Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Interview with Charlie Cochrane

Charlie Cochrane lives near Romsey but says she has yet to use that as a setting for her stories, choosing to write about Cambridge, Bath, London and the Channel Islands, all of which are places she knows and loves well. A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and International Thriller Writers Inc, she was named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name but she says that her family still regard her writing with fond condescension, just as she prefers.

So tell us Charlie, how did you get started?

Is it too embarrassing to say that I started by writing Age of Sail fanfic? Embarrassing or not, it’s the truth, and through fanfic I made a friend who was at the time on the cusp of being published. A couple of years down the line she was putting together an anthology of three novellas – Speak Its Name – and asked if I wanted to try my hand at a contribution. After much arm twisting, I agreed. It’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?
I’m a complete “fly by the seat of my pants” girl. I usually start off with barely more than a one sentence story arc, although I’d normally have at least one character very clearly in mind and maybe I’d hear a conversation he’s having with someone else. As I take that conversation, expand it and run the story on, the plot grows and develops. At that point I make notes about what might happen next, but I keep flexible, even if that means having to go back over and change earlier parts of the story to keep in line with developments. The one time I’ve tried to write to a plan was a disaster and I had to keep changing the outline to fit the story rather than vice versa!

Where is your favourite place to work?
My study, on the PC at the computer cart or my kitchen, with a laptop on the breakfast bar. Either or both during the day, depending on my mood and the weather outside – i.e. where I might get a bit of sunshine or where I can snuggle up warm. So long as I can have a bit of peace, I’m happy.

Do you write every day? What is your work schedule?
I try to do some writing every day, except if we’re on holiday, which is when I put my brain into neutral and just try to absorb ideas. (I sometimes write fanfic when we’re away but I count that as fun, not work.) My other paid job is as a freelance tutor so I can fit the two together, alongside being a mum, a school governor and doing other voluntary things. If I don’t write every ‘working’ day I start to get agitated, which is not good news for those around me.

Which authors have most influenced your work? And which do you choose to read now?

Patrick O’Brian, Mary Renault, Dorothy L Sayers, Jerome K Jerome and Michael Innes. In fact, they’d be the answer for both categories! All of them have a marvellous turn of phrase, tell a cracking story and have an economy with words which I’d like to be able to emulate.

How do you develop your characters? In historicals, how do you keep them in period yet sympathetic to readers?
I let them develop themselves, if that doesn’t sound daft. Clearly I have a skeleton for them, but the details of their personality come out as they interact with other people. It’s interesting how readers notice more about my characters than I do: someone pointed out how Jonty Stewart had a terrible temper and she was quite right, although I hadn’t realised up to that point. I must just write him that way.

With historical characters I think you have to avoid some of the squicky things (bad teeth, body odour, etc) and focus on the more attractive elements, like gorgeous clothes, good manners and the like. Also avoiding “historicospeak” is no bad thing. Get the cadence of the era, yes, but don’t make it too alienating.

Do you find time to have interests other than writing? How do you relax?
I do. I love walking, going to the theatre, going out for meals and – best of all – I love watching rugby, either on TV or live. Within the gay historicals community I suspect I’m known more for my penchant for rugby players than for anything else!

Do you enjoy writing sequels or series? If so, what is the special appeal for you?
I like reading series, so long as they have a consistency with characters and their development, and don’t have people acting in a way that they wouldn’t have done in previous books, without good reason. I like writing them, too; my Cambridge Fellows Series (Edwardian gay romantic mysteries) is into its eighth book, with another in mid-write and a tenth as an idea buzzing around the back of my head. It’s good fun taking Jonty and Orlando into new situations and seeing how they’ll react.

In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?
Attending local chapter meetings has increased both my knowledge of the industry – we have some great guest speakers and most of the attendees are founts of wisdom – and my confidence in my writing. It takes a lot to answer, “What do you write?” with, “Gay historical romance” but I’m getting better at it.

Is there a particular period of history that you enjoy writing about? Why is that?
Edwardian and WWI are my favourite eras; we live in a converted Edwardian house so it’s easy to imagine oneself back into the era. It’s also a time when, we know with hindsight, the innocence of the world is about to be lost and a generation will be mown like grass (not just in war, the Spanish flu was just as deadly). I’m also fascinated by the war poets; I can’t read enough by and about them. Wilfred Owen is a particular historical “pin up” of mine, although I wonder if he’d be on the GCSE syllabus if they knew he wrote poems about rent-boys?

Do you enjoy research, and how do you set about it?
I hate research if it’s reading books about a particular period. I enjoy it if I’m reading books written in the period, or biographies of my favourite characters of the time. Best of all I like accessing contemporary stuff – newspapers, art, adverts, paintings, buildings from the era, living history exhibits – I feel they can give you much more of the ‘flavour’ of the time than a dry old textbook. My brochure for the 1908 Franco-British exhibition at the White City, which I got for researching Lessons in Trust, is one of my most prized possessions.

Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it.
The latest in print is Lessons in Trust, the idea for which came from a Radio 4 documentary about the White City. You know how you can always remember where you were when something happened? I was driving to Winchester when this came on the radio and I became transfixed. I had to find out more about the place (and of course its sporting connection to the 1908 Olympics really chimed with me) – then I knew that Jonty and Orlando had to go and solve a crime linked to there. I’ve great affection for this book, as Orlando discovers a lot about his past and he gets a rival for Jonty’s affection in the form of an automobile, with which he was to make an uneasy truce in order to save Jonty’s life!

Charlie's Cambridge Fellows Series, set in Edwardian England, is available through Samhain and she has stories in various anthologies. To find out more about her visit her websit.:


Interviews on the RNA Blog are conducted by Freda Lightfoot and Kate Jackson. If you would like an interview, please contact me at: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk


Charlie Cochrane said...

Thanks for the opportunity of being interviewed. Enjoyed the questions very much.


JL Merrow said...

Great interview, Charlie!
And dead right about the rugby players! ;)

Rachel Lyndhurst said...

Lessons In Trust sounds very intriguing,Charlie! Hope we'll get to meet at a chapter meeting soon. Unless you frequent Romsey Waitrose that is, in which case it'll be sooner. I'll keep an eye out for you!

Charlie Cochrane said...

@JL Yep, I knew I'd been stereotyped.

Thanks for the nice feedback - are you lined up for an interview here?

Charlie Cochrane said...

Glad you enjoyed the interview.

Romsey Waitrose? I practically live in the place!

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thanks for the great interview. I love the Edwardian and WW1 eras too and will definitely look out for your books.

Charlie Cochrane said...

@ Debs. Thank you!
BTW I just clicked on your link and had to smile. The second of my Cambridge books is set on Jersey (recognise the place in my icon?)

Stevie Carroll said...

Fun interview. I'm looking forward to reading 'Lessons in Trust'.

Charlie Cochrane said...

@ Stevie
Thanks, toots!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

That was an interesting interview, Charlie - I like the way you research, avoiding dry text books!

Charlie Cochrane said...

@ Rosemary. Absolutely. And for me, it's much more vivid to read the words of a soldier who served in the trenches than to plough through a book about life in the trenches written half a century later.


Karin said...

Great interview. I'm very glad you enjoy series because I love Jonty and Orlando and am always looking forward to reading the next book in the series. Now that I've read all the ones that are out, I find myself re-reading them all just to enjoy Jonty and Orlando. And, of course, I've loved all the rugby references as I'm a big fan of pretty much all sports.

Is your house a model for their place on Madingley?

Fedora said...

Lovely interview, Charlie!! Great to learn more about you :)

Charlie Cochrane said...

@ flchen Thank you. The questions really got me thinking!

Charlie Cochrane said...

@ Karin I'm so glad you've enjoyed the sporty bits of the stories. They're the nits I've enjoyed writing the most. Very romantic, a rugby scrum!

My house is too old for the one on the Madingley road. It's vaguely based on a house we once went to look at that was for sale and had been allegedly owned by laurence of Arabia!

StormyMonday said...

Great interview! I absolutely adore Jonty and Orlando and have just finished Lessons in Trust. Loved it! You really made my day with the info about a ninth and possible tenth book on the way :-) Thank You!!!

Charlie Cochrane said...

@ Stormy Really pleased that you're enjoying the books. I need to clear my decks of some other projects and then I can get back to the lads in earnest!