Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Q & A with Cressida McLaughlin

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I'm very excited to welcome lovely Cressida McLaughlin on the blog. She answered some questions about her writing, enjoy!

1.    Did you always dream of being a writer?

No, I didn’t! I’ve always loved reading books, I’ve always thought that books are the most wonderful and precious things, but I didn’t have a desire to write a book until I was about twenty-five.  I went to the University of East Anglia to study English Literature, and they have an excellent creative writing department, so in my first year I had to do a unit on creative writing.  I was really put out by this, as I wanted to study books and write about them – a reviewer in the making!  But obviously things have changed a lot since then, and I can’t imagine being this happy doing anything else.

2.    How did your writing career develop?

I got a job working for the local adult education service, and had the opportunity to try a course for free.  I still can’t remember what made me pick creative writing, but I did, and I was hooked almost instantly.  I took a year of that course, and then went back to the University of East Anglia to do a diploma in creative writing, which gave me the confidence to try writing a novel.  What followed were several books and oodles of rejection letters, but I never felt like giving up. I had discovered what I loved, and I was going to keep going.  I eventually got an agent, and also started working as a reviewer on the wonderful Novelicious website.  I was invited to attend the launch of Alex Brown’s Ice Cream at Carrington’s where I met her editor, Kate Bradley. We got chatting, I told her I had written a novel that was out on submission, and she asked me to send it to her. That was a day that changed my life! 

3.    Your newest series is called The Once in a Blue Moon Guesthouse, what is it about?

Robin Brennan returns to the seaside town of Campion Bay where she grew up, after her London life falls apart.  Her mum and dad have been running the Campion Bay Guesthouse for most of Robin’s life, but they’ve decided it’s time to retire.  Suddenly directionless, with nothing to go back to in London, Robin makes the bold decision to refurbish the guesthouse and run it herself.  But it’s not easy; there are ex-boyfriends, attractive new neighbours and a development threat on the Campion Bay seafront to deal with – not to mention the everyday running of the guesthouse itself.   

4.    What was your inspiration for the series?

I love those seafronts along the south coast of England, with large houses and quaint seaside attractions.  They’re full of character, and so inviting.  We stayed in a beautiful hotel in Hastings quite a few years ago, where each of the rooms had a different country as its theme. (We stayed in the Japan room). It was a very memorable place, and so the idea of a seafront guesthouse, with themed rooms, has been playing on my mind for quite a while. The rest of the story developed from that central idea.

5.    Can you tell us more about the main character(s)?

Robin Brennan is organised, focussed and very creative – she used to run her own events business – but has returned to her childhood town after over a decade living in London. She’s trying to find her feet again, with the help of her best friend Molly.  She’s a romantic at heart, but she’s been hurt in the past, and she’s wary of giving in to her feelings.

Molly Westwood is Robin’s best friend. She runs the seafront beauty parlour, Groom with a View. She’s got a sharp wit, no-nonsense attitude and is always around to speak sense to Robin when she’s dithering about something. She has a sixteen-year-old daughter who helps Robin out at the guesthouse.

Will Nightingale turns up at the guesthouse on Robin’s first official day running it.  He’s got connections to the road, and he needs a place to stay for a few days, along with his adorable Cavapoo Darcy.  He’s got a friendly, direct manner and green eyes that get Robin’s attention as soon as he appears on her doorstep.

Tim Lewis is Robin’s childhood sweetheart, who is still living in Campion Bay over a decade after they broke up.  He’s charming and confident, with blond, surfer-boy curls and a dazzling smile.  Now he’s a successful property developer to boot, and while Robin knows that she can’t go backwards, there’s something about Tim that Robin has always found hard to resist.

6.    Where and when do you write your stories?

The smallest bedroom in our house is my office.  It’s got a large desk, notice boards for me to plot my stories on, bookshelves full of books, and my lava lamp. I love it; it’s such a cosy, colourful space, and the place where I do most of my writing.  I still have a day job four days a week, so most of my writing is done on my Writing Wednesdays, and also at the weekends and in the evenings.  Sometimes it’s hard to come home from a day at work and switch my computer on, but I love writing so much, getting absorbed in my characters’ lives, that it doesn’t really feel like work.

7.    What do you do and enjoy when you’re not writing?

Reading! I will always be a book nerd, and I don’t only read romantic books, but love crime novels and thrillers, ghost stories, literary fiction.  I moved to Norfolk from London for university, and I’ve lived here ever since, so I love exploring Norfolk, which has beautiful countryside and some fantastic beaches.  My husband and I often go for long walks on the nature reserves near us, breathing in the fresh air and spotting the wildlife.  I also love watching a good box set.  We’re watching two at the moment, Supernatural and The Walking Dead.  Not that I like ghosts or zombies or anything. :)

8.    If you could switch places with a character from a book, who would it be and why?

This is a brilliant and almost impossible question. Who would I pick? I think it would have to be Paige from Sleepless in Manhattan by Sarah Morgan. I’ve only recently discovered Sarah’s books, and I’m so excited I have so many to read. But Paige has got so much enthusiasm and drive, and her job sounds like it’s a lot of fun. She lives in an incredible New York apartment with her best friends and her brother, and then there’s Jake. No spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read it, but Jake . . . wow. Paige’s life sounds like a pretty good life.

9.    What books have influenced your life most?

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen has been one of my favourites ever since I read it in my early teens.  It is wonderfully romantic, and so funny too.  It was the first romantic comedy I fell in love with.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was one of my GCSE texts, and is still one of the most emotional, well-crafted stories I’ve read.  When I was starting out with my own writing, A Hopeless Romantic by Harriet Evans completely captured my heart, and has been a benchmark for me, of everything I think a romantic novel should be.  It’s funny and real and not too glossy, with a brilliant, imperfect heroine and utterly gorgeous hero.

10.   What are you working on at the moment?

I’m just doing the last bits of editing for the final part of The Once in a Blue Moon Guesthouse, before it gets whisked away and turned into a physical book.  Then I get to start on book four, which I have all planned out, and am so excited about starting.  I also have something else in the pipeline, and I hope I can spill the beans about that very soon!

11.   What do you enjoy most about writing?

It’s so hard to pick one thing, because I love it all!  Writing those first few chapters, when you start to get to know your characters and see if everything’s going to fit with the plan, or if it’s going to go off course all by itself, is really exciting.  Also, the last few chapters, tying up all the loose ends, getting to that wonderful, satisfying conclusion is lovely – and also really exhilarating.

12.   Pick three authors you want to have dinner with and tell us why.

Elly Griffiths. I love all her books, and she’s seemed so nice on the few occasions I’ve met her. I’d struggle not to grill her about what’s going to happen next in the Ruth Galloway novel though.

Sarah Morgan, again because I’m a huge fan and she’s so good at interacting with her readers. I’d like to chat New York and dogs with her.

Karen Swan, who writes wonderful, epic novels with lots of drama and glamour and beautiful locations. I’d love to talk to her about where she gets her story ideas from, and the most magnificent places she’s been to.

13.   Imagine The Once in a Blue Moon Guesthouse would be turned into a movie, who would you cast for the main characters?

Usually I love doing this, and have actors pre-picked and ready to go. But this time the characters were all so vividly in my head that I didn’t associate them with actors. OK, Robin would be Emily Blunt (I love her). Molly would be Alice Eve, Tim would be Freddie Stroma and Will is really hard because I have him pictured so perfectly, but I think I would choose someone like James Norton.  

14.   You also wrote The Canal Boat Café, can you tell us more about it?

The Canal Boat Café is about Summer Freeman, who returns to The Canal Boat Café, her mother’s narrowboat, seven months after her mother’s untimely death.  The café is on the verge of closing, and Summer has to decide if she’s the best person to resurrect the struggling café, and bring it back to its former glory.  She has her mother’s friend Valerie to help her, and there’s also a distraction in the form of Mason, who is moored up next to her in his beautiful boat, The Sandpiper. Can she make a new life for herself in Willowbeck, or are the things she’s keeping close to her chest – not to mention the secrets of others – about to knock her off course?

15.   Your debut series is called Primrose Terrace, can you tell us more about the different parts?

The Primrose Terrace series is about Cat Palmer, who lives in Primrose Terrace with her best friend Polly and Polly’s brother Joe, and starts a dog walking business.  The four parts are set during each of the seasons, and focus on the different Primrose Terrace residents and doggy companions that Cat meets as her business flourishes. She also gets a little bit more involved in her clients’ lives than she perhaps should, and there’s some romance along the way too.

16.   All the books you have published so far have been part of a series. Is there a reason behind that?

It was something I discussed with my editor when we were looking at the Primrose Terrace story. As it was set during the course of a year, it seemed to make sense to do it in four parts. Other authors like Lisa Dickenson and Cathy Bramley had been really successful with serialised novels, so we thought we’d try it that way too. I know that style of publishing isn’t for everyone, but lots of people love having a smaller story and the anticipation of waiting a few weeks for the next instalment. It’s agonising waiting for the next Broadchurch episode, but it also builds the tension and excitement, and we’re trying to do a similar thing with books. But I love that it all gets compiled at the end, and turned into a beautiful paperback that can be stroked and smelt. I feel like I have the best of both worlds publishing my books in this way.

17.  How would you describe your style of writing?

I would say it’s cosy, heart-warming and easy to read. The wonderful Kirsty Greenwood gave me a quote for The Canal Boat Café, saying that it was “like a lovely warm hug in a book” and I think that’s going to be my tagline from now on. :) 

18.  Coffee or tea?

I love both, but if I was forced to choose it would be tea.

19.   Paperback or e-reader?

So hard to decide! My Kindle is a treasure trove of wonderful books, but there’s no better feeling than holding a book in your hand and riffling the pages, so I pick paperback.

20.   Mountains or the sea?

The sea – that one’s easy!

21.   Summer or winter?

Summer. There are lots of things I love about winter, but the dark mornings and nights are harder to swallow. Summer is practically perfect – apart from the wasps. Ugh.

22.    Sweet or salty?

Salty. I love chocolate, but I more often crave a salty, savoury snack. If you have streaky bacon and maple syrup (possibly with some pancakes) then you get both!

About the author

Cressy was born in South East London surrounded by books and with a cat named after Lawrence of Arabia. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and now lives in Norwich with her husband David.

Cressy’s favourite things - other than writing - include terrifying ghost stories, lava lamps and romantic heroes, though not necessarily at the same time. (Though perhaps a good starting point for a story . . ?) 

When she isn’t writing, Cressy spends her spare time reading, returning to London or exploring the beautiful and romantic Norfolk coastline.


The Once in a Blue Moon Guesthouse: The Once in a Blue Moon Guesthouse

The Primrose Terrace series (as A Christmas Tail): A Christmas Tail: A heart-warming Christmas romance (Primrose Terrace Series)

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