflicting thoughts and issues and, at the time, I was exploring the idea of where ‘home’ is. Also, I was missing using words. I’d started typing away as the baby napped and scribbled notes where I could. Funnily enough, as the kids were young, it was one of the busiest times as a mum, but I really needed a creative outlet.  Finding new and fun ways to stack the dishwasher wasn’t quite working for me – and neither was a great Australian stay-at-home mums’ sport – cake baking & icing. I was terrible at it! So I found my outlet on the computer instead.

What are your biggest influences as writer?

I think everyday life is. I would find it hard not to capture things with words. My husband often says to me, ‘your brain is so busy!’ That’s what I try to put down on paper, all my thoughts and the emotions of life. I also play with dialogue in my head on the school run, and end up feeling a bit startled as I pull up outside the school, as my head has been somewhere else. Of course, other writers inspire me, too, and how brilliantly they write, how they can capture the essence of something in a few words and how writing styles can differ so much and convey so much emotion in one sentence.JW cover copy

Do you think being a journalist previously helped you to get established as an author?

I think being a journalist meant that I am used to working with words and enjoy writing. The idea of penning, say 1,000 words from the off didn’t phase me, as it might do some other non-writers. But in a funny way, it hindered me for a while. For years you are taught to write about facts. Is this true? What backs it up? What are the figures for this trend, how can we explain it? The stress of editing on a national woman’s title never leaves you, as I’d remember how I’d look over the copy and wonder if it had been checked properly, when you found yourself ringing the writer to say, ‘so when you say that the coffee was black, was it actually black, can you remember it being black? What kind of black?’ And then realising that you took your job far too seriously.

When it came to fiction, I felt like I was free-falling; all my normal guide ropes for writing had vanished, I had to hold onto new ones. I spent a lot of time reading about how to write fiction: I was playing in a totally new playground this time and wasn’t always sure what the rules were. I remember thinking, once I got into my stride, ‘I’m making this up!’ as I tapped away at the keyboard, and was feeling slightly guilty! But it was fun, I was learning all the time – in fact, you never stop, do you?

How important do you think the old saying ‘write what you know’ is?

I think it can be very important, because then the writing will be from the heart. Also, I really feel you need to have lived a bit of life before you can write. Wasn’t it Joanna Trollope who said you can only create your ‘best works’ after you are 35? She felt that you needed life to have ‘knocked you about a bit’? I think that’s true. You have stories, feelings and emotions which you simply couldn’t mine out of yourself, say, in your early 20s.

As for writing about what you know, for me, having lived in Australia on and off for almost 10 years, I wanted to capture some of the essence of the country, some of the challenges it presents to you when you first get there (humorous and emotional ones) and I also wanted to remember its beauty and spirit; so for me, I certainly did write about ‘what I knew.’ Equally, however, you need to do your research and talk to people if you are ‘covering’ a topic or emotional situation that you know nothing about. For example, you need to read about or interview someone concerning about a particular journey they have had (IVF, cancer, bereavement, sibling rivalry etc) in order to be able to create believable characters who have travelled down the same road. JW & pink bubbles

What’s been your writing highlight so far?

I think reaching the number one spot in the Australia Kindle charts a couple of weeks ago, really was one of my absolute highlights. My husband came home and with a lovely bottle of pink champagne that night – it matches the cover! It was such a marker for me, for all the hard work, that it had reached that spot. So, thank you, Aussie readers!

If you had three writing-related wishes what would they be?

That I could have a machine that kept my coffee hot in my study. The number of times I re-heat my coffee, which has gone cold by my computer… That I could go on a week’s writing course or retreat and really take myself away from everyday life, when I need to read through my book and get expert help. That I could meet Allison Pearson in person!

What’s your connection with Australia (other than the fact that Jacaranda Wife is set there)?

Huge. The whole family have dual nationality and my youngest son was born there. I have lived there on and off for almost 10 years, but currently live in Surrey. I went straight to Sydney after I graduated with the intention of working around Australia and making cappuccinos for tourists. What in fact happened was that I got a job on a magazine and absolutely loved Sydney. After that, came the travelling, a move back to London, but then two other long periods back in Sydney. So I’ve lived there as a young working woman, travelled to every state except WA, I’ve been there without kids soaking up Sydney’s nightlife and beaches – learned to scuba dive on the barrier reef and body board on the Northern Beaches; I did a 1km ocean swim for charity – practically drowned when I thought a shark was underneath me, (in fact it was a diver employed to deter any possible sharks) – and have been back as a married mum with three children. We have great friends there too.  It’s definitely our second home.at winchester shot

What has surprised you most about being published?

You somehow imagine that once you are published, that that might be ‘it’.  Rather like when the lovely NCT woman talked to you about motherhood, the whole focus of the course was on giving birth. Having a baby, as everyone knows, is really just the start of a long learning curve. She forgot to mention the months of vomit and the sore tits. And giving ‘birth’ to a book is the same, you’ve got to grow and learn your trade once the book is published, much like parenting! There has been so much work to do in terms of networking, promoting Jacaranda Wife. All lovely things to do, but all very time consuming. And it’s been a very steep learning curve, but fantastic fun.

What are you working on now?

As well as all my Tweeting, Facebooking, buying surf boards for our next holiday, guest blogging and tearing three boys apart from fighting over one Kitkat, I’m writing my second book. It’s about three women who all have different wants and desires – plus a few secrets. Essentially, it’s about love, honesty and friendship.

Thank you so much for letting me take part!

Here’s a taste of Jacaranda Wife postcard shotWhen a double dip recession hits along with a tax bill, most people tighten their belts, cancel the summer holiday and look for the two-for-one offers. But not Katie Parkes. The home-loving mother of two from London finds herself tightening her seatbelt on a plane to Australia, where her husband has been sent to save their financial bacon. And, she realises, it might just be what they need to save their marriage… Trouble is, she doesn’t much like heat, can’t swim properly, hates spiders and finds herself further outside the M25 than is strictly necessary. Then there’s the Sydney yummy mummy with a cleavage you’d lose your car keys in eyeing up her husband, bouts of homesickness – and a few deadly spiders. Taking the bull by the horns (or at least pulling on an old Speedo) she tackles her fear of the ocean first. Find out how Katie copes in her new country – does it provide the spark to ignite her marriage, or send the whole thing up in smoke…?

Sophie King, best-selling author of The School Run: ‘An entertaining, fast-moving, page-turner for anyone dreaming of a new life….’

Kendra Smith has been a journalist, wife, mother, aerobics teacher, qualified diver and very bad cake baker. She started her career in Sydney selling advertising space in the late 80s. She has lived and worked in London and Sydney, working on Cosmopolitan, OK! Magazine and the BBC’s Eve as well as freelance for Woman & Home, Delicious, New Woman, Prima Baby and Junior. Born in sunny Singapore, she was educated in sub-zero Scotland, including Aberdeen University. She has lived in Australia three times. With dual Australian-British nationality, she currently lives in Surrey with her husband and three children.  Jacaranda Wife is her first novel and she is well underway with her second when she’s not burning food.

Find her on www.aforauthors.com and www.kendrasmith.co.uk or follow her on Twitter  @KendraAuthor or https://www.facebook.com/kendrasmithauthor Book link  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jacaranda-Wife-Kendra-Smith-ebook/dp/B00UZ2B3UE/ref

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Mega Monday Announcement – A Write Romantic Competition

Thomas1Christmas is Coming!  Okay, well there are 212 days to go, but The Write Romantics announced recently that we will be releasing a winter and Christmas themed anthology in November to raise funds for two incredibly worthwhile causes. The charities are the Teenage Cancer Trust, in memory of Stephen Sutton, a young man who stole all of our hearts, and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. We chose the CF Trust because of another gorgeous young man called Thomas, who is Write Romantic Alex’s nephew.Thomas2

Alex tells us not to be fooled by the pictures – although Thomas might look angelic, he can be a cheeky monkey too when he puts his mind to it! As you can see, Thomas spends far more time than he should not being well enough to let that cheeky side really shine through, which is why we think the CF Trust is such a wonderful cause, in how it strives to help children like Thomas and fund research into this horrible disease.

Winter1The Write Romantics have been absolutely thrilled by the support we have received so far with the anthology and Carol Cooper, who is the Sun Newspaper’s GP and wrote the fabulous One Night at the Jacaranda, which is a finalist in the 2014 Indie Excellence Awards, has agreed to write the introduction for us. We will also be joined by the following guest writers, who span a range of genres from romance, via fantasy to thrillers and back again!

 

  • Rhoda Baxter (author of Dr January)
  • Jennie Bohnet (author of Shadows of Conflict)
  • Sharon Booth (author of soon to be released There Must Be An Angel)
  • Kerry Fisher (author of The School Gate Survival Guide)
  • Linda Huber (author of The Paradise Trees)
  • Sarah Lewis (author of soon to be released My Eighties memoir)
  • Annie Lyon (author of Not Quite Perfect)
  • Zanna Mackenzie (author of If You Only Knew)
  • Holly Martin (author of The Guest Book)
  • Alison May (author of Much Ado About Sweet Nothing)
  • Terri Nixon (author of Maid of Oaklands Manor)
  • Sarah Painter (author of The Language of Spells)
  • Liv Thomas (co-author as Isabella Connor of Beneath an Irish Sky)
  • Samantha Tongue (author of Doubting Abbey)

We also owe a huge thanks to Mark Heslington, Write Romantic Julie’s super talented husband who has shared these three great winter themed photos with us and will be producing both the cover art for the book and taking care of the type-setting.  The anthology will also be the debut release of The Write Romantic Press.

winter4We can’t thank our lovely guests enough and the anthology will also showcase the work of the nine Write Romantics with everything from short stories to flash fiction and perhaps even a bit of Pam Ayres style poetry! So how can you get involved? Well, obviously you can buy the book when it comes out, getting a great read, packed with stories from the impressive list of writers we have on board, but you can also enter our competition. The Write Romantics are looking for a name for our anthology, so we invite you to send in your suggestions to thewriteromantics@hotmail.co.uk

IMG_0671Write Romantic Jo will be co-ordinating the entries and the rest of the WRs will then judge the entries blind, with Jo retaining the Simon Cowell vote in the event of a tie! The full terms and conditions will be sent out to you on entering the contest and the prize is in two parts, the first is a £20 voucher for Amazon and the second will be a mention of your contribution in the acknowledgements section of the book. The closing date for entries is 31 August 2014.  So please start sending those ideas for a title in and look out for more announcements about the anthology coming your way soon.

The Saturday Spotlight – Rhoda Baxter tells all!

Our guest on the blog this week is Rhoda Baxter.  Rhoda  started off in the South of England and pinged around the world a bit until she ended up in the North of England, where the cakes are better. Along the way she collected one husband, two kids, a few (ahem) extra stone in weight and a DPhil in molecular biology (but not necessarily in that order). She had a childhood ambition to be an astronaut or at least 5 feet tall. Having failed at both of these, she now writes humorous novels instead.

Her first novel, Patently in Love was a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award and was a top ten finalist in the 2012 Preditors and Editors poll for romance reads. Her third novel, Dr January will be published by Choc Lit Publishing in autumn 2014. 

Rhoda B new photo

Hi Rhoda, welcome to the Write Romantics blog and thank you for agreeing to be our guest this week.  We’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far and what was the very first thing you did when you heard you’d got a publishing deal?

Thank you so much for inviting me in for a chat. It’s nice to sit here in the warm when it’s so wet and cold outside.

My writing journey was pretty long. I won’t bore you with the details (if you really want to know, there’s a blog post about it here: http://rhodabaxter.com/2013/10/25/two-emails-abo…22nd-of-a-book/).  I went to a talk once where they took a poll of the authors around the table as to how many books they wrote before they were published. The average was 3.5 books. I’d written 3 books and was on my fourth by the time Patently in Love was picked up by a publisher.

Yes, please, I’d love a cup of tea. Milk please. No sugar. Thanks.

In all honesty, I can’t remember what I thought when I first got the email.  It was a mad old time as I’d just started a new job after moving from Oxfordshire to East Yorkshire and my youngest was still only a tiny wee baby. I do remember buying a celebratory cheesecake though. Very nice it was too.

What are you most looking forward to about your publication with Choc Lit and moving away from the e-book only approach?

Without a doubt, it’s the idea of having a physical book in my hands. Having a book only in ebook format should be no different to have a print book – real people still buy them and read them and review them. But there’s something about the physical book that you can put on a book shelf and stroke and cuddle… I think it’s a generational thing. We grew up with paper books and they ‘feel’ more real to us than ebooks. My Mum reads my books on her computer, but doesn’t really feel they’re ‘real’. My kids, on the other hand, are perfectly at home with ebooks and print books alike. They tend to get jam on things though and a Kindle is easier to wipe clean than a paper book.

I’m also looking forward to doing some real life promotion for my books. So far I’ve concentrated on doing everything online, because I’ve only had ebooks to promote. When I have a print book I can take along with me, I will try and do some talks to libraries and at local events.

Lastly, of course, I’m looking forward to the celebratory cheesecake I’m going to treat myself to. Mmmm… cake… Sorry, zoned out there for a moment. What was the next question?

Do you have any writing superstitions e.g. writing in the same place, using a certain pen etc?

In an ideal world, I would. I’d have a special desk (very tidy, naturally), and a special mug and a special pair of pants to wear when I’m writing. In reality, my desk looks nothing like that, so I end up writing my books sitting in bed at the end of the day.

I don’t really mind, so long as I get to write. I do wish I could see the surface of my desk now and again though.

HAB

What are you working on now and what are your writing goals for the next 5 years?

5 years! You make it sound like it’s normal to have a plan! (What do you mean it is? Damn. That explains a lot). It’s not possible to plan that far ahead because life tends to get in the way. If you’d told me four years ago that I’d be relocating to the North East, with a three month old baby and a three year old in tow, whilst DH and I both start new jobs and I try to get a writing career off the ground, I’d have laughed  at you on the grounds that no one is THAT mental.

What am I working on now? I’ve just submitted the 2015 book called Please Release Me (which is set in a hospice) to Choc Lit. I’m trying to figure out what to write next. Something with the whole email/prose mix again, I think. I have my characters, but need to figure out what happens to them. I’ve also got to do some promotion for the Truly, Madly, Deeply Anthology which is coming out in February.  I’m very excited to have my story included in a book that’s got stories by Katie Fforde, Judy Astley, Carole Matthews and other famous people.

How do you keep creating new and entirely different characters as you write more and more books?

I don’t know. They just turn up.  Sorry, that’s not a good answer, is it? But it’s true. It’s like Paddingtion Station in my imagination. Characters turn up in my head and I have to find stories for them. I usually find the men easier to think up than the women. I love my heroes.

I don’t do character sheets and character interviews like some people do. I’m too lazy for that. Quite often I write my way into the characters by writing a few extra scenes before the story really starts so that I can get a feel for their voice. Sometimes there’s a key aspect I have to get right before they ‘click’. Once that happens, it’s easy to hear and see them.

I’ve never tried to analyse where these people came from, in case they stop coming. If it ain’t broke…

It sounds like your professional life and your writing persona are two different worlds.  How do you cope with the different approaches to writing and has this ever caused you any conflict?

My work writing is very analytical and matter of fact. Details need to be spelled out. My fiction writing is about subtlety and emotion. In that sense they are very different. On the other hand, the technical writing needs to be structured, with all the introductory information in place, arguments made and neatly tied up into the conclusion. The same is true of a novel.

With work, I’m allowed to be boring in what I write (apparently, people don’t like jokes in their technical summaries. Huh).  With fiction boring your reader is a definite no-no.

One of the Write Romantics, Alex, is also a lawyer and it’s not a world that has ever made her think of romance fiction.  What gave you the idea for Patently in Love?

Marshall from Patently in Love has been around in my head for a long long time. When I was plotting the book,I realised that the combination of email and prose would work really well as an office romance. So I picked an office I knew and used it as a setting. I didn’t use anyone I knew as characters, but I did include a few jokes about the obsession with hierarchy that seemed to be prevalent in that environment.  It also meant that I didn’t need to cross check patent related bits of the plot. (A good thing too because one of the big IP blogs reviewed the book. It would have been awful if they’d found a glaring error!)

Who is your favourite character from any of the books that you have written so far and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?

My favourite character of all is Hibs, the hero of the next book Dr January (due to be released in autumn by Choc Lit). He has a PhD in molecular biology, long dark hair, lovely high cheekbones and is an expert in karate. He’s really funny and sexy and I had a crush on him when I wrote it.

Hibs wasn’t based in anyone real (if only!), but after I wrote the book, I realised I’d effectively taken the character of Edward Cullen from Twilight and split him into two men. The lovely, adoring, caring side (in Hibs) and the controlling, domineering, stalkery side (in Gordon).  Both men are gorgeous – naturally.

We’ve heard that some writers use pictures they find, of celebrities or sometimes photographs that they just happen upon, 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?

I don’t do that, although I should. If I found a picture of Hibs from Dr January, I’d definitely enjoy looking at him from time to time.

The mental picture of my characters tend to start fuzzy and solidify as I write the introductory scenes. I know I’ll cut those scenes out eventually, but they’re still useful for finding out who the characters are.  Weirdly, I often forget what colour their eyes are, so I need a post it on my laptop screen to remind me.

What piece of advice would you give yourself about writing if you could go back to your pre-publication days?

Remember that it’s a long game. Your first book is not the only book you’ll write (in fact, it’s not even the best book you’ll ever write because you’ll learn and grow as a writer with each subsequent book).  Have patience and keep going. You’ll get your break eventually

Oh, and get some sleep, while you still can.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

The best thing – you’re never alone. There’s people in your head all the time.

The worst thing – you’re never alone. There’s people in your head all the time, insisting that you write stuff down.

Anything else you’d like to share with us or advice you can give would be gratefully received!

Write stuff you want to read. Even if the first draft is crap.

Find a good critique partner (or join the NWS!) and listen to what they say. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but make sure you give it good consideration before you dismiss it.

Keep going. The more you write, the better you’ll get.  All authors were unpublished writers once.

Read how to books. You won’t learn anything new, but it may shift something you already knew into a new light.

Read a lot of books in your genre. Call it market research if you like.

Enjoy it! Otherwise, why do it?

Thank you very much for having me over. It was a lovely cup of tea.

Good luck with your writing careers. I’m sure it won’t be long before you’re all published.

Find out more about Rhoda:

She can be found wittering on about science, comedy and cake on her website www.rhodabaxter.com  or on Facebook or Twitter (@rhodabaxter).

You can buy Rhoda’s books here:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BUEKFX2/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Having-Ball-Email-Ice-Cream-ebook/dp/B00BUEKFX2/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Kobo UK: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/having-a-ball

All other formats (including non-DRM PDF) from the publisher’s site: https://www.uncialpress.com/Rhoda-Baxter