Today I am pleased to share an interview with Cressida McLaughlin and I’m so sorry it’s come so late in the day…I’ve been a tad busy with an awful MRI and it’s my best friends birthday…
So without further ado.
1 The Cornish Cream Tea Bus was my first of your reads although I also have the canal book cafe on my kindle. What was your inspiration for the Cornish Cream Tea Bus???
I have been visiting Cornwall for about four years, after seeing it on the recent BBC adaptation of Poldark, and have completely fallen in love with it. The landscape is so beautiful and dramatic, and it’s so romantic, too, that as soon as I went I knew I wanted to set a book there. It also has some delicious, traditional food – fresh fish, pasties and, of course, the Cornish Cream Tea. I loved the idea of there being a slightly forgotten village, of a determined heroine coming in and trying to rescue it while also trying to get over her own heartbreak. I wanted her to face lots of challenges, some opposition, and I wanted there to be mouth-watering food.
I loved everything about it the setting was atmospheric and pretty something and the characters well they truly touched my heart?
I am so pleased you loved the characters! I really do too – I love all my characters, but I particularly loved creating Porthgolow and all its unique inhabitants: the contrast between Myrtle, who has lived there for decades, and Daniel, with his modern hotel sitting up on the cliff, Jonah with all his knowledge and, of course, Charlie. I loved breathing life into them, and I’m so glad you were touched by them, and thought the setting was atmospheric – that’s exactly the impression I wanted to make.
2. What’s been your best highlight of being a published author?
There are so many – it really is a dream come true! Hearing from readers who have loved my books, who have been touched by them in some way, or just been completely engrossed in the story is amazing, because it means I’ve done my job. I write them to entertain people, and so hearing that it’s worked is the best feeling. Also, the moment you get to hold your paperback for the first time is always thrilling and emotional – and it never gets any less exciting. Holding my first paperback of The Cornish Cream Tea Bus felt as special as holding A Christmas Tail.
3. What’s your average writing day like? Paint us a picture…
My brain is much better in the morning than it is in the afternoon, so I like to start early. I usually get up around 6.30 and then go for a walk round our closest park, meeting all the dogs. We don’t have any pets at the moment, but it’s lovely to meet all the local pooches. Then, when I’m back home, I’ll take a cup of tea up to my office, turn on all my fairy lights and – usually after responding to emails and engaging in some other forms of procrastination – I’ll start writing.
I aim to write at least 3,000 words a day. That’s about one of my chapters, and sometimes I’ll just scrape it, sometimes I’ll write double that, and sometimes I’ll manage 0 good words and get very annoyed with myself! I usually write until about 1.30, then have lunch, and then, depending on how well I’ve done in the morning, I’ll either carry on or I’ll use the afternoon to catch up with blogs, doing any Q&As (like this!) or reading. I’m fuelled by lots of coffee during the morning, and occasionally chocolate! 🙂
4. Where do you get your inspiration?
Inspiration comes from so many different places – an actual location, like some of the places we’ve visited in Cornwall, a snippet of conversation I’ve overheard in a coffee shop, a question that appears randomly into my head – for example: what would it be like to own a café on a narrowboat? – or something very specific.
I remember exactly when the idea for The House of Birds and Butterflies popped into my head. We were visiting Minsmere, which is a wonderful nature reserve in Suffolk run by the RSPB, and it has this very long, windy driveway through the woods, to get to the car park. Nestled in the trees was this beautiful little cottage, so quaint and so remote, but with all these cars going to and from the nature reserve, and hikers walking past it with their binoculars and waterproofs, and I just thought – what would it be like to live in that cottage? How would you feel if you’d just moved there, and realised it wasn’t as quiet as you thought it was going to be? Suddenly I had the whole premise of The House of Birds and Butterflies – Abby working in the reserve, trying to improve its fortunes, and Jack, just moved into the adjacent cottage, grumpy and hurting, looking for some peace and quiet and finding none.
That’s just one example, but it was such a specific moment, and it’s so brilliant when you get flashes of inspiration like that!
5. How do your characters come together? Characters are a huge thing for me….and I loved those you created in the Cornish Cream Tea Bus.
They always come together quite slowly. I start with my heroine, what her predicament is, and what kind of person she is. For example, Charlie is very determined, she’s positive and she won’t let things get her down. She is generous and ambitious, but she also jumps quickly to conclusions, and sometimes her temper gets the better of her.
Once I’ve got my heroine, I have a huge amount of fun creating my hero. I have to think they’re really hot, or I won’t write the tension between them and my heroine convincingly. They have to have things in common with her, but also beliefs or circumstances that mean they will clash in some way, so they won’t immediately fall into each other’s arms. The will-they-won’t-they is very important in my books, one of my favourite things to write – and also to read.
Supporting characters are also great fun to write – family members, friends and the locals in whichever community I’m creating. Those tend to appear as I write, when I need my heroine to face obstacles and also find allies. I start with quite a sketchy idea and as the story develops, all my characters flesh out – quite often very differently to how I first imagine them – so by the time I write ‘The end’ I feel like I know them all pretty well.
6. What’s your earliest memory of books?
My house was always full of books when I was growing up, and I think my first memory was sitting on my bed, my dad showing me a pop-up picture book of The Wind in the Willows. There was a page with a row of bare trees, darkness behind them, and when you pulled the tab, horrible weasels popped out from behind the trees. It always used to terrify me, but at the same time I wanted my dad to go back to that page and pull that tab over and over again. Maybe that’s why I love reading scary books now!
7. When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
Not until my mid twenties. I have always loved reading books, and I did English Literature at University and wrote lots of essays about books I’d read, but never really had ambitions to write them myself. Then I read a few women’s fiction books, most notably Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella and A Hopeless Romantic by Harriet Evans, and I LOVED them! I loved the way they made me feel – they were so funny and emotional, they made me laugh and cry, and they were beautifully, swooningly romantic. After that, I decided that I wanted to write books like that – that I wanted to control the stories, and create characters that readers loved and heroes they swooned over, and I wanted to make people laugh and cry. Once I’d got it into my head, that was all I wanted to do.
8. What advice would you give to wannabe writers and bloggers?
Read lots of books, and try and read different genres, because you can learn a lot about writing by reading books – what you think works and what doesn’t; the tricks writers use to make you laugh or cry or hide behind a pillow.
I would also say that to be a successful writer, or a book blogger, you need to be passionate about it. Write a story that you feel strongly about, don’t do it because you think it’s going to be a great way of making money. One piece of advice I heard, which I thought was brilliant, was: write the book that you want to read. That way, your heart will be invested in it, and you’ll work hard to make it work. Don’t write a book because you think there’s a current trend or it’s the kind of thing that’s selling. If you don’t care about the story, it’s unlikely that your readers will.
I would also say the same about blogging. I used to blog for the book website Novelicious before I got my book deal, and I loved it – reviewing books, sending Q&As to authors and publicists, typing up the ‘My Book Deal Moment’ feature, always hoping that one day I would have my own. All the book bloggers I’ve come across seem super dedicated – they all love books, and love blogging about them, and I think that’s the main thing you need.
9. What are you working on now??? Can you tell us anything?
I’m working on a book called The Cornish Cream Tea Summer. From the title, you can probably guess that it’s going to involve some familiar characters – but there will also be some new ones!
The heroine, Charlie’s cousin Delilah, comes to Porthgolow after something goes seriously wrong in her life back in London. She’s heard about Charlie’s idyllic existence in the Cornish village and she thinks it’s the perfect place to run to, but she might get more than she bargained for once she gets acquainted with The Cornish Cream Tea Bus, and all that Porthgolow has to offer.
As I write this I’ve only got two more chapters left of the first draft, and even though it’s in a very rough and ready state at the moment, I am so excited about it! I hope you love Delilah and her story as much as I do.
10. What are you reading right now? Have your reading habits changed since being a writer.
I certainly read more since I’ve become a full time writer, because, now I don’t have a standard nine to five job and don’t have to fit my writing into evenings and weekends, I have more time to read.
I’ve always been an avid reader, and I’ve always read quite widely – I love crime and thrillers and ghost stories, as well as romance and women’s fiction – and that hasn’t changed. And I love that I sometimes get sent proofs of books to read, as it means I can discover lots of new authors. It does mean that my TBR Pile is never-ending, but I’ve come to accept that as a (very positive) occupational hazard.
At the moment I’m reading Kiss Heaven Goodbye, by Tasmina Perry. She’s a brilliant author who writes glamorous thrillers, often centred around wealthy people who have secrets to hide. They’re fast paced, full of drama and romance and twists, and are proper escapism. I’m going on holiday next week and I’ve got Mhairi McFarlane’s new book, If I Never Met You, to read, and I am SO excited about that. One of the best things about being a writer is that I can count reading as part of my job. I really am living the dream.
Thank you Cressida for joining me today and I cannot wait to go back To Cornwall for Delilah’s story….