Caroline Roberts is a romantic comedy author who resides in the gorgeous countryside of Northumberland. Her new book, The Cosy Teashop in the Castle, is currently flying high in the Kindle charts, so we had a chat to her about it and the inspiration behind her writing.
The Cosy Teashop in the Castle is a romantic comedy set in a gorgeous, quirky Northumberland Castle. Star-baker Ellie risks it all, leaving her home and a steady job, for her dream of running her own teashop. With a slice of castle life and a cast of show-stopping characters including the truly scrumptious castle manager, Joe, this is an irresistibly heart-warming read.
Where do you find inspiration for your books?
My home county of Northumberland is such a beautiful place, with a stunning coastline, miles of sandy beaches, dramatic castles, rolling countryside and wild moorland hills. This beautiful area inspires the settings for my books. Claverham Castle in The Cosy Teashop is inspired by a local castle at Chillingham where my friend ran the tearooms for many years. I often used to pop in, it’s such an amazing place. I even went “undercover” as a waitress for the day; that really helped me understand the running of the tearooms.
The main theme in this novel, that of striving for your dreams, is one that’s very close to my heart. It took me a long time to get published, and though it was really tough and sometimes heart-wrenching getting those rejections, I just kept writing, kept learning and somehow held on to my dream. I’m so glad I persevered. Holding your book in your hands, and knowing people can really read it, is truly magical.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
On the days I’m not at the day job (I help to run a holiday park), usually I have 3 free days a week, I try to write for about seven hours. I start by 9am and do a few hours in the morning. I take the odd break, just to make a cup of tea or pop some washing in or something, have a bite of lunch, then go back for a couple of hours. Then I’ll probably walk the dog mid-afternoon, that often helps with ideas – when I’m out in the fresh air, not trying to think of something, a brain wave or idea for the next scene will often come to me. After that, I’ll head back home and write for a couple more hours. If there’s a deadline, I may work in the evening too, and if ideas are spinning in my head I have been known to get up in the middle of the night and write for an hour or so!
My favourite place to write is in my conservatory at home. I have a lovely garden view with country fields in the distance, it’s a quiet space, and I feel relaxed there.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Ooh, tricky one this, as I love so many Women’s Fiction books. One novel that has stayed with me and I’ve re-read several times is The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It’s just such a beautiful love story, and the concept that the hero could time travel made their relationship so much more complicated. I don’t usually read novels with science fiction/fantasy type concepts, but this just felt so real – all credit to the author. The characters were so well written too; the emotions beautifully portrayed.
Which female writer has inspired you?
I have really been inspired by Jojo Moyes. I have been reading her books over several years. I loved the settings and sense of the period in history in The Last Letter From Your Lover (Soho/London), The Girl You Left Behind (France, First World War) and Sheltering Rain (Hong Kong). Her characters are so well developed, interesting and also unique. I love that her novels are so varied. She tackled a really difficult subject matter in You Before Me, in such a sensitive, realistic and poignant way. She has an amazing talent for story-telling.
What books have you been recommending recently?
I have recently read The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin – what a beautiful and heart-wrenching novel. It was such a sad story, but had wonderful humour and warmth all the way through.
I have also really enjoyed The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman, it was so cleverly and sensitively written. Rowan’s novels always manage to touch my heart. Her portrayal of the relationships in this novel about early-onset dementia, and the way she dealt with the complex yet very real emotions, was wonderful.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I’m not a huge planner, though I’m trying to plan and structure more. I have a strong idea and notes on how the novel’s plot/themes develop. But I also like to get to know the characters as I write and fill in the gaps along the way. I love it when inspiration strikes; often it’s something that happens to you or you observe in real life, and then it’s wonderful when it slots perfectly into the book. I’ll do a first draft, then a good edit for myself. Then it will go to my editor with Harper Collins, the lovely Charlotte Brabbin, who has really helped me make my books the best they can be. It’s great to have that feedback and another perspective on the novel at that point. I will work on another full edit then.
What was your journey to being a published author?
A long one! I have always loved writing and reading from childhood. I studied English Literature at university and would have loved to have become a writer then, but decided on taking a “sensible” job in a bank, then I had my family. Writing novels began as a hobby about ten years ago, and a few years later with several stories on my laptop, I decided I really wanted to get these books published. I began the roller-coaster journey of submitting, which was a huge learning curve and the rejections could sometimes be quite gutting.
For The Cosy Teashop in the Castle it has been five years from writing the beginning to getting it published. I haven’t been writing this novel all that time, however. I was a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, so after taking about a year to write the first draft (working part time too) I sent it in, and got some really positive feedback. I re-worked it over the next year, and then started submitting it to agents and publishers. Finally, HarperImpulse offered me a deal on two books. The Torn Up Marriage, a novel about the bomb of an affair on a family, that I had written earlier came out first, so the lovely Cosy Teashop had to wait patiently in the wings! It’s been worth the wait!
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Write about what you love – writing a novel is a bit like a marathon, you’ll never keep going if you don’t love the story. And, how could you think of interesting a reader or publisher, if you are not passionate about the story and characters yourself?
Persevere – if you are submitting, that’s a really difficult and sometimes heart-wrenching time. You have to find a way to cope with the rejections, try and learn from them, find some positives, and keep going. It took me over ten years from starting my writing journey to getting published.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have finished the first draft of my next novel and just sent it off to my agent. I’m very excited about it. All I can say is that it’s a beautiful love story set on Bamburgh beach in Northumberland; one of my favourite places in the world.