Jenny Oliver credits her time spent working as an editor at Mills & Boon for teaching her the writing craft. Today (with a little help from Stephen King), she writes her own delicious books from her riverside home in South West London. The Vintage Summer Wedding is released in paperback March 26 and The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe – the first book in the Cherry Pie Island series – is published March 27.
Thanks very much for having me. It’s always a pleasure to be working with Novelicious.
A bit about me … I live by the river in South West London in an old Victorian flat with my husband – kids’ book author Jim Smith – and my one-year-old son Woody. I’ve worked as a journalist, editor and now writer and love everything to do with words, books, characters and popular culture. I spend too much time and money in TKMaxx, although today I was there with my mum plotting book four of Cherry Pie Island – so it almost counts as work.
I’ve grown up in a fairly creative household, which definitely helped carve my career path – my mum’s a painter, my dad makes weird and wonderful objet d’art, one of my sisters is a costume designer and the other an interior designer. My mum regularly laments the fact none of us went into banking and made loads of money!
What else can I tell you? I have no pets, only because the landlord won’t let us, I love The Great British Bake Off and am a recent convert to The Sewing Bee. And I have a very sweet tooth – hence the writing about cakes, cakes and more cakes …
The Vintage Summer Wedding will be published in paperback on March 26 with the first eBook in the brand new Cherry Pie Island series, The Grand Reopening of the Dandelion Cafe, published the following day. Can you tell us about both books?
The Vintage Summer Wedding is a feel-good summer read with a little vintage antique shop, a tricksy heroine who has a lot of promise but needs to do some soul-searching before she can get happily married and a group of teenagers auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent! It all happens against the backdrop of a sizzling, summer heatwave.
Cherry Pie Island is on the banks of the Thames and home to a quirky, fun mix of characters, lots and lots of cherry trees and heaps of romance! With one novella a month it charts the changing seasons and follows the lives and loves of the inhabitants, starting with The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe.
Do you have anything exciting planned to launch the new series?
Other than making sure all my family and friends buy the first Cherry Pie book and take a trip to Sainsbury’s to get The Vintage Summer Wedding, I’ll probably go with Jim and Woody to Kew Gardens to see the blossom. I went last year when Woody was tiny and I had no idea what the future would hold bar the hope of a good night’s sleep at some point. The launch of this series and TVSW going out in print feels like a milestone, alongside Woody’s first birthday. As the cherry trees are just coming into bloom in The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe it seems fitting to go and see them in real life.
The best advice I can give is to set yourself a deadline. Whoever it’s with, it needs to be one that you can not break. Getting these books out and on time has been hard but really exciting. I think I work best with a very tight deadline because otherwise I start doubting myself or get side-tracked with work or email or anything really. I’ve said before how much I loved Steven King’s On Writing and in it he talks about writing one of his books in less than a week. For me that made anything seem possible. There’s no rule that says writing should take months and months and be a real slog – once I have my story I just want to be immersed in that world all day every day.
You always have the most mouth-watering food descriptions in your novels. Do you bake and cook at home? What are some of your favourite recipes?
I cook most nights and I do bake, I’m not amazing at either but I can whip up a pretty good lasagne and lemon cake. I’d say I’m a better watcher … I spent a lot of my childhood sitting on a stool at the edge of the kitchen counter watching and chatting as my mum cooked. She’s Russian and cooked a lot of traditional food as well as adding Russian touches to our Christmas and Easter celebrations, which are huge events in our family. The kitchen was definitely the hub of the house growing up, everything went on there! It was lively, chatty, warm and cosy and I loved it.
You work in publishing. How has your knowledge of the industry helped you in your own writing career?
It’s helped massively. It taught me the craft. The best thing I ever did was accept the job at Mills & Boon in my early twenties. It was there, under the tutelage of some of the best and most inspiring editors and authors you could meet, that I learnt about structure, character, conflict, revisions and having to hit a deadline! To pack a punch in a short genre book you need tight, intense and focused writing – I’d encourage anyone who wants to write to buy one, break it down and see how the magic is made. It’s a skill and one that works for any book that you want to write – get the conflict and emotional heart in place and then you can layer over as much other stuff as you like.
What books are on your nightstand right now? What are some of your all-time favourite reads?
I’m currently reading Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe, which is a real treat to read before bed. Her world is super cosy. Before that I read Girl on the Train, which was not a good book to read before bed! I was home alone and got so spooked. My favourite read of the year so far has been Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe. I just adored it, every page! I read something else in between so that it wouldn’t end. And I also loved Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple.
All time favourites … Jennie by Paul Gallico (for obvious reasons!), all the Molly Brett picture books (I’ve just got them all down from my parents’ loft for Woody), Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann, Riders/ Polo/ Rivals by Jilly Cooper, as a teenager anything by Judy Blume and Paula Danziger, and early Kay Scarpetta books by Patricia Cornwell were an addiction for many years!