Friday, May 18, 2012

Interview with Bestselling author Carole Matthews

I’m delighted to welcome Carole Matthews to the blog today. Carole is a bestselling author of hugely successful romantic comedy novels. As well as appearing on the Sunday Times and USA Today bestseller lists, Carole is published in 31 different countries and has sold over 3.5 million books. Previously unlucky in love, she now lives happily ever after with her partner, Lovely Kev, in a minimalist home with no ornaments or curtains. She likes to drink champagne, eat chocolate and spends too much time on Facebook and Twitter. 

Carole, your latest book is SUMMER DAYDREAMS, tell us about the hero and heroine and how you set about devising them.

The story is about Nell McNamara, a lovely women who works in a chip shop but has the dream of doing something more with her life. Encouraged by those she works with, she sets out to become a handbag designer but has no idea of the difficulties she’ll encounter in pursuit of her dreams. Not least juggling a business, a small child and a relationship whose dynamics are rapidly shifting.

Years ago, while I was on Facebook, a status picture popped up that was Barbara Cartland. I assumed it must be another romance writer, so I clicked on it. I found, Helen Rochfort, designer and purveyor of magnificent handbags. I loved her handbags and bought one. She subsequently bought my books and loved them. We became firm friends. She designed a promotional handbag for THE CHOCOLATE LOVER’S CLUB. Then, over a long lunch - I think wine was involved - Helen told me the story of how she became a handbag designer. It was a fascinating tale and, there and then, we agreed that it should be a book. All I had to do was write it!

It’s the first time I’ve worked this way and the story now is largely fictionalised but all of it has a grain of truth in Helen’s story. She’s an amazing woman and we’ve had a lot of fun doing this. She’s gone from nothing to having her handbags in stores all over the world. An incredible achievement. It’s very hard for working mums and I think a lot of women will empathise with her journey.

I love the wit and humour in your books which seems to come naturally to you. Can you offer any tips on this skill to aspiring writers?

You know, I don’t think you can learn to be funny. You either are or you’re not. I’ve tried to write very straight romance, crime stories and gory vampire tales, but I just can’t knock the humour out of them. I was born near Liverpool and I just think it’s something in my genes. I always manage to find humour in blackness. The only thing I find with my books is that if I over-edit them, I knock the life out of them. I’d rather them be more raw, written from the heart and I think that’s what keeps them funny and pacy.

I’m sure that must be right. I like the fact that you seem to wear the badge of chick lit with pride but you’ve written many other kinds of material. Can you tell us about some of these? 

I’ve done radio plays, television scripts, film scripts, short stories, travel articles. But the majority have all been firmly based in chicklit. That’s probably why my scripts have never made it to television - they’re obsessed with crime drama! I adore chicklit and the badge has certainly never harmed my sales. My readers love it. I love writing it. It’s only the sneering media that constantly try to put it down. They love to do ‘romance is dead’ features when it’s a slow news day!

You tend to set your books in places you’ve visited. Is travel and adventure an important part of the inspiration process? 

Yes, definitely. Doing two books a year, I need a lot of material to write about. Travel and meeting all kinds of people in many different cultures really helps. Plus I find that if you visit the country you’re writing about then it invariably throws up plot lines that you hadn’t even envisaged. We’re recently come back from a research trip to Lapland for my Christmas 2013 novel where the temperature was minus 36. Even with a vivid imagination, I couldn’t begin to know how that would feel!

I’m shivering just thinking about it. And this picture of you and Kev in Peru looks much warmer. Successful writers always seem to be both prolific and businesslike. What is your daily routine and how do you manage to fit everything in? 

I think you have to be disciplined and hard-working to get on in any business, not just writing. My days follow a fairly strict routine. 8-9 I answer my emails from fans of my books; breakfast 9-10 when we usually try to walk to get a newspaper; then I write until 1 when I have lunch and read said newspaper for story ideas. Write again from 2-6. Quite often I have a couple of insomniac shifts where I write during the night too. But I must feel ahead of the game as I’m sleeping really well at the moment!

With doing two books a year, it’s a constant turnover and I can only do that as my partner, Lovely Kev, runs the office. He does all the accounts, website stuff and general admin - all of which I hate. I did enough years of that as a secretary to feel that I can leave it alone. Like everyone else, I think, we’re always trying to cram a quart into a pint pot, but I try not to work too late in the evening and have most weekends off. So we don’t have too bad a balance.

Where would you most like to escape to write?

I would love to have a beachside retreat where I could look out over the ocean and generally waft about in the style that writers in the movies do. But the reality of it is that I need to have a brick wall in front of me to focus on my writing. If I had a view, I’d never get anything done. Plus I don’t actually have the money for a beachside retreat, which is a constant source of disappointment for me.

Can you reveal anything of your work in progress to wet our appetites for more fun?

I’m now going to be doing a summer and a Christmas book each year. Barely will SUMMER DAYDREAMS be out when my next paperback comes out in October called WITH LOVE AT CHRISTMAS. It’s such a lovely story of a family Christmas and revisits the Joyce family who featured in THAT LOVING FEELING. It’s not a sequel, we just catch up with the Joyces a couple of years later. It’s great fun, but a bit of a tearjerker too.

I know you love chocolate as you’ve written about it in THE CHOCOLATE LOVERS’ CLUB but you’re also an expert on cupcakes. Can we hope for a book on this subject? And would you care to share a favourite recipe with us?

I’d love to do a book that featured cupcakes. I’d actually like to write a recipe book too. I really enjoy baking in general, but cupcakes are so much fun. They rarely go wrong and you can make them look spectacular with a few easy techniques. I foist them on to everyone who comes through my door.

This is my absolutely foolproof recipes for plain vanilla sponge cupcakes. Follow this and you can’t go wrong.

I always use Lakeland plain white cupcake cases as they are simply the best and hold their shape really well. You never get a problem with them peeling away from the cake as you can with cheaper ones. I always use Lurpak butter as it doesn’t make the cakes greasy or heavy, they come out lovely and light. For vanilla extract I use the Kirkland brand, which I also think is available from Lakeland, as it has a lovely flavour. If you can get hold of fresh farm eggs then use those too. The quality of the ingredients really does make a difference to the taste. Always use the ingredients at room temperature too as it makes a huge difference to how the cakes cook. Low, slow cooking always produces even results too.

225g self-raising flour, sieved
225g caster sugar
225g unsalted butter - preferably Lurpak
2 tsp vanilla extract - preferably Kirkland
4 medium eggs

Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat the eggs together with the vanilla extract. Add the eggs and vanilla mix, a little bit at a time, and beat in well. Sieve the flour onto the mix and stir in.

Divide the mixture between the cases. Try to get them all as even as possible. Bake on 150 degrees C for 30 minutes until they’re golden brown and springy to touch. Test with a cocktail stick - when it comes out of a cake clean then they’re ready.

As soon as they’re cool, go crazy with your decoration. Cupcakes can never have too much glitz and glitter.

I’m drooling already and must instantly go shopping and get baking. Thanks so much Carole for a fun and thought provoking interview. I wish you continued success with your wonderful books. Best wishes, Freda To find out more about Carole and her books, visit her website at: 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me:


Susan Bergen said...

You're another very busy lady,Carole. That clearly is one of the major secrets to success. I think humour jolly well ought to creep into everything, too, so keep it going. Your books are lovely.

Beth Elliott said...

I'm all admiration for your disciplined approach - and your output! Wow! Your humour [which to me has a Liverpool touch to it ]comes through even in the short comments you put on places like Facebook.
Thank you for telling us about your work.

Gilli Allan said...

I can't believe your work load, Carole. Just reading the interview makes me feel tired. Inspirational.

Cara Cooper said...

It's a great idea doing a Summer and a Christmas book Carole, looking forward to reading Summer Daydreams. Chicklit is so definitely NOT dead - and humour is a wonderful antidote to the trials and tribulations of real life!