Friday, September 16, 2011

Interview with Caroline Bell Foster

Today we welcome Caroline Bell Foster to the blog. Born in Derby she claims to have fond memories of sitting in fields daydreaming of faraway lands. Then when she was 12 she went to Jamaica for a six week family holiday and stayed for many years, returning to England eleven years ago with her husband and two children. She now lives in Nottingham. So tell us how you sold your first book, and if you had any rejections before getting that exciting call?  

The writing chose me. Growing up, I’d always enjoyed writing short stories and dabbling in poetry, but I never actually set out to be a writer. I was living in Jamaica at the time and happily pursuing a career in Travel and Tourism when my idyllic life was struck by personal tragedy. Three close family members died within months of each other. In my grief, I started to write and several months later, I had a massive 140,000 word manuscript, a pretty good story, a worn out keyboard and an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. I sent the manuscript off, ‘just to see’ without proper margins, single-spaced and bound. Exactly how a manuscript should not be presented. They read it, liked it and asked me to knock off several thousands words and clean it up. They didn’t give me a time limit, so I enrolled in a creative writing class, read every ‘How to write’ book and honed my skills writing LADIES’ JAMAICAN with my newfound knowledge. That very first manuscript became my second novel CARIBBEAN WHISPERS.  

Where is your favourite place to work?
I tend to be more creative in the wee hours of the morning and can write fluently and consistently for several hours. I need complete silence and like to be surrounded in darkness so I can ‘see’ my story. So the very best place is tucked up in bed, with my laptop propped on my knee and a woolly blanket over my shoulders. Luckily my husband has learned to appreciate how soothing the tapping of the keys can be and sleeps peacefully.  

Do you have to juggle writing with the day job? What is your work schedule? 
I work part-time for an Insurance Company in the evenings, which allows time for me to write when I get home, and sleep when the children are at school. I’ll write for 4-5 hours from around 1am, maybe sleep, get the kids off to school, sleep properly for a few more hours and then do all the mundane household chores before picking the kids up. I’m a champion at delegation (much to my families’ annoyance). And to free up even more time I shop online.  

How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing?
My life is wonderfully chaotic. But I do love to read and I’m presently re-reading The Great Gatsby. I‘ve been learning the art of belly dancing for the past three years as well. Trying to isolate one part of your body whilst your hips are shimmying off the Richter scale takes a lot of concentration. We also moved house last year and have a large garden that was left unattended for several years. It was a jungle, needless to say I had no choice but to learn how to garden, but I am enjoying this new creative process of planning and planting and seeing the end result. There’s also several fruit trees, so at some point I would like to learn how to jam all those plums and berries that are growing.

What draws you to your particular genre? Are you a specialist or do you have another identity?
I should really open up a dating service as I’m all about the romance. I like to explore the relationships of friends, families and lovers and all the drama that goes with them and I do this naturally. Nevertheless, a few years ago I did try to write something a lot darker. The writing was comical. So now I trust myself to stay within my natural theme, romantic drama in a contemporary setting.  

How do you promote your books, and what tips can you offer other writers? 
Being called ’The Caribbean’s Leading lady of love’ is a great help and I use the phrase on all my promotional material. I have a small suitcase filled with copies of my books, promotional material, including simple business cards, my favourite A5 postcards with an snazzy image of my books, a picture of myself and all my contact details on them. Bookmarks, posters with the same images, colour scheme and information, two plastic napkin holders from Ikea which make great bookstands and a table cloth. This suitcase is always in my car. Be prepared to sell yourself.

Make use of free printing promotions online and stock up. When giving out cards, I cheekily ask if they can pass a few onto their friends for me. I’ll sometimes go into a shop and ask if I can leave a few post cards, this usually gets a conversation started about my books. On occasion I’ve been asked to sign the post cards and take a few photos. Remember every person you meet is a potential sale and can help your career. Your publisher will expect you to self promote.

I’m on Facebook and also have a Facebook Fan page and I maintain my own website I’m not yet on Twitter but I’ll get there eventually. Even if you don’t Blog ask if you can do an interview or article with other writers. Everyone wants to increase their online presence. I’ve landed a few interviews with online magazines by simply sending off an e-mail introducing myself and my work. Beware the internet though, as it gobbles up hours and before you know it the day has gone. I’ve inadvertently become the go-to person with the media when it comes to love, romance and relationships within the African-Caribbean community. If you specialise in something, put a spin on it and make it work for you.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?
Shh, to talk about it is to give it power. Before I start writing I’ll sometimes write a letter to myself to warm up my fingers and get my creative juices going. Waxing lyrical about how fantastic I am works every time! But on those days when my characters aren’t jumping off the page, I’ll simply work on another manuscript and visa versa. I always have more than one project going at a time and colour code everything. With so much going on in my imagination, my office is very neat.  

In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?
Last year I attended a writer’s conference at Loughborough University. Sue Moorcroft, Lynn Connolly and Mary Nichols were the panellists and they were discussing commercial fiction. I sat there in awe. Here were three people who spoke straight to my soul. After their talk I went to meet them. Sadly Mary had left, but I had a lovely chat with Sue and Lynn whose passion and enthusiasm matched my own. Even now when I think about that first meeting I become teary. Writing is such a lonely, solitary business and there are so few people who really understand what we put ourselves through and why. The RNA understands. I became a member the following month.   What craft tip helped you the most? Look at everything with ‘the writer’s eye’. I don’t remember where I first came across the phrase, but it’s something I’ve trained myself to do swiftly and automatically. I look at everyone and everything in minute detail, whether it’s a person crossing the street or a chair in a restaurant.  

Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it.
My latest novel is called SAFFRON’S CHOICE and was released December 2010. I was a little apprehensive about writing it as for the very first time I didn’t set the story exclusively in the Caribbean but started in my home town of Nottingham. Saffron, my titled heroine is loyal almost to the point of stupidity. She has been engaged to one man for many years yet has lusted after another for almost as long. Torn between loyalty to one man and the passion for another Saffron leaves England to simplify her life in Jamaica. Both men follow.

LMH publishers

For more information visit her website:

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


margaret blake said...

I enjoyed your interview, Caroline, very much. I hope you enjoy The Great Gatsby, it's my and my son's favourite novel.

Lots of luck for your future career.

Anna Jacobs said...

Very interesting interview, Caroline. I must look out for your books, because I like the tone of your voice.

Cara Cooper said...

I would love to go to the Caribbean and when I do go on holiday, I always take a book set in my destination so I can immerse myself in it and visit places mentioned. Now I definitely know what to take when I visit Jamaica, just the cover of Caribbean Whispers is enough to entice me!

Anonymous said...

Realy enjoyed your Interview, Caroline; its great "meeting" authors that are "new" to me. I look forward to reading your books!

hugs, Kari Thomas,

Jenny Haddon said...

Fascinated by this interview, Caroline -- particularly how you started writing when under such emotional pressure. That really strikes a chord with me.

Very much look forward to reading Saffron, when it comes out.

Caroline Bell Foster said...

Thank you so much for the lovely comments ladies'. It means a lot to me.