December 2012


Belinda Jones is a freelance journalist and author of a series of travel-inspired novels including Living La Vida Loca, The California Club and Divas Las Vegas. Her latest novel is Winter Wonderland. She was born in England but lives in Los Angeles. (interview by Angela Smith)

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  1. 1. Tell us about your new novel Winter Wonderland.

    It's basically the closest thing you'll get to stepping inside of a snow-globe! The story is set during the Quebec Winter Carnival - travel blogger Krista is writing a guide for her website and wants to experience everything, including the insanity that is a Snow Bath - frolicking around in a bikini and mittens just because it's a carnival tradition. Her love interest looks like Jack from Revenge and has 12 husky puppies - need I say more?

  2. 2. What or who was your inspiration for Krista?

    Often I think my leading lady is a way for me to try on a different pair of shoes - or in this case giant faux-fur trimmed boots! I would love to run a travel website like Krista's (I even bought the domain name!) and this book was a way of me envisioning how this might transpire. Similarly with California Dreamers I got to pretend to be a make-up artist which is the alternate career I find most appealing! That and running a doggie daycare!

  3. 3. Out of all the places you've visited was Canada your favourite?

    Yes! I didn't expect to fall so head-over-heels (literally and figuratively since that winter ice is darn slippery) but I was instantly enchanted - Quebec is such a fairytale city and the people are so phenomenally good-natured and un-frazzled, I felt filled up with bonhomie the whole time I was there, no matter how sub-zero the temperatures. Plus there was just such a wondrous variety of activities - one minute you're sipping cocktails from a block of ice at the Hotel de Glace, the next you're trying bison (and refusing the seal hors d'oeuvres) at the First Nations hotel, then there's dog-sledding and sleigh rides and snow-sculpting and maple syrup pie... I could go on and on!

  4. 4. Sticking with the winter theme, what do you like most about the season?

    The fairylights! Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than all those dainty, twinkly lights. I love it when the tree is all decorated and everyone else in the house has gone to sleep - this beautiful peace descends and I just sit and stare at the sparkles and get this feeling that the world is a kinder, cosier place!

  5. 5. Do you find creating characters easier now that you've written so many books?

    Oh I wish! My latest project The Travelling Tea Shop has been such a difficult birth in terms of creating characters. I knew I had Laurie from Winter Wonderland as my leading lady but the others were proving highly elusive and when they did finally present themselves I found them to be rather unlikeable which, in turn, was bringing out a rather unpleasant side to Laurie! There's still one character that completely pushes her buttons but hopefully the rest have become a little more endearing and, on the upside, the leading man has now won my heart!

  6. 6. You've got a lot of dedicated fans - you might even win Supreme Chick Lit Queen! - why do you think fans relate so well to your books?

    Well, first of all it's bonkers to be pitted against Marian Keyes! I was just saying the other day that her rehab rom-com Rachel's Holiday is my favourite chick lit book of all time! She's such a legend! I am absolutely astounded that I have made it to the finals. But then again I have always felt I have the best readers in the business! They are so amazingly chirpy and enthusiastic, like that dream best friend who genuinely wants the best for you. It's actually really touching - I may not have the most fans in the world but the ones I have sure do go that extra mile! In terms of why they relate to my books - my ex-editor had a theory that it was because however glam and aspirational the setting of the book or however dream-come-true the storyline, the girl at the centre of the story could be them. All my heroines are normal girls experiencing the extraordinary. I think that's our shared wish - that all of us could have the chance to embark on a life-changing adventure!

  7. 7. Where is one place you haven't been but would like to go?

    I'd love to go to India for all that colour and chaos and flower petals and spiritual enlightenment! I just saw Life of Pi today so it's all the more at the forefront of my mind. And I like curry and chai tea!

  8. 8. What are three necessities you have to have when you travel?

    1. I splurged on a pair of Bose headphones a few years back and that utterly transforms your hideously cramped economy seat experience. The leather surrounding your ears is so marshmallowy soft it makes you feel all safe and cocooned and you can really hear the movie, and block out wailing babies! 2. I'm a recovering insomniac and always like to have Dr Stuart's Valerian Tea to help me sleep at night. (I've even started packing a kettle and a mug to complete the ritual!) 3. Projecting into the future... My dad is getting me a Kindle for Christmas and I love the idea of all those authors, ideas and other worlds in your carry-on!

  9. 9. Do you think a book always has to have a happy ending?

    Well, you don't want to leave the reader feeling entirely bleak or wretched when they put the book down. If not happy, I think there has to be hope! I did go a rather different route with the ending to my second novel I Love Capri. Initially the publishers said no to me veering away from the norm but when I wrote the book I found the story really couldn't go any other way so, in the end, they agreed and the curious thing is that it is now universally considered the most romantic of all my books. (That said I did give certain characters a little cameo in The Love Academy) to tie up some loose ends, which seemed feasible a few years down the line. That scene brought some people to tears, but in a good way!!)

  10. 10. What was your favorite book of 2012?

    This book was actually published at the end of 2011 but I read it in 2012 - does that count?! You Had Me At Woof! How Dogs Taught Me The Secrets of Happiness by Julie Klam. She has such a naturally comic way it was a pleasure to be in her company, never mind the fact that the book is about her work rescuing Boston Terriers in New York City. For the most part it's a comedy of errors but there's one tragic scene that pains me still... All in all, one of those books that stays with you, nestled in fondness!

June 2010
  1. 1. Tell us about your new book Living La Vida Loca?

    Happy to! A reality TV crew follow two best friends – Carmen and Beth – as they learn three of the world’s most passionate dances in their country of origin: mournful Tango in Argentina, feisty Flamenco in Spain and sexy Salsa in Cuba. Romance is provided by sultry gauchos, proud matadors and rum-flavoured Cubans! But there is also a very special cameo from one of the original cast members of Dirty Dancing: I met Miranda Garrison (who played Bungalow Bunny Vivian) while I was observing filming of Living TV’s dance show Time Of Your Life and she gave me a private dance lesson (such a thrill!) and basically made such a big impression on me that I created a character entirely around her! (Look out for the thinly disguised Miriam Gilbert!!) In essence, Living La Vida Loca is for anyone who has ever struggled to extract themselves from a bad relationship and/or wished they could be out there on the Strictly dancefloor swirling in sequins!

  2. 2. Did you take dance classes as research for the novel?

    Absolutely! I was a magazine journalist for 10 years before I started writing novels so, wherever possible, I like to write about things I have experienced first hand! First stop was Argentina to learn the tango, or at least that was the plan. My long-suffering travel companion James (who you may remember from On The Road To Mr Right) had just seen Happy Feet and insisted on viewing the penguins in Patagonia so we headed there first. We had a spare morning before our flight back to Buenos Aires and opted to go horse-riding with the local gauchos. Big mistake. We were plodding along, hunched against the bitter winds when I spied this glacial lake of such a magical blue I felt compelled to take a picture - I don’t know if it was the click of the camera that did it but my horse bolted and I came flying off and slammed down onto the frozen earth, hurting my leg so badly I could only hop and hobble for the rest of our trip. We had a couple of lessons in London but in terms of authentic experience, it was all about soaking up the atmosphere! As for Flamenco, I took lessons in Seville and my experiences are pretty much documented in the book! It really was much harder than it looks and soon became apparent just how slow I am at picking up steps – tango is improvised so there is no set routine but give me a sequence to learn and I get all tense and baffled. Especially if there is any kind of turn involved. I don’t know how they do what they do on Strictly, I really don’t! Of the three dances, salsa was the one that really hit home for me. I went to Havana on a dance holiday while I was still writing Out of the Blue and in between paragraphs about Greek mythology I was busily looking up Cuban salsa steps on YouTube. I became utterly obsessed. All I wanted to do was get to the point where I didn’t have to count out loud to get my feet to obey the music. It is so worth the perseverance! I’ve been to Havana three times with Dance Holidays and though I’ll never be brilliant and I still get dizzy and out of breath far too easily, one great dance makes it all worthwhile! Dancing really is the best therapy!

  3. 3. What inspires you to write?

    I originally got into journalism because I was desperate to meet pop stars. I used to buy every music magazine every week. Now I get inspired by places above all else – especially countries with different cultures. My favourite thing is to actually sit and write on location though I rarely get to do that because I’m normally whizzing around trying to see and do as much as possible during my visit. Typically the first trip is to get ideas and the second is to make sure I’ve got all the details spot-on. If I go back a third time, it’s because I’m in love with the place. I think I went to Seville five times during the writing of Living La Vida Loca. What a gorgeous city. Go during the April fair or ‘feria’ – a total polkadot spectacle.

  4. 4.What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel?

    The solitude. When I was writing for women’s magazines it was a very buzzy, social atmosphere with a lot of variety to my day – so many people to interview and places to be! Now, as fantastic as the research trips are, they typically only account for a couple of weeks of the year and the rest of the time is sitting home alone with the laptop having imaginary conversations in my head!!

  5. 5. Did writing this book teach you anything?

    It was funny – the more I discovered about each dance, the more each aspect seemed to be a metaphor for either what I was doing wrong in my life or what I needed to aspire to be doing. For example, with tango, I always thought the woman was leaning heavily on the man as they danced when in fact, aside from a few dramatic show moves, the couple should remain on their own axis at all times – ‘if you remove the man, the woman should still be able to stand.’ Profound stuff!

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

    Well, that’s probably more for others to say than me but based on feedback from my utterly fabulous readers it would seem they enjoy being transported to another country, really feeling that they are in the heroine’s shoes experiencing an incredible journey. My new publisher Hodder describe my novels as a ‘holiday for the price of a paperback’ which I rather like!

  7. 7. Have you ever had writer’s block? And how do you deal with it?

    I don’t tend to suffer too badly from this because I have been writing all day every day as a journalist since I was 19. If I am really struggling to get through a particular scene or just having plain old writing fatigue, I put on a TV show that switches between lots of different characters like Desperate Housewives and watch the segment with say Susan and Mike, then press pause and write a paragraph or two, then watch the bit with Gabrielle and Carlos and then pause again!! I don’t recommend this generally but some days you’ve just gotta do what you’ve gotta do to get back into your flow!

  8. 8. Your books are always set in exotic locations. Why is that?

    I get my greatest inspiration from travel. (see answer to Question 3!) It’s tough spending a whole year on one subject so I like to be learning new things as I go, it helps keep things fresh. Plus I’ve always been a big fan of escapism. When I was growing up I always wanted to be somewhere else and anything set abroad always attracted me - books are such a great way to take you out of a humdrum situation and spirit you off to another world.

  9. 9. Where is your favourite place in the world?

    I have to say Italy. And if you want me to be really specific, Capri. It really is a magical isle. I love how it feels like you could be living in the 50s, sipping fresh peach bellinis on the terrace and riding on the back of a moped along the windy streets. The whole country is just so pleasure-orientated with the food and the culture and amorous men! I love that Italians are just so defiantly themselves, living with centuries-old traditions. It’s a refreshing break from the crazy modern world. Then again, I can’t complain too much about living in Los Angeles. The city and the people get a bad rap but I find it a very upbeat, optimistic place filled with sunshine and California dreamers!

  10. 10. Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?

    I suppose the one recurring theme is really to not let life pass you by. It’s all too easy to sit at home feeling daunted or disappointed by the world or your own limitations, whiling away the hours watching other people’s lives on TV! I catch myself doing that all the time and of course there are a million daily distractions and responsibilities that can come between you and your dreams. Nothing upsets me more than people who have given up on being excited about life. I have had phases of that myself and it’s no way to live. Even if it seems the most monumental task to get joyful again it is worth every ounce of effort when you start to surge forward. So many of my heroines are stuck and a trip to a foreign land brings about much-needed change. Of course, we can’t all whiz off to Tahiti or Costa Rica so sometimes you have to be creative about how to move on. Especially if the leading man doesn’t show up to whisk you off your feet! I think it’s very important to make your own opportunities and seek out new ways to be amazed. In essence: better to regret the things you do than the things you don’t!

  11. 11. In Living La Vida Loca, main character Carmen is just coming out of an abusive relationship. Why did you decide to use that situation?

    Well, her story is very close to something I experienced. I was in two minds about re-living so many bad memories over and over again (you won’t believe how many times you have to edit and re-edit your work!) plus it’s not exactly traditional chick lit fodder but I felt so strongly about the subject, especially in terms of the myriad misunderstandings about why women stay in such a demeaning, soul-destroying circumstances, that I had to speak up. Especially when I discovered a book (Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds Of Angry & Controlling Men) that essentially set me free – I spoke to the author (Lundy Bancroft) and asked if I could include some of his revelations and guidance in my story and then by that time I was on something of a mission! I also like this quote from Erica Jong: ‘Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.’ Not that my books are exactly dark! Maybe next time I’ll go for a full-out comedic romp!

  12. 12. Do you believe that dance can help a person heal as it does with Carmen?

    I know it can because I experienced that for myself. It wasn’t a quick-fix solution and it did come in combination with reading the aforementioned book but it really was transformative – I definitely was still very blue while I was in the tango phase, got quite a jolt with the flamenco in terms of standing up for myself and presenting a shoulders-back, chin-up stance to the world but the salsa was the real joy. Part of it is having to concentrate so hard on learning the steps, it really takes your mind away from your woes. Then there’s the sensation of being in the arms of man that means you no harm and just wants to have a good time for the duration of the song. And then there’s that sense of freedom you get when you just surrender to the music and the movement. When you are really low you wonder if you’ve lost the ability to be happy ever again and dance shows you that you absolutely still have it in you to have a wonderful time. And then you just build and build on that thrill.

  13. 13. What books have most influenced your life?

    When I was about 17, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking really opened up a world of possibility for me in terms of what is possible with the right attitude. Bill Bryson is my writing hero - I basically wanted to do my road trip across America because of The Lost Continent and carried it with me on the whole trip. The man is an utter genius. So funny. And like millions of others I was enraptured by Eat, Pray, Love (push through the grizzling about her divorce and it’s well worth it!) I can’t wait to see Julia Roberts play Elizabeth Gilbert in the movie. I suppose in some ways her three-stop journey is reflected in Living La Vida Loca – aka Tango, Flamenco, Salsa!

  14. 14. If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be?

    Mrs Madrigal from the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin. I like old, wise people with secrets! Olympia Dukakis played her in the TV series and she was fabulous!

  15. 15. What is your favourite chick lit book?

    I was really wowed by Marian Keyes’ Rachel’s Holiday – I just thought she was so skilled to be able to write about something as scary as rehab with so much humour and compassion. It was a fascinating journey. This can’t quite be classed as chick lit because it’s a memoir but I loved Marlena De Blasi’s A Thousand Days In Venice – such a great, romantic antidote to diet and exercise and being practical. Her writing is just so poetic and evocative!

  16. 16. What is your favourite and least favourite quality about yourself?

    My favourite is probably my enthusiasm - it’s what gees me up and propels me forward and makes miraculously good things happen. My least favourite quality is just how emotional I am, particularly about affairs of the heart. I wish I could just shrug my shoulders and be all ‘Que sera, sera!’ but instead I get all overwhelmed and teary. So annoying. On the plus side I suppose running the full gamut of emotions may help with my writing!

  17. 17. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three material things could you not be without?

    My dog Bodie because he is endlessly entertaining. A laptop with a never-ending battery so I could carry on writing. And a pair of tweezers so I don’t get mistaken for Jack Sparrow when rescued.

  18. 18. Where do you see yourself in five and 10 years time?

    I used to be constantly working on life-plans when I was in my teens but now I am a little more relaxed! Career-wise the dream would be to see Living La Vida Loca as a movie and maybe even as a musical in the West End – I’d so love to see all the fabulous dancing come to life on stage or screen! In fact, I’d love to write a brand-new movie screenplay so maybe in five years I’ll have had achieved that and then in 10, I’ll earn my first Best Original Screenplay Oscar – if that’s even possible for a romantic comedy!! More than anything I would like to have met a really good guy who wants to come on travel adventures with me. Someone with a giant heart, happy grin and inspirational outlook!

  19. 19. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

    Getting started can be the hardest bit so I would say, don’t feel you have to write your story in the order in which it occurs – whatever element excites you most in the moment, just let it splurge from you. You can link it up later. Also, when you’re really on a roll, don’t completely finish that section. If you leave a sentence mid-thought you’ll find it easy to get back into your groove next time you sit down to write. Plotting a story out scene-by-scene is often advised but the most fun comes when your characters surprise you and misbehave and do their own thing. The more you write and experiment the more you will find your own unique voice. And don’t worry if you cringe at your own work – I don’t know any writers that aren’t riddled with self-doubt!

  20. 20. What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?

    Probably completing my first book Divas Las Vegas because I really didn’t know I had it in me to write a novel and it took quite some doing! I used to go into Waterstone’s and take pictures of it on the shelf because I just couldn’t believe it was there alongside all the proper writers!! I think the other reason I am proudest of that particular story is that, even though it may not be a great literary work, it seems to be the one that has made people laugh out loud the most. And knowing that is such a kick!

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