July has been very mixed in the UK, and the heatwave with record temperatures didn’t last long! For a few days it bought the country to a standstill in some areas, but as the month came to an end, the rain fell hard in lovely Lancashire, where I live. Fred, my Westie, despite being brushed and ready, is not keen on getting wet…
The newsletter this month begins with a giveaway. Would you like to virtually jet off to Barbados with a lovely feel-good read?
Coffee Tea the Caribbean & Me was Thomson Holidays InFlight Magazine’s recommended summer read, and I am offering a personally signed copy. Simply head over to my Facebook page and comment on why you’d like to win, or you can email your comment to me. Please use the links below:
The winner will be announced on 12th August. Open internationally. Last month’s giveaway winner was BETHAN DAVIES who is now enjoying her virtual Spa Break and goodies.
I had a trip to Majorca. Puerta Pollensa is a lovely area in the north of the Island, and it was a very relaxing break. But I came home and tested positive for Covid not long afterwards and have been quite unwell in the following weeks. The second time for me with the dreaded virus. I hope you have managed to steer clear, but if not, please take good care and look after yourselves.
HARPER COLLINS SUMMER PARTY
I was thrilled to be invited to the Harper Collins Summer Party. It was a grand affair in the garden at the Victoria and Albert Museum in Knightsbridge, London. I spent the evening chatting with many lovely authors and folks from the world of publishing, including some famous names and celebrities.
THE SPA BREAK IN PAPERBACK
My new novel, The Spa Break, came out in paperback on July 7th, and I thank everyone who has read it. Your reviews are massively appreciated, as are your comments on social media. The book seems to have ticked the box for both young and older readers. If you have yet to visit The Spa Break, I hope your virtual stay will leave you happy and uplifted as you make friends with Bridgette, Emily, Serena and Marjory. They all have life-changing experiences during their stay, and as I am a great believer in coming out of your comfort zone, especially as we get older, I hope their exploits will encourage you too.
Covid kept me out of the water, but happily, I am back, and my swims in the local lake and the sea when the tide is high have been such a joy.
I am ploughing through my talks this year and was delighted to be asked to speak in Preston last week. It was a full house and a very lively audience, many of whom stayed to chat afterwards at my book signing. Thanks to everyone who came along on the day.
As August begins, I shall be hard at work on my new novel. The Cruise will be published next year by One More Chapter (Harper Collins UK), and I am enjoying creating new characters for you to meet very soon. Would anyone like to read more adventures of Hattie & Jo from the Coffee Tea series? I feel they are just waiting for me to put pen to paper, so they can get up to more escapades. Do let me know. I love to hear from readers.
I hope these months find you well and happy, wherever you are in the world.
January is drawing to a close and here in Lancashire in the north west of England it has been an unusually mild month. Living close to the Lake District in Cumbria I’ve enjoyed the short drive to park then wander, for some happy dog walks with Fred, our Westie. My favourite lake is Ullswater, and you can see from these photos how beautiful it is. On a misty January day, the lake and mountains have an ethereal quality of their own. All the seasons are glorious and it’s no wonder the area is famed for producing so many poets and writers.
I am delighted to say that my new novel, The Spa Break is publishing in a few weeks and you can pre-order it today at the promo price of only 99p (the promo price may differ in each country). The ebook will automatically land on your e-reader on publication day. The paperback will follow a few weeks after the ebook.
The publisher is One More Chapter (HarperCollins UK) and I was thrilled to be contacted last year by Charlotte Ledger, the Publishing Director, who had an idea for a novel and asked me if I would expand her thoughts and write the book. The Spa Break finds four friends on a relaxing weekend away to celebrate a big birthday. But as the days unfold, the spa soon has these spicy sexagenarians realising that there are unexpected benefits to age and experience, and that over the hill certainly doesn’t mean out of the game. I loved bringing new characters to life and I hope that this feel-good, funny novel will be one that you enjoy.
Emily, Bridgette, Marjory and Serena are entertaining characters and I hope that I will be writing more about their escapades in future books. If this newsletter lands in the hands of any book reviewers, please get in touch for an ARC copy.
I’m enjoying reading novels by Marius Gabriel and am currently reading The Parisians. He has a wonderful ability to mix fiction with history during WWII, when Paris was occupied. Using real characters in his novels, especially from the world of fashion, such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, he brings the stories to life. Clever writing and highly recommended.
This month I have a signed copy of Hattie Goes to Hollywood to giveaway. To enter please go to my Facebook page or you can email me using the address below. Just comment why you would like to receive the book and you will automatically be entered into the draw. Good luck!
I am delighted to host the lovely best-selling author Lizzie Chantree to my blog today, as she celebrates the publication of her fabulous new novel ‘Shh…It’s Our Secret’
Shh… It’s Our Secret, by Lizzie Chantree
Thank you for inviting me onto your blog today Caroline. I’m so excited to be sharing news of my latest book with your readers.
Shh… It’s Our Secret, is about a young woman called Violet, who is learning to accept who she is and trust herself throughout the book. She has low self-esteem, which isn’t helped by a domineering boyfriend, but throughout the story she finds her voice and decides to take a chance and share a secret she’s hidden for too long. The secret could change the lives of the café regulars where she works, and transform the town she lives in.
The story follows her journey of self-discovery and she has to pluck up the courage to leave a man who doesn’t appreciate her, rebuild her confidence and be true to herself. Can someone who shies from the limelight, step out of the shadows and show the world how incredible she really is?
Violet has a secret that could change the lives of everyone she knows and loves, especially the regulars at the run-down café bar where she works. After losing her parents at a young age, they are the closest thing she has to a family and she feels responsible for them.
Kai is a jaded music producer who has just moved outside of town. Seeking solitude from the stress of his job, he’s looking for seclusion. The only problem is he can’t seem to escape the band members and songwriters who keep showing up at his house.
When Kai wanders into the bar and Violet’s life, he accidently discovers her closely guarded secret. Can Kai help her rediscover her self-confidence or should some secrets remain undiscovered?
International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex.
Today, I am joined by Carol Thomas – a successful author of women’s fiction/romance, who also writes for children. Her new book Being a A Friend at Christmasis now available and is absolutely delightful. A book that I will be putting in all the Christmas presents for the little ones in our family this year.
The book is beautifully illustrated, by Carol, and I am delighted to chat to this very talented author about her writing life.
What inspired a successful writer of romance to create a children’s book?
I didn’t set out to write a children’s book, but my first, Finding a Friend, came to me almost fully formed. It was one of those moments, as a writer, you know you should note down. I had been reading my son a bedtime story, looked at a picture of him and our dog on his wall, and just started saying it. It then took just over a year to complete and publish the book, with the illustrations being done by the very talented Drew Bristow, an illustrator living in Brighton.
Being a Friend at Christmas, is the second in the Little Pup series, though each can be read as a standalone story. In this story, Little Pup is looking forward to his first Christmas in his new home, but he remembers the dogs he left behind in the shelter. He has a plan, but he needs Father Christmas’ help to make his wish come true. I can’t resist happy endings, maybe it’s the romance writer in me, but I knew I wanted to write this book soon after the first came out. It became a labour of love during lockdown, especially as I illustrated it too.
The illustrations are delightful – have you had any formal training?
That’s very kind of you. No, though for some time I doodled and kept sketchbooks, partly because I like drawing and find it relaxing, but also because it was encouraged as part of my teacher training. I must admit that having the illustrations in Finding a Friend as a guide helped and lockdown gave me the time I needed to practice and create the pictures.
What age group is the book marketed to?
It is written for under 7s. As a teacher, I wanted to write books that could be shared and enjoyed again and again. The text is purposefully rhythmic and rhyming to engage early readers, while little ones can join in and anticipate words and phrases. The illustrations are colourful and each story can inspire a conversation about the puppy’s thoughts and feelings.
The story and verse are charming, did it take long to put together?
For Being a Friend, I was writing to an idea and wanted to ensure I followed the same rhythm and rhyme scheme as Finding a Friend, and so it did take a little longer to complete. For a long time, I had most of it written but couldn’t make a couple of verses fit. I stepped away for a couple of months and returned to it afresh. I am thrilled with it now.
Going forward: Children v Adult writing – what do you prefer?
I enjoy both. Ruby Fiction, an imprint of Choc Lit, publishes my romance books, and so I have to prioritise time for them, but I also love creating children’s books, that I self publish. The process is different for each but ultimately rewarding.
Did you find the self-publishing process difficult?
I’d say challenging rather than difficult. There are still things to do with the process I’d like to be better at and to know more about but I am proud of what I’ve achieved. Being traditionally published too, I think it’s good to have the insight into both routes to publishing.
What can we expect from you next?
I am marketing Being a Friend at Christmas. I have a novel currently with my publisher, Choc Lit (fingers crossed they like it) and I am writing a Christmas novel that I hope will come out in 2021. I am crazily busy as I have also recently taken on a new teaching role working in year six, and, of course, must ensure I have quality time with my family and dog too – especially as they keep me sane!
Carol Thomas writes for both adults and children: Her contemporary romance novels, have relatable heroines whose stories are layered with emotion, sprinkled with laughter and topped with irresistible male leads; while her children’s books have irresistibly cute, generally furry characters young children can relate to.
Its been an absolute pleasure to chat to Carol and don’t forget that you can purchase Being a Friend At Christmas now, I think it is a perfect book for children and not just at Christmas.
On the publication of Summer Days at the Beach, Author Morton S Gray shares her lockdown recipes and tells us why food features in her novels.
For the last nine months, we have been a household of five after some complications with a house move, which I won’t go into here! Most of the meal preparation has fallen to me and I have found this a little stressful, especially during lockdown when five of us were homeworking and eating three meals a day too. How to keep meals fresh and interesting when the last thing you want to do is to cook again?
Inevitably, some of my staple meals find their way into my books. My husband’s favourite food is beans on cheese on toast, so I can rest assures that if all else fails that meal will be well received by him. (This meal featured in my novel The Truth Lies Buried).
I am always very conscious of the addition of food and drink in my novels. In my latest book, Sunny Days at the Beach, my heroine takes in an abandoned teenager and finds herself making not only packed lunches, but having to think more about meals than when she was a singleton.
Mandy, the heroine, prepares another of my staple meals – bacon, cheese and vegetables with pasta, affectionately known in this house as clean out the fridge pasta! Nick, the teenager in the book is obsessed by pizza and tries to order it at any restaurant they visit. Nick gets tuna and mayo sandwiches for his school packed lunch and discovers a liking for berry smoothies from the beach-side café.
Sunny Days at the Beachhas a gin distiller as a hero. My unsuspecting husband was ‘treated’ to a visit to a gin distillery for his birthday, thinly disguised as my research trip! At the distillery, we learned all about the botanicals, or flavourings, added to the gin to give it a unique taste. I will admit to being fascinated by the possibilities for flavouring gin and some of this filters through into the book.
I’m always alarmed by how much tea and coffee my characters drink in a book, but then I drink a fair few cups a day myself!
Clean out the fridge pasta recipe
Meat – you can use cooked bacon, ham, cooked chicken or even mushrooms.
Vegetables – whatever you have to hand – I usually steam a combination of peas, sweetcorn and edme beans.
Mayonnaise (mixed with mustard if you like it).
Salt and pepper to taste.
When your ingredients are cooked combine them all in a large saucepan with the cheese, salt and pepper and a generous helping of mayonnaise. Mix and serve. It really is that simple. Enjoy!
About the Author – Morton S Gray
Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.
Her debut novel The Girl on the Beachwas published after she won the Choc Lit Publishing Search for a Starcompetition in 2016. This story follows a woman with a troubled past as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her son’s new headteacher, Harry Dixon.
Morton’s second book for Choc Lit The Truth Lies Buried is another romantic suspense novel, The story of Jenny Simpson and Carver Rodgers as they uncover secrets from their past.
Christmas at Borteen Bay is Morton’s first Christmas novella. It is set in her fictional seaside town of Borteen and follows the story of Pippa Freeman, who runs the Rose Court Guest House with her mother, and local policeman Ethan Gibson, as they unravel a family secret as Christmas approaches.
Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a fully qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.
You can catch up with Morton with the following links:-
From party nights at the pub to sunny days at the beach …
Craft shop owner Mandy Vanes has always enjoyed a commitment-free singleton lifestyle — in fact, she’s well-known for her wild ways in her small seaside town on the coast.
But when local teenager, Nick Crossten, turns to her for help, Mandy has the opportunity to prove she can be a responsible adult. Although things get tricky when gin distillery owner Graham Frankley comes to town with some unexpected news.
Could this mean that Mandy the party girl is finally ready to grow up?
I’m thrilled to have Morton S Gray on my blog today. Morton’s latest book, The Truth Lies Buried, is now available in paperback and audible as well as all ebook platforms. Morton, like me, loves beautiful Cumbria…
Thank you for inviting me over to your blog, Caroline. When you asked me to Meet the Author, I tried to think of a linking factor between us to spark the blog post and came up with The Lake District! Why? Because your super novel The Best Boomerville Hotel is set there and I have enjoyed many holidays in the area over the years. So, I thought I’d talk about a few snapshots from those visits.
A favourite teenage holiday photograph sees me on the ferry across Lake Windermere. I had just become conscious of what I wore and can still remember the feel of the turquoise flared trousers and green floaty tunic top. I felt amazing.
Fast forward to when my eldest son was small – I used to take him to the Lakes at least once a year. After driving up the motorway, I very often couldn’t face the car for a few days, so we used to explore by bus or ferry and had lots of fun. One year, son insisted on wearing his pirate bandana and carrying his plastic sword all of the time – surprisingly we made lots of friends that year.
Fast forward again and I had my first holiday with my now husband in Bassenthwaite. Hubbie severely overestimated both my level of fitness and the length of walk across the fells I could cope with. I had never climbed that far up a hill in my life and had never seen Windermere laid before me like a map as we were so high up. I think it was when I was exhausted and finding it difficult to put one foot in front of the other on the scree slope on the way down that I began to seriously question whether our relationship had a future! (P.S. we’ve been married sixteen years!)
We’ve had several holidays with youngest son in the Lakes (who if we were celebrities should by rights be called Bassenthwaite, but he gets embarrassed when I say that!), but these days it’s usually hubbie and I on our Lakes holidays whilst youngest son is on some school camp or other.
Our favourite place to stay is Grasmere, as you can walk off in all directions without having to travel in the car. Last year, we stayed at the lovely Daffodil Hotel on the banks of Grasmere Lake. And, no trip to the Lakes is complete without a visit to the wonderful restaurant, The Jumble Room.
Thank you, Caroline, I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about Lakeland holidays, but what I really wanted to tell your readers and that feels almost cheeky now, was about the paperback and audiobook release of my second novel for Choc Lit, The Truth Lies Buried on 12 March 2019. You’ll find details below.
Two years ago, I walked out of my life. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. In midlife, many women are settled with plans in place for their later years but I wanted change and couldn’t continue to live in an environment that no longer felt right, working at a job that was wrong for me.
So often we hear, ‘You only have one life, make the most of it, live each day as if it’s your last.’ But how many of us do that?
For years, I’d taken care of my mum, who passed away suffering from dementia. I’d raised my family, looked after other people and worked very hard. I’ve had a great life and there have been some amazing highs but life was no longer sitting comfortably with me and a voice in my head said, ‘Change it, before it’s too late.’ Making drastic changes involves big decisions and selling my house and walking away from the working world that I was a part of and my friendship circle, was tough.
But taking that leap of faith was the best thing I ever did.
I’d always had a dream. I wanted to be an author, to write stories and sell books. But I never thought I was good enough.
Now as my body clock was ticking, my literary one was too, so in the first few months of my new life, I sat in the Caribbean sunshine, glued myself to a laptop and wrote, The Best Boomerville Hotel, then found a wonderful publisher who believed in me and suddenly my writing took on a more serious note. Boomerville is all about embracing the middle and later years. In my research for the book, I discovered that in the UK, one in three people over the age of 50 live on their own, a statistic that would never have stood in my parent’s generation. Things are changing, we live longer and are fitter and healthier in our later years and I’d love mid-lifers to look positively at getting older and embrace new challenges. As the government introduces social activities on prescription, to combat loneliness for isolated people, opportunities are out there to do something different and stimulate learning and new experiences, unexpected friendships and possibly love.
In the writing world, I admired authors like Mary Wesley who had her first adult novel published at the age of 71 and Frank McCourt who wrote Angela’s Ashes at 66. Many writers flourish as they get older, by which time they’ve mastered their craft. I chose to write on a full-time basis and it was the best decision I’ve made in years.
Whatever your age, whatever you might do, a fresh challenge can feel like a rebirth, so don’t be afraid of coming out of your comfort zone, be afraid of staying in it. It’s never too late to being a new career.
I’ve long been a fan of Sandra Danby’s writing and with the publication of her new book, Connectedness, it was a good opportunity to have a chat with the author herself…
Tell me a little about Sandra Danby the person and why you write. I write because I can’t not write. It’s what I love doing… telling a story, finding the right way to tell it, inventing things, shaping it. Any day away from my desk feels like a lost day. I have loved reading from my Janet and John days through Enid Blyton to Mary Stewart, then an English degree followed by +35 years as a journalist. When I had the chance to write fiction seriously I found it difficult to unshackle myself from my journalism training, to loosen up and let my imagination go rather than worry about researching facts and getting everything right. I’m getting there now.
I love the cover of your new book, Connectedness, can you explain why you chose this?
It is lovely, isn’t it? I’m so pleased with my ‘Identity Detective’ series covers, they were designed for me by Jessica Bell who asked incisive questions about characters, imagery, themes, symbols and excerpts before starting work. The tree represents our connections to known and unknown branches of our family, and it is the recurring image of all my book covers. The nodding woman was Jessica’s idea and it is a wonderful way of showing Connectedness is the story of one woman at two different stages of her life; as a twenty-something art student, and as successful artist in her fifties. As mature adults, we are all the sum of our previous life experiences and Justine Tree, the artist in Connectedness, certainly is.
The title came early in the writing process, one day I was playing with words to do with family, relations, , identity, the sense of belonging, connections, and ‘Connectedness’ came into my mind clearly and strongly. The step of making it into the name of Justine’s new art collection came much later when I was re-drafting.
This is the second book in the Identity Detective series. Can you explain what the series is all about?
Rose Haldane reunites the people lost through adoption. The stories you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. Each book in the ‘Identity Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, Ignoring Gravity, it is Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby. Connectedness is the story of a birth mother and her longing to see her baby again. Sweet Joy, the third novel that I’m writing now, will tell the story of a baby abandoned during The Blitz. Each novel is a mystery about adoption reunion, family secrets and romance, lost and found.
It is a clever author who links their books in a series this way. Is the subject matter personal to you? Do you identify with the lead character Rose Haldane or is she like anyone you know?
I’m asked this a lot! I write adoption mysteries but I’m not myself adopted. I was however over-imaginative as a child, the youngest of three with quite a gap before I came along. So I used to imagine exotic parents who were foreign, royal, adventurers, the usual childhood fantasies. As I grew older this developed into a fascination of how we become who we are; is it blood and genes, or upbringing and experience? A mixture of the two? And if you were a cuckoo in the family but not told about it, would you sense it? Rose is a journalist because I was one and I knew her world but though she started off as a mixture of myself and my fellow journalists, she evolved into her own person.
What’s next in the series?
Sweet Joy tells the story of Theresa, an elderly lady who feels she has one last chance to answer the questions of her birth. On the night of November 29, 1940, Twickenham endured a horrendous night of bombing in The Blitz. In the rubble of a bombed house, an ARP warden finds a baby untouched by the devastation. She is healthy and obviously cared for, but she is alone and no adults are found near her and no one claims her.
The locations in Connectedness are beautifully described. Do you have a strong knowledge of Filey (Yorkshire), Málaga (Spain) and London and if so, what are your connections and why did you want to write about these locations?
Yes I know each of the locations intimately and hope it shows in my writing. I grew up on the East Yorkshire coast and, though I merged several locations into one and invented Justine’s cliff top home Seaside Cottage, the place is very dear to me. I have lived in and around London since I was eighteen when I travelled south to university while Spain has been my home for the last ten years. We live inland from Málaga in the beautiful countryside around Ronda and are frequent visitors to the city for its art, its food and the beaches. I used many of my experiences as a newcomer in a foreign country to enrich Justine’s arrival in Málaga as a foreign student at art college. Her struggles with ordering coffee, buying bread and attempts to make herself understood are things that happened to me.
You cover the art world in depth in Connectedness – did this involve a great deal of research?
A fair amount of research and reading but I can’t say it was hard work. I have always loved art but never studied it so I had a very superficial understanding. I gradually built up my knowledge by reading, watching documentaries and visiting exhibitions, by not limiting myself to artists I was familiar with but consciously exploring periods and styles new to me. The Málaga location also provided the connection to Pablo Picasso who was born in the city. He was a childhood inspiration for Justine as she, like the young Picasso, drew the birds she saw around her every day as a child, mostly seabirds and pigeons.
You have received some fabulous reviews for Connectedness – will we be seeing more in this series and when?
Thank you! I am a slow writer so it will be three years or so before we see Sweet Joy. I often wish I could write quicker but I have health issues that make it difficult for me to spend long periods at the computer. So I tend to break up my days, combining writing one novel at the computer and then later in the day taking a break away from my desk while researching the next. So I am currently researching book four in the ‘Identity Detective’ series, currently title-less, which will be set again in Yorkshire.
What’s your favourite and why:
Book. Pride and Prejudice
Tipple Does tea count? I’m tee-total now as alcohol stopped agreeing with me.
Outfit I’m a jeans and t-shirt girl, a scarf around my neck and New Balance trainers on my feet.
Film All the President’s Men. The film that made me aspire to be a journalist. My second choice is another Redford film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. What a fantastic script by William Goldman.
TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING
Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.
Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?
This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.
A family mystery for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore.
Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted.
The blurb also tells me that this book and accompanying cookery series is an, “Entertaining journey of an Englishman struggling with the ups and downs of living in rural Italy.”
I was hesitant to read something with a title that suggests a gloomy outcome but having spent time in the area of Italy so lovingly described, I was curious and decided to plough on. I am so pleased that I did.
Stephen Phelps gave up a successful career in television, to make a TV cookery series in Tuscany, a region of Italy that he had come to love. His partner, Tam, can’t cook but inspired by neighbour Lia, a great cook, he is persuaded to embark on a six-part series. The book that followed and the series, A Recipe For Disaster outlines their many encounters with the real Italy – a world away from the picture-book ideal of summer holidays in Tuscany. I was keen to throw some questions to Stephen and learn about his experience…
Stephen, welcome to my blog. I adored your book but the title of your book seems an ominous premonition of things to come, did you chose the title before or after filming and writing and why?
I chose the title after making the series and just before completing the book. It was originally to be called MY BIG ITALIAN IDEA, and I think you can still find traces of that in the text. It starts for instance with the notion that our neighbour Lia was trying to sell us on a “Big Idea.”
Other than the 30-degree heat in August what was the most difficult thing you experienced during filming?
That’s easy, the lack of a fully-trained and properly equipped support crew. As exemplified by the problems we faced when we came to record the sound during filming in the tight confines of the kitchen. Here’s a clip from the book about that particular problem:
Now here’s something else you can’t get in a small country town in Italy at a moment’s notice – a boom. Professional sound recordists use a specially designed telescopic arm that allows them to get their microphone into the best possible position without getting in the shot. Sometimes they can be twelve or fifteen feet away and still get a microphone close enough to pick up a whisper. And somehow, by magic, they seem to know just exactly how close they can get without their fluffy grey windsock peeking into shot. … We didn’t have a windsock (of course), nor did we have a “specially designed telescopic arm”. So we had to improvise. Fifteen minutes later we were ready. The arc lights were switched on and I swung my “boom” into position. The microphone was now attached to the end of a broom handle with a red and white striped towel wrapped around it to act as a windsock. This was the Dunkirk spirit in action.
What is Tam’s favourite recipe and why?
Her favourite recipe from the series is the Simple Onion Soup, because a) it’s the one she could really cook on her own, and b) it’s Simple! But there’s one dish that I cook occasionally that she absolutely loves – chicken breasts wrapped in pancetta, drizzled with balsamic vinegar (the real, expensive, stuff) and honey, then baked in the oven for 20 minutes. Always guarantees me a compliment about my cooking.
I tried the Simple Onion Soup recipe and it is absolutely delicious! But moving on, would you recommend self-financing to other would-be film-makers?
Not unless they can’t avoid it. The pros are many. You are your own boss, and you can decide exactly what you want to do. If you get money from a broadcaster they will Inevitably be very prescriptive about how they want the series made. There’s more good news in that you hang on to all the rights to the show. But the bad news is that you have to find the way to get it out into the marketplace and then you have to do all the marketing yourself. Having said that, there are mechanisms like Quiver Digital now available for getting self-financed programme out there. Make no mistake though, filming the series is the easy bit!
Was it difficult to stick to budget and why?
In truth we had no actual budget. We just started, paying for things as and when they came up. Then, as it became apparent that we were actually going to get the material for a proper series, we began to encounter real outside costs like the editing of the series. And that’s when we had to be very sure that we were going to get something saleable at the end of it – otherwise it would have been money down the drain.
Have you any advice to would-be, self-financing film-makers?
Don’t do it! Unless and until you cannot find a proper outlet for the kind of work you really want to do. And be very sure that you have a clear marketing strategy in place before you start on this road.
What was the best bit about making a cookery series other than tasting the delicious recipes?
Travelling around and meeting the local farmers, the people who make the cheese and salami and so on.
What is the reaction of your friends and neighbours in Le Marche by this project?
Very positive. So far. After the recent earthquakes the region needs a boost to its tourism prospects and I think they see this as very helpful in that respect. Most of the neighbours don’t speak any English though – so I could be saying anything about them. But they trust me, thank goodness!
Will you make more episodes and if so, what would the content be?
Yes, but only if this series really takes off and delivers some financial return. We shot this first series in high summer, and we always had a vague plan to do a series for each of the four seasons. The seasons here are markedly different, and so is the food that gets eaten. Chestnuts are really plentiful and delicious right now for instance.
Do you think online viewing with content by independents is here to stay and a good way to market a series? Please explain your thoughts.
I would like to think so. But whether it will be in the form of “conventional” series like COOKUCINA or through much shorter clips of the sort that populate YouTube is another question. We did think for a while of producing a series of Cookucina shorts for YouTube – but maybe that is for another day. The real issue is where does the money come from. Traditional TV costs a great deal of money to make (often upwards of $50,000 an hour). It’s by no means clear what future, online, financial model will generate the funds to support those kind of production values. It’s what we have tried to do with Cookucina, but so far we are well out of pocket. The good news, though, is that it can stay on sale for ever, and with the right promotion maybe its time will come!
Your writing is very eloquent and makes great reading. (Thank you for that, Caroline!) Did you do an MA in creative writing to assist in script writing or have you found it has helped in other areas?
I thought I was going to make a living as a TV dramatist, but in fact I have written a lot of radio drama for the BBC, but no TV. I have three full-length screenplays waiting to be discovered, and I do have to say that the scriptwriting training taught me a lot about how to structure when I sat down to write my first book.
What’s next for Stephen Phelps?
No idea! I am a great one for just picking up the next thing that comes along and running with it. Having said that, I have just started on a rather difficult novel (my first). I’d like to think I have a good novel in me – but then don’t we all?
Thanks for joining me on my blog and good luck with your venture.
I try not to get upset by a bad review but I had a real stinker recently and it hurt.
The book in question hasn’t had a review below four stars and most are five, but along comes a one star, which the reviewer says she gave grudgingly and her review is vile. The book clearly didn’t float her boat and looking at her other reviews I can see it wasn’t her usual genre and I wondered why she bothered to read the book at all, let alone leave such a vitriolic opinion on a very public space.
Recently I read a poor review of a book and was so incensed by the arrogant attitude of the reviewer that I immediately bought the book – a sort of two-finger cyber salute. I then went on to enjoy the book immensely. Reading matter is subjective and what suits one doesn’t always suit another.
We are influenced by reviews, whether when buying books, goods or services and have an absolute right to report on poor quality workmanship but shouldn’t reviews, be useful to other people? Positive reviews almost never get challenged but a negative review instantly draws the reader to the reviewer’s poor opinion.
Reviews are incredibly helpful, good and bad. My debut book was self-published and I made grammatical mistakes which were soon screamed out through reviews and never again did a manuscript or piece of work go online unless it was polished to perfection. Reviews stay online forever, you can’t press delete.
I love reviewers, readers and bloggers who review – what author doesn’t? These lovely people read your work and then take the time and trouble to pen their thoughts and opinions and publish online. There is nothing more heartening than being told that someone has genuinely enjoyed your work – months, maybe years of hard slog disappear in a moment of sheer joy, knowing that your story enhanced someone’s life if only for a short while.
I asked a popular reviewer for their tips on reviewing and the comment was, “Be respectful, keep it real and write your review well.”
A negative comment, taken in the right spirit can be very helpful but I do wonder what is behind the mind of a person who slates a book with pure hate.