Friday, October 12, 2012

Interview with Chris Stovell

Winning a tin of chocolate in a national essay competition at primary school inspired Chris Stovell to become a writer, but after graduating from UEA, she took various jobs in the public sector instead. Losing her dad to cancer made her realise she had to put her writing first. Setting off, with her husband, in a vintage wooden boat to sail halfway round Britain inspired her debut novel TURNING THE TIDE. Christine lives on the beautiful West Wales coast which provided one of the settings for her second novel, MOVE OVER DARLING. 

Welcome to the RNA Blog, Chris. Turning the Tide is your debut novel, what do you think was that magic ingredient that got you published? 

I finished the book! And it was bereavement rather than magic that got me published. Firstly, my husband became seriously ill after an operation. He recovered, thank goodness, but then my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I realised that time runs out and that I would never achieve my lifelong ambition to get published unless I stopped procrastinating and abandoning scripts half way through.

Having completed my manuscript, I had it professionally appraised by Hilary Johnson (Hilary Johnson’s Author’s Advisory Service) who liked it and sent it to an agent. After an agonising wait, the agent ‘reluctantly’ turned it down, but then I read about a new independent publisher, Choc Lit, and sent them an email that same afternoon. Some might say that there was magic in the air that day, but I think it was as much about changing my attitude and keeping a professional eye open for opportunities.

Did this acceptance give you the spur to write on with more confidence?

No, I fell apart! Before publication, I was cocooned in my private fictional world, just me and my characters, then suddenly we were all ‘out there’ for everyone to have an opinion about! Despite some really lovely reviews, I was hit by a crippling lack of confidence and paralysed by self-doubt. It certainly wasn’t the reaction I expected, having dreamt of being a published writer for so long. To add to the fun, my mum had a serious accident, our house, which had been on the market for months sold and we moved to a property that needed total renovation. But what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger (back to death again!). I feel far more confident having completed my second novel, because I’ve learned that the perfect writing conditions never arrive. It’s about applying yourself in whatever time’s available and working hard! A reviewer said the book was ‘bubbling with laughter’.

Did writing humour come naturally, or was it a skill you needed to learn?

I think I was fortunate to find my ‘writing voice’ quite early on, possibly at primary school when we were encouraged to enter a competition sponsored by Cadburys. I was halfway through my story ‘My Life as a Cocoa Bean’ when I realised there could only be one tragic ending - but I was thrilled to win a posh tin of chocolates for something I thoroughly enjoyed doing. I certainly don’t claim to write ‘laugh out loud’ stories; what humour there is probably stems from a lifetime of filtering the world through what has sometimes been a fairly dark glass. I do, however, adore word-play, puns and demanding pets.

Do you have to juggle writing with the day job? What is your work schedule?

Writing is my day job, but living a long way away from a large extended family means we have frequent visitors. I write when I can. How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing? I read widely and enjoy live music, but my main relaxation comes from living in a very beautiful part of the world on the West Wales coast. We live just a short distance away from a lovely National Trust beach; it’s a glorious walk down, through winding country lanes and a punishing uphill slog back home. Throw in a swim as well, and I’m very relaxed indeed by the time I get in!

Which author has most influenced your work? 

Like all writers, I’ll pick things up from everything I read. I was an early reader, teaching myself from whatever comic Dad had bought for me when he collected the Sunday papers. When I began reading aloud from ‘The News of the World’, Mum quickly decided to enrol me at the library and that opened a whole new world for me.

Do you have any other kind of promotion lined up besides social networking? 

Radio Wales have rashly invited me to come and chat. I only hope my teeth will stop chattering enough to allow me to speak.

Which three books would you take with you on a desert island, and why?

I’d take Sally Beauman’s LANDSCAPE OF LOVE for the quality of her writing, for the character of Daniel Nunn and the mystery at the heart of the novel which I’ve never managed to solve. I’d take the OXFORD LIBRARY OF ENGLISH POETRY to inspire me (slightly cheating as there are three volumes) and nature writer Roger Deakin’s diary of wild swimming, WATERLOG, because it’s such a soothing, therapeutic read.

What would represent a romantic gesture to you?

My husband is the cook in our family – having my dinner cooked feels very romantic to me!

Can you tell us something of what you are working on now?

I’ve a couple of short stories on the go, I’m working on my third novel which will include a return to my fictional seaside town, Little Spitmarsh, and I’ve started putting notes together for book four. Generally, I tend not to talk about works in progress as I’m too afraid of losing the spark before I’ve lit the fire.

Move Over Darling
Published by Choc Lit 7 October. 
When is it time to stop running?

Coralie Casey is haunted by her past. Deciding it’s time for a fresh start, she sets up ‘Sweet Cleans’, a range of natural beauty and cleaning products, and escapes to Penmorfa, a quiet coastal village in west Wales. Gethin Lewis thinks he’s about to put his home village Penmorfa behind him for good. Now an internationally-acclaimed artist living in New York, he just has to return one last time to wind up his father’s estate. But the village soon disrupts their carefully laid plans. As truths are uncovered which threaten to split the community apart, Gethin is forced to question his real reasons for abandoning Penmorfa, and Coralie is made to face the fact that some stains just won’t go away.

Thank you for sparing time to talk to us today, Chris. We wish you every success in your new career. Best wishes,

To learn more about Chris and her books, you can find her here:

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:


Marilyn Rodwell said...

Very inspiring interview. Not read your books, but now heading to Amazon to get Move over Darling. Best of luck with book 3.

Chris Stovell said...

Hi Marilyn, thank you so much for your very kind comment and for purchasing the book - I do hope you enjoy it.

Sandra Mackness said...

You sounded great on Radio Wales, Chris. I want to buy Move over Darling in Cardiff so you can sign it for me when we have our get together x

Jane Henry said...

Great interview, Chris. Lovely to see you take such positivity out of tough times.

Chris Stovell said...

I was nervous about everything, Sandra, even how the equipment worked - but it went all right in the end. Roy Noble and his team were lovely which helped!

Thanks, Jane - taking the long view, something good did come out of them eventually!

Fennie said...

You yourself are a real inspiration, Chris.

Chris Stovell said...

Thanks, Fennie - I hope the novel's going well.

Gilli Allan said...

I love the idea that your career as a writer began with "My Life as a Coffee Bean."
Great interview. You know I loved Turning the Tide, Chris. And I'm confident of enjoying Move Over Darling. Hope it does well for you, and for Choc Lit - a refreshing addition to the publishing world.

Chris Stovell said...

Thank you, Gilli - well, strictly a cocoa bean but I think both those stories have unhappy endings! Thanks so much for your support of Turning the Tide and your good wishes.

Jan Jones said...

Great interview, Chris!

Penny Grubb said...

A fascinating interview and an inspiring story. I simply have to go out and get Turning the Tide now.

Chris Stovell said...

Thank you, Jan!

Penny, thanks - that's kind of you.

Liz Fielding said...

Have the book on the Kindle, Chris and looking forward to reading it. Loved Turning the Tide.

Glad the interview went well - Roy is a sweetie!

Chris Stovell said...

Thank you so much, Liz - and for all the support. Yes, he and the team were lovely to me - they could see how much I was shaking!

Anna Jacobs said...

Chris, I wish you and your books well. I envy you being able to write humour. I can't do it, much as I love reading it.

Chris Stovell said...

Thanks, Anna - but I'm not sure I do, well, not consciously, I just write what I 'hear'!

Cara Cooper said...

Really enjoyed Turning the Tide. I love Wales too and have been to some great writing weekends and of course the RNA conference there. Well done you for turning a negative into a positive, life is indeed short, you have to get out there and make your dreams come true.

Unknown said...

Great interview. I loved Turning the Tide and have Move Over Darling waiting to be read as soon as I've finished working on my edits. I can't wait to read it.

Chris Stovell said...

Thank you, Cara - I sometimes feel annoyed that I didn't take my writing more seriously sooner - but it worked out eventually.

Thanks, Debs - and for all your support. I hope the edits are going well - you've put in so much hard work.

Wisewebwoman said...

Thanks for this Chris, we share an early prize in common, I won a competition writing about tea when I was 14. I had to put serious writing on hold for many, many years so I could support my family but am back at it nearly full throttle now with a few small successes under my belt!

Long may your success be!


Chris Stovell said...

Tea and chocolate, WWW, it sounds like the beginning of a wonderful story.. or one to keep you happy while you write anyway. Thank you for visiting here at the RNA blog - and best wishes with your writing too!