Writing at home is never easy but Katie has found the perfect balance. The President of Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) talks to Mary Hogarth about her latest books, characters and setting up a bursary for new writers.
The inspiration for A Secret Garden came from?
Our open gardens, a group of us (all gardeners) have been opening our gardens for about four years and we have sculptures too. It’s much nicer if there is something else to look at besides plants.
The book had several sources of inspiration, one being when I was invited to meet the Master Mason at Gloucester Cathedral. He was a Frenchman on whom I based Jack’s character, although I made Jack a bit different and English.
Once I had the garden, I added a secret part and various elements. I also wanted to have an unlikely romance, so in came the lovely Irish car mechanic and a snooty lady to shake people up a bit.
How did you develop such complex characters?
I think myself into their heads, imagining where they come from and how the world appears to them. For example if you’ve come from Ireland, you might have escaped from an oppressive, but kindly family.
Of course I also need to understand a character’s foundation such as a past romantic life if they’ve had one, are they the youngest or eldest child of the family and do they have children?
Is researching your character’s trades difficult?
I find someone who has a particular job I want to include then talk to them about it. For A Secret Garden, my lovely gardener tracked down some wonderful nursery people to help me understand what their job involves.
Having a conversation is far better than researching a role online, that’s why I always like to talk to people if I can, especially if they are enthusiastic about their work. For me the hardest part is making an approach. Sometimes I’m reluctant as I’m a bit shy about approaching people, but when I do people are mostly delighted.
Your favourite time and place to write?
I like to write early in the morning before breakfast. I try to shut myself in my office, but actually I work better when away from home so I go on writing retreats mostly with friends. Although we work hard we enjoy each other’s company and a glass or two of wine.
There is also this element of competition between us that make one work harder.
Being away from all the usual distractions such as household chores and interruptions I do far more than I would at home. I turn up at breakfast having written 1,000 words, then when the group goes off to write for the rest of the morning, I do too, so those 1,000 words then becomes 2,000.
Highland Fling as it was the first time I set a book outside my local Cotswold area. Because, although I had been to Scotland every year since I got married, I didn’t know it that well.
I had a great deal more knowledge when writing A Summer At Sea, which was set on board a Puffer boat in the Western Isles of Scotland. I already knew a lot about the Puffer and the area was a familiar environment.
How did you get your first book published?
I was very lucky being a member of RNA. They have a scheme whereby members can send in their unpublished novel for critical feedback.
That year the organizer was a literary scout and she sent my unpublished novel, Living Dangerously, to literary agent. The agent liked it enough to meet me and give me a few pointers. She then asked me to send her my first three chapters by end of the year. As new agent she was enthusiastic and cleverly managed to find a publisher before I finished it.
Describe your role as President of RNA
My son describes it as ‘ming vase’ role, but I like to take quite an active approach.
I’m not on the committee anymore but I do like to oversee and support the chair. Being chairperson is a bit of thankless task as it’s an awful lot of work, so it’s nice to have some one supporting you who knows what the role entails.
What motivated you to set up The Katie Fforde Bursary?
I had so much help from RNA when I was close to getting published but kept missing a book deal that I wanted to give something back.
The bursary, consisting of membership fee and a place at our three-day RNA Conference, was my opportunity to help struggling writers. I always choose someone who is struggling financially, juggling a day job with many other commitments just to be able to write.
This year I gave out two bursaries as there two, equally deserving applications. One of the joys of setting up your own bursary is that you have the final say and can award two if the situation arises.
Three characteristics of a successful novel?
- An original idea. It’s always best if you are the first person to write about cupcakes not the 59th.
- Create realistic characters that people are able to warm to – likeable heroine for instance should not be perfect.
- Have a hero who is truly gorgeous, but believable. The reader needs to be left with a sense of hope that perhaps one day she might meet someone is handsome, decent, but like all of us has his flaws.
Your next book is?
Set around farming. I got the idea from TV series about farming set in Scotland, taking part were a couple, who had had their farm for years, but to their great sorrow they didn’t have any children so couldn’t pass it on.
I thought what if I were a younger relative and given the opportunity to take on that farm? Then idea began to evolve into an elderly aunt who asks her niece to take over the struggling farm when she goes into a home to see if she can make it work.
For more details about Katie and her work visit www.katiefforde.com