INTERVIEW

October 2011

CAROLE MATTHEWS

English author Carole Matthews has written about 20 novels since her debut, Let’s Meet on Platform 8, was published in 1997. Her latest novel is the festive-inspired Wrapped Up in You. (Interviews by Christy Goldstein)

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  1. 1. Tell us about your new novel Wrapped Up In You.

    It’s a lovely Christmassy story and I think it’s my most romantic book to date. It features Janie Johnston, a thirty-something hairdresser who feels that life is passing her by. To bring a little adventure into her life, she decides to take the plunge and books a solo trip to Africa. There she falls in love with her tour guide, Dominic, a fully fledged Masaai warrior. I think Dominic is possibly my most romantic hero so far. Everyone seems to have fallen in love with him! Including me.

  2. 2. What was the inspiration for the story?

    I wanted to write a Christmas book, but I also wanted to do something a little bit unusual too. The story is both set in a pretty, chocolate box village in Buckinghamshire and, in sharp contrast to that, the Masaai Mara. I also wanted to explore a love story between two people from a totally different culture and on a different continent. The world is a very small place now and this type of relationship is becoming more common.

  3. 3. How have your books changed as you have gotten older?

    Well, my heroines seem to be ageing with me! I don’t think that the way that I tell my stories has changed much though. I still try to address the contemporary issues that are affecting women, but issues with a tiny ‘i’. My books are still fun and light-hearted.

  4. 4. What do you find the most challenging about writing?

    I do two books a year, so the challenge is always time. I keep asking for a clone for Christmas but never get one. That’d come in really handy! There are so many stories that I want to write. I have a plan for future books and then there’s always another idea that sneaks in to grab my attention. I always say to people who are trying to get their first novel published, just enjoy writing it. If they get a book deal then it’s the only one they’ll ever write without a deadline!

  5. 5. What is your greatest strength as a writer?

    I think that I write warm, realistic characters. My greatest joy is when I get messages from readers who say that they can closely identify with my heroine. I also like it when people worry about the subsidiary characters and write to ask me what happens to them. I feel then that they’ve really got involved with the story as they’re thinking of them as real people.

  6. 6. Would you ever want to write a screenplay or write for a television show?

    I have written a few screenplays and I’ve had a pilot of a sitcom in the past and one broadcast on the radio. But it takes up a lot of time doing scripts and I prefer to focus on my books. I have a lot more control that way too. It’s very interesting working with a director and actors, but I also like just being inside my own head! I would so love to see The Chocolate Lovers’ Club made into a movie or TV series though. I think it would be perfect - but then I am slightly biased!

  7. 7. How do you deal with writers’ block?

    You know I’ve never had writers’ block. I’m too busy writing! I don’t know if it’s a myth or if it really does exist. Must be awful to feel that your brain is frozen. I think if you feel blocked, you should maybe go out and do something exciting to unlock the creative process.

  8. 8. What is your process for getting ready to write a novel?

    Once I have the spark of an idea, I start out by doing background history for each of my characters. I never use it, but I like to know how they got to where they are and it makes them seem like real people to me. Then I do a rough outline of my plot. I wouldn’t like to call it anything as grand as a synopsis - it’s more like my random scribblings. I’ve no idea how my poor editor understands it. Plus the book never ends up as I think it will.

  9. 9. What are you reading at the moment?

    Am just about to start The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver which I’ve heard great things about and have been meaning to read for ages. At the Festival of Romance, lovely author Charlotte Betts gave me a copy of her debut novel The Apothecary's Daughter. It has the most wonderful cover and the story sounds divine. In fact, I might put poor Barbara to one side and start this first.

  10. 10. If you could change anything about your career path what would it be?

    I would ensure that all of my future books are number one bestsellers across the globe!

  11. 11. What are you working on now?

    I’ve just edited my book for May 2012 - Summer Daydreams. It’s a lovely story of a young woman struggling to make her way in the cut-throat world of business while juggling the demands of a family and her relationship. I think it’s a book that a lot of women will identify with. It features a handbag designer and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with the promotions for this one.

February 2010
  1. 1. In It's Now or Never, Annie plans to go to Peru. Have you been to Peru and why did you choose this country for your book?

    The book has a very aspirational storyline and Annie wants to do something adventurous in her life before she’s too old. In talking to a lot of women about what was on their ‘to do’ list, the Inca Trail kept popping up as one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ things. It’s always been on my list too – but then I live with Milton Keynes’ answer to Indiana Jones and am used to being dragged up mountains – so I thought it would be a great thing to write about. The place really lived up to expectations and was a fabulous location to set a few chapters.

    2. Do you think you will write a follow-up to the twins’ story?

    The only sequel I’ve done so far is The Chocolate Lovers’ Club and The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet and I haven’t finished with those girls yet! I’m not sure that I’d do it with this book as the difficulties they encountered had been resolved by the end. I never say never though!

    3. If you could live/travel anywhere, where would it be?

    We travel extensively, but I’ve never found anywhere that I’d like to live better than England. Though we did toy for a while with moving to New York as it’s one of my favourite cities in the world – there’s always such a buzz about it. Where we live is a modern city in a very green county with rolling hills – typically English. All our neighbours are great here, so I feel very blessed.

    4. So many funny incidents happened in That Loving Feeling. What was your favourite scene to write?

    I enjoyed writing all of that book and, in particular, Rick’s scenes as he was always getting into some awful trouble which was never of his own making. It’s very exaggerated but I think it portrays a lot of the difficulties that families have these days. Actually, for all the emails I get from my readers saying their family is just like that, maybe it’s not so exaggerated!

    5. Out of all your novels, do you have a soft spot for one particular character?

    Lucy Lombard in The Chocolate Lovers’ Club – there is far too much of me in her!

    6. What is your favourite book?

    Out of my own? That’s like asking someone to say which of their kids they like the best! I have several favourites, for different reasons. With or Without You as that was set in Nepal and the research for that was awe-inspiring. For Better, For Worse as that was a Kelly Ripa pick and did really well for me in the USA. My other favourites are The Chocolate Lovers’ Club and Diet – how could anyone not enjoy researching chocolate for two years!

    7. You are contracted to write two books a year - how do you generate all these fresh ideas?

    Ideas are never a problem. With my genre, a night out with my girlfriends and a few bottles of wine normally generates a dozen plots. I also read the newspaper every day which is also a great source of inspiration. There are stories all around if you’re a bit of a nosey parker like me!

    8. What book do you wish you had written?

    The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Fabulous book. I’m just about to re-read it again. It’s a very bittersweet love story – just the sort of thing I love. Haven’t been able to bring myself to see the film yet in case I’m disappointed.

    9. Tell us about your next novel, The Only Way is Up.

    This was influenced by all the stories of people who have lost everything in the global credit crunch and I wondered just what it must feel like – with a little romance and comedy along the way! Lily and Laurence Lamont-Jones have it all: lavish holidays in exotic locations, a top private school for their children, Hettie and Hugo, and a beautiful Buckinghamshire home with horses and stables. But their perfect world is about to be turned upside down. Laurence has lost his job and, on their return from holiday, they find their house and all their belongings have been repossessed. Forced to live in a council house on one of Milton Keynes's roughest estates, the Lamont-Joneses are about to discover how the other half live. And with the help of true friends, a little luck and a lot of determination they learn that when you've reached rock bottom the only way is up ...

    10. What made you decide to become a writer?

    It wasn’t really a conscious decision – just a series of happy accidents. I was writing articles for a wide variety of magazines – mainly on the subject of aromatherapy – when I entered a short story competition in Writing Magazine and won £1000! Very sensibly, I didn’t blow the money on shoes and handbags, but instead – flushed by success - booked on a writing course. By the time the course came around, I thought I’d better start a novel. When the tutor read it, she loved it and recommended an agent. He sold it within a week – that book became Let’s Meet on Platform 8.

    11. If you did not write for a living, what would be your second choice as a career?

    Hmm. I have an interest in so many things that I’d be pushed to choose. I used to be an aromatherapist, so I’d quite like to go back to that again as I sometimes miss the interaction with all of my clients. Writing is a very solitary profession. I also love my garden so being a landscape gardener would appeal. I would also consider opening a coffee and chocolate shop as featured in The Chocolate Lovers’ Club – that would be a nice way to spend a day.

    12. Has your partner, Lovely Kev, ever made it into one of your books?

    Not yet! But I do keep threatening to write ‘our story’ which is quite an interesting one. Maybe one day!

    13. Could you survive without chocolate?

    Er… No.

    14. How has being from Liverpool influenced your life?

    I think being from Liverpool gives you a genetically programmed sense of humour. I can’t help but look at the funny side of life even in dark situations – which I think is reflected in my books. They’re always bittersweet.

    15. What do you think of the chick-lit label?

    I don’t mind. The only annoying thing is that ‘chick-lit’ seems to lump a whole range of books together from straightforward teen ‘boy meets girl’ books to very complicated relationship stories featuring older women – some even in their 40s and married for 25 years! I’m not so keen on the plethora of pink covers that publishers seem to love – even though my books have more than their fair share.

    16. Name your favourite:

    • TV show: 24, Desperate Housewives – can’t pick between the two
    • Movie: Currently Avatar
    • Song: Couldn’t Bear To Be Special – Prefab Sprout
    • Celebrity crush: Oh, so many! None of them very original. Johnny Depp, Kiefer Sutherland, Gorgeous George Clooney, Colin Firth, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant as he was 10 years ago.
    • Holiday destination: Anywhere. I just love to travel.
    • Hobby: Reading
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