Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Springtime at Hope Hall – Review and Q&A with Pam Rhodes

The blurb: 

There's never a dull moment at Hope Hall, as its rooms are filled throughout the day with gossipy grandmas, body-popping teenagers, temperamental dancing teachers, a choir without one decent singer to their name, knitters who natter, caterers who bake glorious cakes, slimmers nibbling chocolate, and a nursery group where it's the grown-ups who are near to tears! But it's all in a day's work for administrator, Kath, whose job it is to make sure Hope Hall offers something for everyone! Mind you, she can see that some key members of her team are struggling - like caretaker Trevor, who is nursing his beloved wife who has cancer, and Maggie, their wonderful cook, whose husband of twenty-five years has just left her for a woman half her age. As the team works to pull off their ambitious Hope Hall Centenary Easter Monday Fayre, Kath realizes reinforcements are needed. Brash, loud and inexperienced though she may be, Kath has a feeling that Shirley might be just the ticket! The Fayre is a triumph but when Kath's old flame comes back on the scene, she suddenly has some tough choices to make... Springtime at Hope Hall is the first book in a delightful new trilogy centred on a Victorian church hall, the like of which can be found at the heart of life in so many towns across England - full of friends and neighbours with stories that will have you giggling one minute, and dabbing your eyes the next.

My Opinion:

*Book provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Springtime at Hope Hallwas my first book by Pam Rhodes and I really enjoyed it. 

Hope Hall is filled with many loveable and wonderful characters, who all have a story to tell. I really liked reading about all of them, seeing how they are connected, how they interact and how their stories developed. It’s a great community and they all added something tot he story. 
Form e there were too many characters in the mix though, it got a bit confusing and it was difficult to focus on certain people. 

Pam Rhodes writing style is lovely, charming, very fresh, sweet and enjoyable. You also go through all the emotions in this book, which I always like. 

Excited to see what the second story of the series has in store. 


Q & A with Pam Rhodes

1.    Did you always dream of being a writer?
Not a novelist, no – but I’ve worked in television newsrooms for years, and have always had the challenge of writing to deadlines, and never being able to allow myself ‘writer’s block’.  I wrote my first novel back in 1995 not knowing if I was able to write entertaining stories with believable characters and dialogue – but now, with 24 books under my belt, 12 of which are novels, I absolutely love writing anything and everything!

2.    How did your writing career develop?
I have been a television journalist for many years, most known as the presenter of the BBC Television series SONGS OF PRAISE.  The experience of interviewing hundreds of people who have been generous enough to share the challenges they’ve faced not just with me, but with millions of viewers around the world, has provided me with a rich tapestry of human experience and emotion and experience from which to draw my fictional storylines.  My first novel told the fictional story of a SONGS OF PRAISE television programme being made in a small East Anglian town.  Since then, I’ve just never stopped writing.

3.    Your debut novel is called Springtime at Hope Hall,what is it about?
This is the first book in the new HOPE HALL trilogy – but this is my second trilogy, following THE DUNBRIDGE CHRONICLES which eventually grew from being a trilogy to a quartet of stories.  HOPE HALL is a one hundred year old memorial hall that has been extended and adapted to become a community centre for all sorts of groups and activities.  It is this mix of young and old, from different backgrounds, with different personalities and viewpoints, that create the humour, emotion and chemistry within the walls of HOPE HALL.  This is a book which can move you to years one minute, and have you giggling the next.

4.    What was your inspiration for the book?
There’s a community hall like that, whatever its age or description, in areas and towns all over Britain – and from a very young age I have been involved in activities of various kinds in one hall or another.  I love the idea of the mix of people who meet within the walls of a hall like that, and the way in which the lonely find company, the old meet the very young, the visitor meets the local and friendly help is always on hand.

5.    Can you tell us more about the main character(s)?
There is a core of main characters whose stories form a central strand throughout all three books – but each of the books then focusses on the people who go along to a selection of different activities that go on every week in Hope Hall.  So we meet the pre-school mums, the pensioners with their wicked sense of humour and the long memories of times gone by, the glamorous new dancing teacher who takes classes ranging from armchair exercise for the over-sixties to body popping classes for any teenagers brave enough to try street dancing!  Along the way, we meet Sea Cadets, Rainbows and Beavers, as well as those taking part in The Memory Club, the Can’t Sing Singers, or others seeking advice and help from The Food Bank and the Money Advice Group.  All of life is there!

6.    Where and when do you write your stories?
If I’m writing factual books that require a lot of research, I am happy to write at home. However, because my novels are often community-based involved a whole host of different characters, I need somewhere a bit quieter than our busy household to keep all the story strands in my mind as I write.  So every February and October, my husband Richard and I spend the whole month in my sister’s small apartment in Southern Spain.  There the phone doesn’t ring, it’s quiet and peaceful – and in four weeks, I am able to write the novel that’s been brewing in my mind perhaps for months!

7.    What do you do and enjoy when you’re not writing?
When I married Richard 16 years ago, I already had a son and daughter to add to his SIX daughters! They are all now grown up and have families of their own, so we often have our home full of grandchildren which is just great!  We also run a large cattery at our house, which keeps me busy all year round, especially as we always have RSPCA strays in our care while new owners are found for them.  Apart from that, Richard and I like doing modern jive – and I also play the piano really badly, especially when I know no one is around to listen!

8.    If you could switch places with a character from a book, who would it be and why?
I’m not sure how to answer that because I love so many characters – which is why my own books are always full of a whole community of people from different age groups, backgrounds and personality.  I did actually write myself into the novel I wrote called SAINTS AND SAILORS, because it was based on the real-life experience of being on a Christian cruise travelling with hundreds of other passengers around the British Isle – but honestly I always get so fond of whatever characters I’m writing about.  I love them all!

9.    What books have influenced your life most? 
Over my 30 years of presenting SONGS OF PRAISE, I have become very fond of the hymns that are sung by Christians around the world.  Some of these are traditional favourites that might date back a century or two.  Some are bang up to date.  Others are based on words from the Psalms that stretch right back into the mists of time. What connects them all for me is the humanity of the writer.  They often write about the very human challenges of their everyday lives – and the emotions and feelings are much the same whether it was a psalmist writing three thousand years ago, or one of the popular hymn writers of today.  So, the books which have influenced my life most are hymn books, old and new.   

10. What are you working on at the moment?
This month, February 2020, the first book in the HOPE HALL trilogy is published.  The three books tell the story of HOPE HALL throughout one whole year – so this first book is called SPRINGTIME COMES TO HOPE HALL.  The second book, SUMMER’S OUT AT HOPE HALL, is now at the copy editing stage – and I am currently working on the third book, CHRISTMAS COMES TO HOPE HALL. 

11. What do you enjoy most about writing?
From the start, I have always enjoyed writing as much as I enjoy reading.  I type very quickly, as fast as my thoughts pour out the story – so I almost feel as if I’m watching the story as it unfolds through my fingers into the computer.

12. Pick three authors you want to have dinner with and tell us why.
I enjoy reading a really complicated detective story, and one of my favourite authors of that genre is JOY ELLIS, who is the creator of the wonderful character VERA, the television detective. I’d love to meet Joy because her imagination and her attention to detail and the building of suspense is masterful.  Then, I would also like to meet Jill Mansell, who writes very down-to-earth, charming, community-based stories that have a delightful mix of challenge, laughter and romance.  Looking back in history, I would love to meet Charles Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church movement with his brother John back in the eighteenth century.  The brothers travelled over 250,000 miles taking their ministry across the length and breadth of Britain, but on the way Charles managed to write something like 8000 hymn texts, all of them based on biblical quotations expressed in the most beautiful lines of the most moving and inspirational poetry.  He has always struck me as a man of deep emotion – and humour too.  I’d love to have met him.

13. Imagine Springtime at Hope Hall would be turned into a movie, who would you cast for the main characters?
One of my favourite characters is Shirley, a cleaning lady with a big heart and an even bigger voice that yells out instructions that ring around the walls of HOPE HALL!  I can imagine her being played by Jessie Wallace who plays Kat in EASTENDERS.  And there’s a lovely fifty-something man, Richard Carlisle, who sweeps Kath, the Hope Hall administrator, off her feet.  I’d choose Richard Armitage for that role.  His good looks are enhanced by the warmth of his voice. He’d be perfect!

14. How do your own experiences influence your writing?
I wrote my first novel in 1995, and from the very start I realised that over my years of interviewing so many interesting people especially through SONGS OF PRAISE, I had become a big like a big sponge, taking those stories on board, and remembering the emotions and challenges that were involved in them.  That has given me a rich tapestry of human experience from which I can draw both fictional characters and their stories which can be drawn, although very changed, from real-life.

15. Tell us more about your book Arthur’s Garden. 
Of all the 24 books I’ve written, ARTHUR’S GARDEN is without doubt my favourite.  I was asked to compile a gift book on gardening, using quotations and verse.  That didn’t particularly inspire me, until I looked out of my garden window to the see a wooden plaque saying ARTHUR’S GARDEN, which I had inherited from my much-loved Uncle Arthur when he died at the age of 80 back in 1986.  He had been born exactly 80 decades earlier in the terraced house in Kent in which he spent every year of his life – and he inherited the care of the garden there from his father.  He loved that garden all his life, nursing it through the First World War when his brother Ernest marched off to the trenches from the back gate never to return again; through the Second World War, when Spitfires chased German planes across the skies above the garden during the Battle of Britain – and right up through all the generations and years until the late eighties. ARTHUR’S GARDEN tells the story of that back garden, and the generations of family who lived there – along with their neighbours with whom they shared so much over the garden fence.  Up the garden path, down Memory Lane – that’s ARTHUR’S GARDEN, full of homely nostalgia that rings bells for similar families right across the country.

16. Coffee or tea?
Tea – Earl Grey. 

17. Paperback or e-reader?
I enjoy listening to Audible books most of all now – when I’m driving, pottering about at home, or travelling into London each week to present my radio programmes.  Fantastic stories are read by wonderful narrators who bring every character to life.  For me, that’s hard to beat.

18. Mountains or the sea?
My Dad was in the Navy.  The sea every time!

19. Summer or winter?
Winter.  I love being cosy in lots of layers in the winter – and curling up in front of our huge log fire in our old farm house.  

20. Sweet or salty?

The challenge is that I like both.  The simple answer is Salted Caramel.  Yum!